Assad: Erdogan thinks he's Caliph, new sultan of the Ottoman (EXCLUSIVE)
RT (Russia Today) Published: 09 November, 2012, 08:32
In an exclusive interview with RT, President Bashar Assad said that the
conflict in Syria is not a civil war, but proxy terrorism by Syrians and
foreign fighters. He also accused the Turkish PM of eyeing Syria with
Assad told RT that the West creates scapegoats as enemies Ė from communism,
to Islam, to Saddam Hussein. He accused Western countries of aiming to turn
him into their next enemy.
While mainstream media outlets generally report on the crisis as a battle
between Assad and Syrian opposition groups, the president claims that his
country has been infiltrated by numerous terrorist proxy groups fighting on
behalf of other powers.
In the event of a foreign invasion of Syria, Assad warned, the fallout would
be too dire for the world to bear.
ĎMy enemy is terrorism and instability in Syriaí
≠RT: President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, thank very much for talking to us
Bashar Assad: You are most welcome in Damascus.
RT: There are many people who were convinced a year ago that you would not
make it this far. Here again you are sitting in a newly renovated
presidential palace and recording this interview. Who exactly is your enemy
at this point?
BA: My enemy is terrorism and instability in Syria. This is our enemy in
Syria. It is not about the people, it is not about persons. The whole issue
is not about me staying or leaving. It is about the country being safe or
not. So, this is the enemy we have been fighting as Syria.
RT: I have been here for the last two days and I had the chance to talk to a
couple of people in Damascus. Some of them say that whether you stay or go
at this point does not really matter anymore. What do you say about this?
BA: I think for the president to stay or leave is a popular issue. It is
related to the opinion of some people and the only way can be done through
the ballot boxes. So, it is not about what we hear. It is about what we can
get through that box and that box will tell any president to stay or leave
RT: I think what they meant was that at this point you are not the target
anymore; Syria is the target.
BA: I was not the target; I was not the problem anyway. The West creates
enemies; in the past it was the communism then it became Islam, and then it
became Saddam Hussein for a different reason. Now, they want to create a new
enemy represented by Bashar. That's why they say that the problem is the
president so he has to leave. That is why we have to focus of the real
problem, not to waste our time listening to what they say.
≠RT: Do you personally still believe that you are the only man who can hold
Syria together and the only man who can put an end to what the world calls a
BA: We have to look at it from two aspects. The first aspect is the
constitution and I have my authority under the constitution. According to
this authority and the constitution, I have to be able to solve the problem.
But if we mean it that you do not have any other Syrian who can be a
president, no, any Syrian could be a president. We have many Syrians who are
eligible to be in that position. You cannot always link the whole country
only to one person.
RT: But you are fighting for your country. Do you believe that you are the
man who can put an end to the conflict and restore peace?
BA: I have to be the man who can do that and I hope so, but it is not about
the power of the President; it is about the whole society. We have to be
precise about this. The president cannot do anything without the
institutions and without the support of the people. So, the fight now is not
a Presidentís fight; it is Syriansí fight. Every Syrian is involved in
defending his country now.
RT: It is and a lot of civilians are dying as well in the fighting. So, if
you were to win this war, how would you reconcile with your people after
everything that has happened?
BA: Letís be precise once again. The problem is not between me and the
people; I do not have a problem with the people because the United States is
against me and the West is against me and many other Arab countries,
including Turkey which is not Arab of course, are against me. If the Syrian
people are against me, how can I be here?!
≠RT: They are not against you?
BA: If the whole world, or let us say a big part of the world, including
your people, are against you, are you a superman?! You are just a human
being. So, this is not logical. It is not about reconciling with the people
and it is not about reconciliation between the Syrians and the Syrians; we
do not have a civil war. It is about terrorism and the support coming from
abroad to terrorists to destabilize Syria. This is our war.
RT: Do you still not believe it is a civil war because I know there are a
lot who think that there are terrorist acts which everyone believes take
place in Syria, and there are also a lot of sectarian-based conflicts. For
example we all heard about the mother who has two sons; one son is fighting
for the government forces and the other son is fighting for the rebel
forces, how this is not a civil war?
BA: You have divisions, but division does not mean civil war. It is
completely different. Civil wars should be based on ethnic problems or
sectarian problems. Sometimes you may have ethnic or sectarian tensions but
this do not make them problem. So, if you have division in the same family
or in a bigger tribe or whatever or in the same city, it does not mean a
civil war. This is completely different and that is normal. We should expect
RT: When I asked about reconciling with your people, this is what I meant: I
heard you say on many different occasions that the only thing you care about
is what the Syrian people think of you and what Syrian people feel towards
you and whether you should be a president or not. Are you not afraid that
there has been so much damage done for whatever reason that at the end of
the day Syrians wonít care about the truth; they will just blame you for the
carnage that they have suffered?
