July 8, 2013
Samar Yazbek at Ways With Words 2013

Samar Yazbek at Ways With Words 2013

The Telegraph covered Samar Yazbek’s conference at the Ways With Words festival, 2013.
By Sarah Crompton, July 6th, 2013

The Syrian journalist, filmmaker and prize-winning novelist Samar Yazbek offered a bleak vision of the future of her country in a talk at the Telegraph Ways With Words Festival.

“What is coming is going to be dark, painful and bloody,” she said. “There is no avoiding that now.” But she added that in a “choice between what is bad and what is worse”, it was imperative that the regime of Bashar al-Assad was ended. “If he is forced out at least we stand a hope of trying to rebuild the country.”

Speaking in Arabic through an interpreter, but with enormous passion, Yazbek described the progress from a civil uprising where people were making peaceful demands for reform to the current state of “chaos” with a regime engaged in acts “of cruelty and brutality beyond what you read” against its own people, as well as outside jihadists flooding into the country to take advantage of the strife. She firmly lays the blame for the course events have taken at Assad’s door, saying he has succeeded in his aim of creating division, anger and fear among the Syrian people.

But her anger with the West’s stance was also palpable. “It is the responsibility of the West that somehow we got to this position,” she said. By failing to support moderate groups at the right moment, governments have allowed the situation to develop. “I have lost hope in Western and American governments to do anything. Their stance has been unethical and dishonourable. Their actions have been so much about the interests of different states that I have lost hope of any possible breakthrough.”

Yazbek, who comes from a rich Alawi family – the same religious group as the Syrian president she opposes – documented the first 100 days of events in her PEN award-winning A Woman in the Crossfire, and although she was then forced to flee the country she has, in the past year, made clandestine returns to rebel-held territory. She has been horrified by the suffering among civilians that she has witnessed. “It is hell,” she said. What is urgently required, she argued, is opening up a humanitarian corridor under the auspices of the UN or some other body to allow through aid – and taking the Assad regime to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. She has been inspired to continue to write, campaign and organise help for women and children in Syria because she feels a responsibility to help “sustain and develop a civil society”.
It will be a long process. “We are going to need multiple revolutions. We have had dictators and now we have extremists. But we have the backbone to our society that means there could be a great democracy. We just have to keep fighting.”