When war against Syria started in 2011, Dr. Nabil Antaki, a medical doctor based in the Syrian government held western districts of Aleppo, could have abandoned the country to ensure his own safety. Instead he decided to remain and to serve the besieged people of the city, working with various local charities. In addition to that he wanted to bear witness to the destruction caused by Western support for the foreign armed groups who have been systematically destroying Syria and terrorizing its people for the last 5 years.
The following text is a transcript of an interview given to Be Curious TV by Dr. Antaki. In this interview, taking place during his recent trip to France, Dr. Antaki points out that Western news media outlets have been misleading and dishonest in their reporting of events in Syria.
Dr. Antaki reinforces that President Assad’s popularity has increased rather than waned since the alliance of USA-Turkey-Saudi Arabia started the war against Syria five years ago and he deconstructs much of the propaganda upon which the US and NATO base their neo-colonialist policies.
Translation of the interview by Vanessa Beeley.
Lausanne 23rd May 2016
BeCuriousTV: Welcome Nabil Antaki. Please would you let us know what is happening in Aleppo and Syria. You are briefly in Europe. You are Syrian, born in Syria and residing in Aleppo. You are a doctor at the St Louis hospital in western Aleppo, the area under “regime control”. People living in the West who are are not aware of what is happening in Syria might ask which is worse, the Syrian regime’s violence or that of the terrorists or the “rebels”. This antagonism is reflected at the heart of our media where on one side we find those who affirm that Bashar al Assad’s “regime” is terrorizing his own people and on the other side are those who claim that Assad’s forces are defending their people against armed jihadists.
Dr. Antaki: Firstly I would like to clarify. You have mentioned several times, Assad’s “regime” and Assad’s “army and its a confusion that we don’t appreciate in Syria, when we read in all the media about Bashar’s air force, Bashar’s army. In fact, it is the Syrian army, the army of the State of Syria and when you mentioned that I live in western Aleppo which is under “regime” control, no, it is under the control of the Syrian State. Our people are not afraid of the Syrian army because it is an army that defends all of Syria against armed terrorists who have invaded Syria in order to establish their Islamic State. Therefore we should never say at all that the Syrian people are afraid of the Syrian army because it is not a “regime” army as described by the media, people are, in reality very grateful for the presence of the Syrian army. Let me give you an example. A few months ago the Syrian army launched an offensive to bring some relief to Aleppo which has been surrounded and besieged for the last three years. According to the Western media the Syrian army was imposing a siege upon the Syrian people in Aleppo when in fact the opposite was true and the Syrian army was trying to break the three year terrorist siege of Aleppo. Therefore, no, the people are not afraid of the Syrian army, they are afraid of the terrorists.
BeCuriousTV: So just to be clear, the Western media is not reporting accurately what you are living through in Aleppo?
Dr. Antaki: Exactly. Western media only reports on events in eastern Aleppo. Since 2012, Aleppo has been cut in two. Two hundred thousand people live in the zones controlled by the terrorists in the east but the remaining three quarters of Aleppo inhabitants, around 1.5 million people, live in western areas controlled by the Syrian State. So, when we hear from the Western media about what is happening in Aleppo they focus only on the eastern areas.
When we issue a cry for help for Aleppo, it is transformed into a cry only for eastern Aleppo. When the media announced that the last pediatrician in Aleppo had been killed, it is not true because in western Aleppo we have around 100 pediatricians. Perhaps its the last pediatrician killed on the other side, I have no idea, I have no information, but what I do know is that the inhabitants of the eastern sector living under terrorist control are Aleppans like us but chance dictated that they were living in areas invaded by terrorists.
BeCuriousTV: They didn’t flee the area?
Dr. Antaki: From the beginning over half a million people fled towards western Aleppo because they were afraid of the terrorists but there are some people who were afraid to leave, perhaps without the means to leave, afraid to lose what they had accumulated during their entire life, their little apartment, their TV. They thought that if they left they might lose it all, so they decided to stay not for any ideological reasons but because materially they preferred to stay where they were.
BeCuriousTV: You have just been describing eastern Aleppo to us which is under terrorist control. Please would you differentiate for us between terrorist and “rebel”.