BA: This is a hypothetical question because what the people think is the
right thing, and regarding what they think, we have to ask them. But I donít
have this information right now. So, I am not afraid about what some people
think; I am afraid about my country. We have to be focused on that.
RT: For years there have been so many stories about almighty Syrian army,
important and strong Syrian secret services, but then we see that, you know,
the government forces are not able to crush the enemy like people expected
it would, and we see terrorist attacks take place in the middle of Damascus
almost every day. Were those myths about the Syrian army and about the
strong Syrian secret services?
BA: Usually, in normal circumstances when you have the army and the secret
services and the intelligence, we focus on the external enemy even if we
have an internal enemy, like terrorism because the society is helping us at
least not to provide terroristís incubator. Now in this case, it is a new
kind of war; terrorism through proxies, either Syrians living in Syria or
foreign fighters coming from abroad. So, it is a new style of war, this is
first and you have to adapt to this style and it takes time, it is not easy.
And to say this is as easy as the normal or, let us say, the traditional or
regular war, no, it is much more difficult. Second, the support that has
been offered to those terrorists in every aspect, including armaments, money
and political aspect is unprecedented. So, you have to expect that it is
going to be a tough war and a difficult war. You do not expect a small
country like Syria to defeat all those countries that have been fighting us
through proxies just in days or weeks.
RT: Yes, but when you look at it, I mean on one hand, you have one leader
with an army, and he orders this army go straight, go left, go right and the
army obeys. On the other hand, you have fractions of terrorists who are not
unified and have no one unified strategy to fight you. So, how does that
really happen when it comes to fighting each other?
BA: This is not the problem. The problem is that those terrorists are
fighting from within the cities, and in the cities you have civilians. When
you fight this kind of terrorists, you have to be aware that you should do
the minimum damage to the infrastructure and minimum damage to the civilians
because you have civilians and you have to fight, you cannot leave
terrorists just killing and destroying. So, this is the difficulty in this
kind of war.
≠RT: You know that the infrastructure and economy are suffering; it is
almost as if Syria is going to be fall into decay very soon and the time is
against you. In your opinion, how much time do you need to crush the enemy?
BA: You cannot answer this question because no one claimed that he had the
answer about when to end the war unless when we have the answer to when they
are going to stop smuggling foreign fighters from different parts of the
world especially the Middle East and the Islamic world, and when they are
going to stop sending armaments to those terrorists. If they stop, this is
when I can answer you; I can tell that in weeks we can finish everything.
This is not a big problem. But as long as you have continuous supply in
terrorists, armaments, logistics and everything else, it is going to be a
RT: Also, when you think about it, you have 4,000 km of loosely controlled
borders, so you have your enemy that can at any time cross over into Jordan
or Turkey to be rearmed, get medical care and come back to fight you!
BA: No country in the world can seal the border. Sometime they use this word
which is not correct, even the United Stated cannot seal its border with
Mexico for example. The same can be applied to Russia which is a big
country. So, no country can seal the border. You can only have a better
situation on the border when you have good relations with your neighbor and
this is something we do not have at least with Turkey now. Turkey supports
more than any other country the smuggling of terrorists and armaments.
≠RT: Can I say to you something? I have been in Turkey recently and people
there are actually very worried that a war will happen between Syria and
Turkey. Do you think a war with Turkey is a realistic scenario?
BA: Rationally, no I do not think so Ė for two reasons. The war needs public
support and the majority of the Turkish people do not need this war. So, I
do not think any rational official would think of going against the will of
the public in his country and the same for the Syrian people. So, the
conflict or difference is not between the Turkish people and the Syrian
people; it is about the government and officials, it is between our
officials and their officials because of their politics. So, I do not see
any war between Syria and Turkey on the horizon.
RT: When was the last time you spoke to Erdogan and how did the talk end?
BA: May 2011, after he won the election.
RT: So, you just congratulated him, and it was the last time
BA: Yes and it was the last time.
RT: Who is shelling Turkey? Is it the government forces or the rebels?
BA: In order to find the answer, you need a joint committee between the two
armies in order to know who shells who because on the borders you have a lot
of terrorists who have mortars; so, they can do the same. You have to go and
investigate the bomb in that place itself and that did not happen. We asked
the Turkish government to have this committee but they refused; so, you
cannot have the answer. But when you have these terrorists on your borders,
you do not exclude them from doing so because the Syrian army does not have
any order to shell the Turkish land because we do not find any interest in
this, and we do not have any enmity with the Turkish people. We consider
them as brothers, so why do it; unless that happened by mistake, then it
RT: Do you accept that it may be mistakenly from the government forces?
BA: That could happen. This is a possibility and in every war you have
mistakes. You know in Afghanistan, they always talk about friendly fire if
you kill your soldier; this means that it could happen in every war, but we
cannot say yes.
