Paul Larudee is a Californian academic and human rights organizer who has always been involved in the causes of the Middle East. He is part of the Syria Solidarity Movement.

What people and organizations are in the Syria Solidarity Movement?

The Syria Solidarity Movement has a diverse membership from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland and other countries.

There is contradictory information about what is happening in Ghouta. How do you see the situation there?

In many respects, Ghouta is a replay of Aleppo, Homs Deir Ezzor and all the other places that the Syrian army has managed to recover from the areas held by forces that are heavily backed by foreign mercenaries and imperialist powers seeking to destroy Syria and create either a puppet regime or an impotent condition of semi-permanent chaos. In each case, the western international news sources and even the complicit NGOs are screaming about civilian massacres and indiscriminate bombing, but the facts are just the opposite.

Even the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports less than one third of the war casualties as civilians and the rest as combatants. And in each case the Syrian army and its Russian allies have periodically paused their offensive to allow civilians to leave, and they have provided hundreds or thousands of tons of relief supplies, all without the assistance of western aid agencies. They have also offered amnesty or safe passage to the fighters. However, the opposition and foreign fighters force the civilians to remain as human shields for the fighters, and they hoard the supplies for the fighters and their families.

Western news networks have no independent reporters on the ground. All of their sources are from the fighters themselves. That’s part of the reason why reporting ends when the fighters are defeated and the reports of the liberated population are never shared with the western public.

In Afrin and Rojava it seemed that the Assad government could join forces with the Kurds. But the Jihadists and Turks have won the battle for now. What is happening?

The Kurdish militias in Syria and the Syrian army have never considered each other to be enemies. However, the US is trying to create a split between them. The US has illegally established at least ten bases in territory held by Kurdish groups and is their main military backer, with thousands of US troops. In an “understanding” with Turkey, however, the US forced the Kurdish groups northeast of the Euphrates to betray the ones in Afrin, on the bank of the river. Turkey was then permitted to capture this region. The Syrian army offered to defend Afrin, and the Afrin Kurds finally accepted, but it was too little too late. Turkey is not pleased with the US assistance to the northeast Kurds, but has been allowed to take Afrin as “compensation”. This is fine with the US, which wants to break Syria into smaller impotent units anyway, as in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

You followed the Musallaha movement, which was calling for reconciliation. How is it going?

The civil society Musallaha (reconciliation) movement is one of the most positive things to emerge from this sordid mess. Ordinary Syrians of all faiths have come together to show tolerance and compassion to each other, to lay down arms and to find negotiated nonviolent solutions that end the conflict, at least on a local level. These usually involve elements of amnesty, local autonomy, cooperative decision making, peaceful removal of foreign mercenaries, and similar arrangements. It is safe to say that it has been part of nearly every restoration of peace in all parts of Syria that are currently under government control.

The Assad government has long established a Ministry of Reconciliation: what does this Ministry do? Is it an interesting job or just propaganda?

The Ministry of Reconciliation came out of the civil Musallaha movement and is an affirmation of the government’s commitment to it. As a sign of good faith, the government appointed a member of the opposition, Dr. Ali Haidar, to this position. Since then, reconciliation agreements since 2013 to which the government has been a party have been honored without exception. The Syrian government recognizes that the loyalty of its citizens is necessary for the unity of the country, and that members of the same family have sometimes fought on different sides. Compassion and reconciliation is therefore a necessary strategy in the eventual reestablishment of Syrian sovereignty over all Syrian territory.

We met at the conference of the unarmed and nonviolent Syrian organizations. That movement has been repeatedly discriminated against both by the Government and by foreign powers. Do you think civil society can still contribute to the future of Syria?

Civil society is and always has been contributing to the present and future of Syria. I myself witnessed civil leaders in Homs putting together a reconstruction and restoration plan for the old city within days of its liberation. This was entirely with private funding and private initiative. I have no doubt that the government does and must play a role in such efforts, but the remarkable thing is the extent to which the people themselves have been resourceful enough to rebuild. If the expatriate organizations are ready to drop the demand that the Assad government has no place in Syria, then I am optimistic that the Assad government will not insist that the expatriate groups have no place in Syria. The Musallaha movement has demonstrated that compromise is possible between former adversaries when the will is present. The solution to Syria is a society where there is room for all Syrians and where trust and cooperation is its foundation. In order for this to happen the international community must assure that no outside country interferes in Syria in violation of its sovereignty. Only Syrians can create Syrian solutions.