Yesterday, Mr. Mouaz al-Khatib, the President of Our Syria Movement and one of the Syrian opposition’s most influential leaders, sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding Russia’s intervention in Syria and the diplomatic talks in Vienna. Khatib demanded an end to Russian bombardments of civilians and delineated the terms of a political solution that would be acceptable to the Syrian people. Khatib further expressed his willingness to work with any parties to the conflict interested in a solution along these lines, including members of the Assad regime. The full text of his letter is below.
November 1, 2015
An open letter to President Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation:
I wish I could have written this letter to you in better circumstances, but by taking humanitarian and moral steps, we can make all of life better.
We Syrians are feeling a pain that knows no bounds. Already, twelve hospitals have been hit and hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed due to indiscriminate Russian bombardments across Syria. The latest to die perished in the appalling Douma massacres of this past Friday, in which many of our relatives were killed. The bombings even killed a blameless infant by the name of Lujein al-Mudawer.
It seems that you have been receiving an inaccurate picture of events in Syria, since many nationalist revolutionary groups belonging to the Free Syrian Army have been targeted. Hundreds of civilian deaths, all due to the Russian bombardments, have also been documented.
Based on previous meetings with Mr. Lavrov, Mr. Bogdonov, and Ambassador Ahmad Nur, we will summarize the matter for you with the following points:
1. The idea that keeping Assad in the presidency will prevent the regime from disintegrating is incorrect, because long-term corruption within the regime has caused a dangerous dissolution of key state institutions. If you wish to say that a sudden change will cause regime disintegration, then it is all the more urgent to find a solution to this problem. Such solution that can only come about when the president relinquishes his full powers to a transitional governing body, provided that a specific timeline in which the president will resign is also identified. Without such a timeline, the Syrian people will interpret all political initiatives and conferences as a smokescreen that allows a bloody gang to keep power and slaughter its people all over again.
2. The Syrian people have tested this regime for over fifty years, and as such, the claim that general elections might resolve the issue is pure fantasy. A regime that has displaced half its population and killed hundreds of thousands can never earn Syrians’ trust. All this talk that the Syrian people must decide their own fate is really an effort to circumvent their will; we ourselves are a part of the Syrian people, and we do not want this regime. We perceive the foreign interventions first of Iran, and then of Russia are the only reasons this regime still holds power. The desires of the vast majority of Syrians are very clear, and the cost of their expression has been quite high.
3. Anti-terror efforts can only succeed if they are coupled with a parallel political process. Without such a process, further military action will serve only to swell the ranks of extremist forces with masses of people seeking protection and strength.
4. The belief that airstrikes, ground attacks, and international pressure will bring an end to extremism is truly fanciful. At the present moment, the human reservoir of extremist fighters has grown more numerous than anyone could have imagined. A solution will come only when the head of the regime departs as part of an understanding between the Syrian government and opposition political forces. This understanding must bring about national reconciliation and solidarity so that Syrians can stand united against extremist forces.
5. Disagreements among opposition forces provide no justification for killing regime opponents. All elements of the opposition agree on the need for a united Syria with full territorial integrity. We are zealous to maintain independence in Syrians’ decision-making and to preserve Syria’s distinctive societal fabric. We reject extremism in all its forms, and seek to work together along these lines to save Syria despite our differences. Our goal is for Syrians to achieve their freedom and save themselves from a brutal regime that has ruled over them with iron and fire. Security services is a vital step to that end.
6. We understand Russian worries that Syria might transform into an entity hostile to it. To this, we say simply that by aiding the Syrian people as they throw off their oppression is the best way for you to show your friendship. We wish to remind you that before the current regime took power, Syria was a member of the Non-Aligned Movement that took orders from no state and desired equal and positive relations with everyone.
7. We believe that ideas are stronger than weapons and that wars are the temper tantrums of the human mind. While war might be necessary in certain circumstances, it is never an essential of life. We warn that any international agreements made at the expense of the Syrian people’s freedom will only enlarge the scale of military confrontation, creating a perilous black hole that sucks in all states involved in the Syrian issue.
8. Concerns about a leadership vacuum are unjustified, particularly in the military and security spheres. Provided that a specific date is given for the departure of the current head regime, thousands of defected officers and thousands of defectors in other fields are ready to reach out to their peers in the different government agencies and to reach an understanding. These defectors have only one goal, which is to save Syria and preserve its independence.
9. All of the ongoing conferences and meetings regarding Syria mean nothing to us, no matter how many states attend, as long as Syrians themselves (whether from the opposition forces and the Revolution or from the regime’s representatives) are excluded. We can not accept any approach that does not address our suffering, of which the release of prisoners and the safe return of refugees are of foremost importance.
10. Any diplomatic initiative that addresses the above concerns has the potential to avert even greater bloodshed and destruction. Meetings can take place with any actor that has the Syrian interest at heart, even if that actor is within the regime, provided that woman and child prisoners are released as a goodwill gesture.
11. Finally, we demand forcefully that the Russian Federation cease bombarding the innocent. Instead, the Russian Federation should cooperate with the relevant states to take clear steps toward saving the Syrian people from the brutality of the regime and from the radicalism of extremist groups whose interests intersect with the regime.
— Finally: We will continue our work until justice, freedom and peace reign in Syria, and until that which is most important in life, our humanity, is finally respected.
Ahmad Mouaz al-Khatib
Our Mother Syria Movement