≠RT: Why has Turkey, which you call a friendly nation, become a foothold
for the opposition?
BA: Not Turkey, but only Erdoganís government in order to be precise.
Turkish people need good relations with the Syrian people. Erdogan thinks
that if Muslim Brotherhood takes over in the region and especially in Syria,
he can guarantee his political future, this is one reason. The other reason,
he personally thinks that he is the new sultan of the Ottoman and he can
control the region as it was during the Ottoman Empire under a new umbrella.
In his heart he thinks he is a caliph. These are the main two reasons for
him to shift his policy from zero problems to zero friends.
RT: But it is not just the West that opposes you at this point; there are
so many enemies in the Arab world and that is to say like two years ago when
someone heard you name in the Arab world they would straighten their ties,
and now in the first occasion they betrayed you, why do you have so many
enemies in the Arab world?
BA: They are not enemies. The majority of Arab governments support Syria in
their heart but they do not dare to say that explicitly.
RT: Why not?
BA: Under pressure by the West, and sometimes under pressure of the
petrodollars in the Arab world.
RT: Who supports you from the Arab world?
BA: Many countries support Syria by their hearts but they do not dare to say
that explicitly. First of all, Iraq which played a very active role in
supporting Syria during the crisis because it is a neighboring country and
they understand and recognize that if you have a war inside Syria you will
have war in the neighboring countries including Iraq. I think there are
other countries which have good position like Algeria, and Oman mainly and
there are other countries I would not count all of them now but I would say
they have positive position without taking actions.
RT: Saudi Arabia and Qatar, why are they so adamant about you resigning and
how would an unstable Middle East fit their agenda?
BA: Letís be frank, I cannot answer on their behalf. They have to answer
this question but I could say that the problem between Syria and many
countries whether in the Arab world or in the region or in the West, is that
we kept saying no when we think that we have to say no, that is the problem.
And some countries believe that they can control Syria through orders,
through money or petrodollars and this is impossible in Syria, this is the
problem. May be they want to play a role. We do not have a problem, they can
play a role whether they deserve this or not, they can play a role but not
to play a role at the expense of our interests.
RT: Is it about controlling Syria or about exporting their vision of Islam
BA: You cannot put it as a government policy sometimes. Sometimes you have
institutions in certain country, sometime you have persons who try to
promote this but they do not announce it as an official policy. So, they did
not ask us to promote their, letís say, extremist attitude of their
institutions but that happened in reality whether through indirect support
of their government or through the foundation from institutions and
personnel. So, this is part of the problem, but when I want to talk as a
government, I have to talk about the announced policy. The announced policy
is like any other policy; it is about the interest, it is about playing a
role, but we cannot ignore what you mentioned.
RT: Iran which is a very close ally also is exposed to economic sanctions,
also facing a threat of military invasion. If you were faced with an option
to cut ties with Iran in exchange for peace in your country, would you go
BA: We do not have contradicting options in this regard because we had good
relations with Iran since 1979 till today, and it is getting better every
day, but at the same time we are moving towards peace. We had peace process
and we had peace negotiations. Iran was not a factor against peace. So, this
is misinformation they try to promote in the West that if we need peace, we
do not have to have good relation with Iran. There is no relation; it is two
completely different subjects. Iran supported Syria, supported our cause,
the cause of the occupied land and we have to support them in their cause.
This is very simple. Iran is a very important country in the region. If we
are looking for stability, we need good relations with Iran. You cannot talk
about stability while you have bad relations with Iran, Turkey and your
neighbors and so on. This is it.
≠RT: Do you have any information that the Western intelligence is financing
rebel fighters here in Syria?
BA: No, so far what we know is that they are offering the know-how support
for the terrorists through Turkey and sometimes through Lebanon mainly. But
there is other intelligence, not the Western, but the regional intelligence
which is very active and more active than the Western one under the
supervision of the Western intelligence.
RT: What is the role of Al-Qaeda in Syria at this point? Are they
controlling any of the rebel coalition forces?
BA: No, I do not think they are looking to control; they are looking to
create their own kingdoms or emirates in their language, but they mainly try
now to scare the people through explosions, assassinations, suicide bombers
and things like this to push the people towards desperation and to accept
them as reality. So, they go step by step but their final aim is to have
this, letís say, Islamic Emirate in Syria where they can promote their own
ideology in the rest of the world.
RT: From those who are fighting you and those who are against you, who would
you talk to?
