It has been three long years since Syrians first took to the streets. We rose up against the decades-long rule of one family. We were demanding freedom, to move Syria from dictatorship into democracy. But the Syrian case was no Egypt or Tunisia, whose governments fell in a matter of weeks. I don’t think anyone predicted the hellish nightmare that was coming. More than one hundred thousand people dead, entire cities demolished; our people are now scattered all over the globe to escape Assad’s war-machine. Millions of Syrians have been displaced, detained, or killed—all for the sake of freedom, justice, and dignity. Words can no longer fully express the ugliness of the crimes committed against our people on a daily basis.
For three long years this dictator’s brutal crackdown has been protected by Russia and bankrolled by Iran. Our country was thrown into a chaos that created welcome conditions for foreign forces: Radical Islamists made their way here. These forces do not represent the values of ordinary Syrians and betray the cause we are fighting for. The headlines they provoke are disproportionate to their numbers, and, as a result, the reputation of and sympathy for our revolution is now in tatters. We renew our call to designate these groups as terrorist organizations. In the same way, we wish to shine a spotlight on the full-scale invasion of Syria by Hezbollah fighters, with their accompanying militias from Iran and Iraq, who act on instructions from the mullahs to prop up their puppet in Damascus.
Despite these conditions, we were ready to negotiate for peace in Geneva. But this process exposed what the regime was able to hide within its palaces in Damascus. It does not have a mind for peace, only for power. While we agreed to make a huge sacrifice to sit and talk with our oppressors, it was evident from the barrel bombs that fell on our cities and the rising death toll, that the only language they understand is the language of force. This regime will try to stay in power at any cost: According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, thousands of civilians were killed by regime forces while we were in Geneva—many of these victims were women and children. While pictures of children being pulled from the rubble are being brought to your TV screens, this regime still believes the world will be taken in by its narrative of “terrorism.” What is terrorism if it isn’t dropping barrels packed full of metal shards on civilian areas simply because they support the opposition. What is terrorism if it isn’t torturing detainees to death, systematically starving entire communities into submission, and unleashing chemical weapons on your own population? Everyone has seen how the regime does not bomb Al Qaeda strongholds: Why would it when allowing those groups to flourish strengthens the regime’s narrative and protect it from the West?
We invite you now to remember how this started and understand why we continue to fight despite these conditions. In keeping with the principles of the revolution and in accordance with the wishes of the Syrian people, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has been in direct combat with all such terrorist organizations. Our forces have made significant gains against the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) since the beginning of this year. ISIS and the militant Jabhat al Nusra have declared the FSA and Syrian Opposition Coalition as their enemies and continue to target our commanders on the ground. Our commitment is solid, but our progress alone is limited.
So we ask you to stand with us, through whatever it takes, but to save your words. Statements of denunciation and condemnation bring hope but have done nothing to change the facts on the ground. Now is time for action, if not for the excruciating suffering that the Syrian people continue to face, for those values of the free world that are being defeated in Syria. Freedom, dignity, and justice. We dream of a Syria that holds those values at her core, where Muslims and Christians can live side by side in mutual respect. On this anniversary, we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, yet we pledge that we continue to fight for those values that we originally took to the streets for on March 15, 2011. We speak for every mother who lost a loved one, for every revolutionary willing to lay down his life for our country, for every Syrian child denied sleep due to hunger and the fear of barrel bombs, I look up to all of them. I hold their hands firmly and pledge that their tragedy, their dreams and demands are our responsibility. We all may lose our lives, but the mission will go on.
Monzer Akbik is Chief of Staff to Ahmed Jarba, President of the Syrian Opposition Coalition.