Dr. Antaki: At the beginning of the war in Syria there were multiple groups among which there were a very small percentage of democratic opposition to the Syrian “regime”, but the majority were terrorist groups intent upon establishing an Islamic state. Over time the democratic groups were absorbed into the terrorist groups and currently these terrorist groups represent more than 95 percent of the hundred or so armed opposition groups on the ground in Syria.
Therefore the Free Syrian Army and the opposition who are not terrorists but are nevertheless armed represent no more than 5 percent of the armed groups, the rest are all terrorists.
The principal terrorist groups are DAESH [Islamic State] and Jabhat al-Nusra. These two groups have been added to the “terrorist” list by the United States and Russia so everyone has the right to target them with air-strikes. However there are other groups emanating from Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate, which are not yet considered to be terrorists. Among these are three principal groups, Jaish al-Islam [Army of Islam], Ahrar al-Sham [Free of Damascus] and Jaish al-Fatah [Army of Conquest/Liberation]. These three groups were created by al-Nusra to escape being put on the terrorist list but nevertheless have their origins in al-Nusra which is al-Qaeda in Syria.
So when these three groups are added to the terrorist list which will enable them to be neutralized, there will remain only those armed groups that are not terrorists with whom we could negotiate and achieve a political compromise.
BeCuriousTV: What about the refugees? The 12 million migrants seeking refuge?
Dr. Antaki: Half the Syrian population is displaced. There are 23 million people in Syria and 12 million people have been driven from their homes. 3.5 million are refugees outside Syria in neighboring countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. There are 8 million internally displaced people who have not left Syria but have been forced to leave their homes. This is a very serious situation and these people need assistance just as much as those who have left Syria.
The United Nations agencies focus only on the people living in the camps external to Syria. All these people are not fleeing the actions of the Assad “regime” or Assad’s army as described in the media. These people are fleeing neither Assad’s government nor the Syrian army, nor the hypothetical actions of either of these groups. These people are either fleeing from combat zones or they are fleeing misery. The majority of the Syrian people are now living below the poverty line.
80 percent of Aleppo’s population are dependent upon NGO food parcels. People are impoverished. They have exhausted their savings, those who had work lost it, those who had an asset, a workshop or a factory, a shop, have lost everything. People are destitute, they are fleeing this misery or they are fleeing the combat zones. They are also considering their children, they endured 2, 3, even 4 years but the war has continued into 5 years and they want to assure their children a future so they take the decision to uproot and to seek a future somewhere else, to start a new life.
BeCuriousTV: How do you and the Syrian people feel about the sanctions and economic embargoes imposed by Western governments since the beginning of the war?
Dr. Antaki: We are disgusted by these sanctions because these sanctions and these embargoes have not been implemented against the Syrian government but against the Syrian people, all the Syrian people. For example, I personally, as person X, living in Syria, do not have the right to conduct the smallest transaction. If I wanted to send 1000 US$ to my children, I am unable to do so. I can neither import or export anything. This is crippling. I am a doctor, I wanted to replace one part of a piece of medical equipment. Normally this would take one week, it took a year and a half to get hold of the part because we couldn’t import it from Japan as it was a multi-national company.
So these sanctions penalize the Syrian people and at a certain moment the EU lifted the sanctions but only for the people living in the terrorist controlled zones. Those people living in areas under the control of the Syrian state could do nothing. Contrary to their claims, this does not penalize the “regime”, it punishes the Syrian people.
Dr. Antaki: I don’t speak to you as Nabil Antaki the Christian, I speak as Nabil Antaki the Syrian who has witnessed his country being attacked and destroyed. It is not about being Christian or Muslim, Syria is an ethnic and religious mosaic. There are eleven different Christian churches and as many different Muslim sects, its not about the Syrian government protecting the minorities and that is why we support the Syrian government. No, the government is secular, it protects everyone, whether a minority or a majority, everyone is respected inside Syria. It is a secular “regime”. Unlike the Islamic State that absolutely does not respect the minorities.
If the Christians are pro-government or pro the Syrian State it is because from the beginning they have supported a secular state as opposed to an Islamic State.