BA: We talk to anyone who has genuine will to help Syria, but we do not
waste our time with anyone who wants to use our crisis for his own personal
RT: There has been many timesÖnot you but the government forces have been
accused for many times of war crimes against your own civilians, do you
accept that the government forces have committed war crimes against their
BA: We are fighting terrorism. We are implementing our constitution by
protecting the Syrian people. Letís go back to what happened in Russia more
than a decade ago when you faced terrorism in Chechnya and other places;
they attacked people in theaters and schools and so on, and the army in
Russia protected the people, would you call it war crimes?! No, you would
not. Two days ago, Amnesty International recognized the crimes that were
committed few days ago by the armed groups when they captured soldiers and
executed them. Also Human Rights Watch recognized this. Human Rights Watch
recognized more than once the crimes of those terrorist groups and few days
ago it described these crimes as war crimes, this is the first point. The
second point, if you have an army that committed a crime against its own
people, this is devoid of logic because the Syrian Army is made up of Syrian
people. If you want to commit a crime against your people, then the army
will divide, will disintegrate. So, you cannot have a strong army while you
are killing your people. Third, the army cannot withstand for twenty months
in these difficult circumstances without having the embrace of the public in
Syria. So, how could you have this embracement while you are killing your
people?! This is a contradiction. So, this is the answer.
≠RT: When was the last time you spoke to a Western leader?
BA: It was before the crisis.
RT: Was there any time at which they try to give you conditions that if you
left the post of presidency then there will be peace in Syria or no?
BA: No, they did not propose it directly, no, but whether they propose that
directly or indirectly, it is a matter of sovereignty; only the Syrian
people will talk about this. Whoever talks about this in the media or in a
statement directly or indirectly has no meaning and has no weight in Syria.
RT: Do you even have a choice because from what it seems from the outside
that would not have anywhere to go. Where would you go if you want to leave?
BA: To Syria. I would go from Syria to Syria. This is the only place where
we can live. I am not a puppet. I was not made by the West to go to the West
or to any other country. I am Syrian, I was made in Syria, I have to live in
Syria and die in Syria.
≠RT: Do you think that at this point there is any chance for diplomacy or
talks or only the army can get it done?
BA: I always believe in diplomacy and I always believe in dialogue even with
those who do not understand or believe in it. We have to keep trying. I
think that we will always achieve a partial success. We have to look for
this partial success before we achieve the complete success. But we have to
be realistic. You do not think that only dialogue can make you achieve
something because those people who committed these acts they are of two
kinds: one of them does not believe in dialogue, especially the extremists,
and you have the outlaws who have been convicted by the court years ago
before the crisis and their natural enemy is the government because they are
going to be detained if we have a normal situation in Syria. The other part
of them is the people who have been supplied by the outside, and they can
only be committed to the governments which paid them the money and supplied
them with the armament; they do not have a choice because they do not own
their own decision. So, you have to be realistic. And you have the third
part of the people whether militants or politicians who can accept the
dialogue. Thatís why we have been in this dialogue for months now even with
militants and many of them gave up their armaments and they went back to
their normal life.
≠RT: Do you think a foreign invasion is imminent?
BA: I think the price of this invasion if it happened is going to be more
than the whole world can afford because if you have a problem in Syria, and
we are the last stronghold of secularism and stability in the region and
coexistence, letís say, it will have a domino effect that will affect the
world from the Atlantic to the Pacific and you know the implication on the
rest of the world. I do not think the West is going in that direction, but
if they do so, nobody can tell what is next.
RT: Mr. President, do you blame yourself for anything?
BA: Normally you have to find mistakes you do with every decision, otherwise
you are not human.
RT: What is your biggest mistake?
BA: I do not remember now to be frank. But I always, even before taking the
decision, consider that part of it will be wrong but you cannot tell about
your mistakes now. Sometimes, especially during crisis, you do not see what
is right and what is wrong until you overcome the situation that you are in.
I would not be objective to talk about mistakes now because we still in the
middle of the crisis.
RT: So, you do not have regrets yet?
BA: Not now. When everything is clear, you can talk about your mistakes, and
definitely you have mistakes and that is normal.
RT: If today was March 15, 2011, that is when the protest started to
escalate and grow, what would you do differently?
BA: I would do what I did on March 15.
RT: Exactly the same?
BA: Exactly the same: ask different parties to have dialogue and stand
against terrorists because that is how it started. It did not start as
marches; the umbrella or cover was the marches, but within those marches you
had militants who started shooting civilians and the army at the same time.
May be on the tactical level, you could have done something different but as
a president you are not tactical, you always take the decision on a
strategic level which is something different.
RT: President al-Assad, how do you see yourself in ten-yearsí time?
BA: I see myself through my country; I cannot see myself but my country in
ten-yearsí time. This is where I can see myself.
RT: Do you see yourself in Syria?
BA: Definitely, I have to be in Syria. It is not about the position. I do
not see myself whether a president or not. This is not my interest. I can
see myself in this country as safe country, stable country and more
RT: President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, thank you for talking to RT.
BA: Thank you for coming to Syria, again.