The current President is very popular. I am actually not a fan of the President, I defend Syria not the President. But viewing it objectively we cannot deny his popularity and in my opinion, if tomorrow, we have free elections under international law, giving all Syrians the right to vote, even those in diaspora, we would see our President re-elected.
The West has not understood this fact. Assad was popular at the beginning of the war against Syria, his support is even stronger now, not because he defends the minorities which is what the media would like you to believe but because he defends all Syrians. Christians are about 8 percent of the Syrian population so when they say Assad is popular because he defends the Christians and that is why the Christians support Assad, its a joke. If we are with him or against him, it has no effect upon his popularity. We have neither soldiers nor arms, we are 8 percent.
Assad is popular with all groups and sectors of our Syrian society, so if we want this war to end the West has to stop demanding that Assad steps down as one of the conditions, the West has to negotiate with him, conduct free elections and work towards democracy.
BeCuriousTV: Let me just come back to some of the points you made. You speak of Assad’s huge popularity, but was this the case in the beginning, in 2011?
Dr. Antaki: This is my point! When the troubles started, there were anti Bashar demonstrations, 10,000 or 15,000 people maximum. These demonstrations were televised and the figures were hugely exaggerated up to one or two hundred thousand. On the other hand, massive spontaneous demonstrations poured onto the streets in support of the Assad government, in Aleppo, in Damascus, all the big towns and cities. Over a million people supporting Bashar. Nobody filmed these demonstrations or perhaps I should say nobody televised them in the West. So, organic demonstrations of millions of people were ignored while the few thousand that marched against Bashar were blown out of all proportion and highly exaggerated.
So there was a huge amount of bias, partisan reporting and partiality from the media from the beginning. Assad was always popular and this has not changed. He is perhaps even more popular now than in the last few years before the war. He had enormously liberalized both the political and the economic sectors so people were happy, even though they knew there were still things that needed improving.
Life was not perfect but nobody wanted war, they wanted reform. Even the most outspoken enemies of the government did not want war, and certainly not this war. They wanted reforms and they wanted democracy but nobody wanted to kill Syria to improve Syria.
BeCuriousTV: We have two coalitions on the ground in Syria, according to you what is their efficacy?”
Dr. Antaki: In my opinion the Western international coalition is not effective because you cannot combine two opposing sides. You have a coalition of the US and Europe with Turkey and the Gulf States and at the same time we know that Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia finance the jihadists, finance IS, finance al-Nusra. On the one hand they want to fight against the terrorists, on the other they are helping them. That is completely abhorrent.
Additionally, there are the Kurds in Syria who have also taken up arms against IS. The US has found its allies in the Kurds to fight against IS. However Turkey is completely against the arming of the Kurds so Turkey combats the Kurds. So, we have two countries who are allied, the US and Turkey but one is allied with the Kurds and the other is against them so how can this ever work. There are too many contradictions within the Western coalition and that is why it has achieved nothing.
Before the Russian intervention, the coalition air-strikes were cosmetic strikes. They would carry out a hundred or so strikes in the desert and that was the extent of their campaign. They only became effective after Russia intervened.
From our perspective the Russian intervention was extremely beneficial and they have the full support of the Syrian people which contradicts the Western narrative. The West accuses Russia of targeting not only the terrorist groups but also the “moderate rebels”. Russia has been very successful in bombing the Islamist groups so the West is trying to slow their progress by claiming they are targeting the non terrorist groups and accusing Russia of aiding Bashar instead of targeting IS. Of course this is not true, when the West want to bomb its ok but when Russia wants to bomb, they don’t do it right.
BeCuriousTV: How do you think the Western media portray the reality on the ground in Syria?
Dr. Antaki: Western media is not objective. They are partisan, they are against the Syrian State. They are supporters of the terrorist-rebels, so the Syrian people is fed up with their portrayal of events in Syria. We don’t ask that they are pro or anti “regime”, we simply ask them to be objective.
BeCuriousTV: What might you like to say from a personal point of view?
Dr. Antaki: All that I want to say to the West is please be more objective, educate yourselves, don’t accept disinformation, put pressure upon your governments because Syria is a country that desires its freedom, prosperity and democracy.
The war has destroyed us, we have had enough, we want it to stop!
Dr. Nabil Antaki’s previous interview Silvia Cattori of Arret Sur Info was also translated by Vanessa Beeley. The interview took place on April 30 and Dr. Antaki speaks about the recent amplification of propaganda surrounding events in Aleppo. Here is the transcript of this particular interview:
Dr. Antaki: With regards to recent events in Aleppo, I state very clearly that the mainstream media are lying by omission. Since the beginning of the war in Aleppo that began 4 years ago, they have consistently failed to report important facts.
All of us here in Aleppo are disgusted by their lack of impartiality and objectivity. They only ever talk about the loss of life in the east of Aleppo which is mainly controlled by al-Nusra, a terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaeda. These are their “moderate rebels” a title that affords them an unmerited degree of respectability.
This same media channels remain silent on the daily losses and suffering endured in the Western areas of Aleppo living under the rain of mortar fire from these terrorist factions. Western media never mentions the terrorist blockade upon our people or the electricity cuts and water shortages inflicted upon us by their “moderate rebels”.
The media never mention the continuous bombardment and the carnage we have witnessed in western Aleppo where every single sector has been targeted. On a daily basis we see dozens of people murdered. What makes these omissions even more despicable is that these areas represent 75 percent of Aleppo and there are 1.5 million people living in them. Compare this to the 200,000 living in the eastern zone which is occupied by terrorist groups.
This twisted narrative engenders the belief that these terrorist groups that are attacking us are actually the victims. Even more abhorrent, these media have distorted our “Save Aleppo” appeal, to make it look as if we are calling for Assad and the Syrian Army to cease hostilities!
This is FALSE. Added to which, they are not “Assad’s forces“, they are the national forces of the regular Syrian army that is defending the Syrian State.
The Western and Gulf media could at least have had the decency to mention the terrorist massacres of our people. For example, on Friday April 30, when one of their mortars targeted a mosque at prayer time.
The attacks and losses we suffer are reported in a way that leaves the public in the dark about the true perpetrators of these crimes.
For three days now, these media outlets have been accusing the “Assad regime” of bombing an MSF (Medecins sans Frontieres) hospital to the east of Aleppo and of killing the last pediatrician in the city. This demonstrates that, for these media, the only priority is this pocket of the city where terrorists are embedded.
The three quarters of Aleppo under Syrian Government control where numerous pediatricians are practicing is of no consequence for this media. We witnessed the same bias when al-Kindi, the biggest hospital in Aleppo, was targeted by terrorist mortars and then intentionally burnt down three years ago. The media ignored this criminal act.
We are disheartened and disgusted by this continuous disinformation.
About the al-Kindi Hospital:
Battles between the Syrian army and the Islamic fighters around al-Kindi Hospital in Aleppo’s northern countryside were going on since the start of the war.
The University of Aleppo-affiliated hospital included 250 physicians and over 650 nurses and administrators. The al-Kindi Hospital was built to treat tuberculosis patients in Gamal Abdel-Nasser’s era, during the union between Syria and Egypt.
Generations of specialized doctors graduated from the hospital over the decades, including surgeon Tarek al-Mualem. He was shocked by the destruction of the hospital, where he first started working in 1997. He said, “Those who attacked, destroyed, and looted the hospital were once patients who came into Kindi scarred and broken, and came out physically healed but with ailing minds.”
The Syrian army thwarted several of the Islamists’s attempts to take over the hospital and over the course of several months at least 400 Islamic fighters died in various attempts to control the hospital. The opposition formed a joint operations center at the beginning of December, dubbed “One Heart” and consisting of the Islamic Front, Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid, Jabhat al-Nusra, and al-Fajr Islamic Movement.
Dozens of Syrian army soldiers fought for 16 days to protect the hospital, which sits on a hill overlooked by the armed groups’ Handarat Camp. Then, suicide bombers detonated two trucks loaded with 40 tons of explosive materials. The trucks targeted the hospital’s two main buildings where soldiers were gathered, and the militants stormed the hospital after putting out a massive fire. Syrian army soldiers withdrew to the Nakarin groves and the Aleppo Central Prison.
Armed groups announced the killing of Reuters photographer Molhem Barakat and his brother Mustafa during the attack.