Campaign: Free Bassel

I added the following comment to Hisham’s post (global voices) regarding


My comment:

Dear Hisham,

thank you for your blogpost.
I believe it will bring a smile on Bassel’s and Noura’s faces.

I just came back from Syria and I met Noura, Bassel’s wife and we’ve had a long conversation. Noura is a very brave, warm and intelligent woman. Bassel can be very proud of her. They see each other twice a week. The Syrian government has lifted her travel ban – but she will stay in Syria and take care of Bassel and many other political prisoners for whom she volunteers. Bassel himself seems to be in OK condition regarding his physical and mental health. For now.

Together with Bassel there are currently 30.000 (estimated number) political prisoners in Syria’s government prisons. The prisons seem to be not necessarily controlled by government, the prison security apparatus has become an institution of its own during the war. And arbitrariness is what we see. Hardly anyone of the detained is facing a trial, many of them disappear – and no one knows where. The number of requests sent to the officials is countless, relatives very often have no idea what has happened to their loved ones.

It is very, very difficult to identify those in this system who need to be addressed in order to help and in order to achieve something. This is hard and above all long lasting work. And you never know what the outcome will be. But this is THE crucial point. Without them nothing will be achieved.

It can’t be done over night. And it can’t be done with campaigns who don’t reach into this system. And just imagine if they would be heard within this security system – what would be the effect? Frankly speaking – it’s hard to imagine that the effect will be a positive one for the specific person. Unfortunately.

So what can we really do ?
What will have a positive impact on Bassel’s situation?

We were discussing this on a panel at re:publicca14 where two Bassel campaigners from San Francisco presented Bassel’s case. And I’d like to take the chance here with this audience to discuss our options … and I hope you will allow this.

The most promising option from our discussion was to create a win-win-situation for all sides involved: the government, the security people, the prisoner. Imagine a delegation of “high Western officials” would travel to Syria handing over a list of prisoners’ names to government / security officials. If the prisoners would be released everyone would become GOOD PRESS … positive media awareness. Could be one way … still the question remains how to identify those who are really controlling the prison.

Any ideas, comments, suggestions are welcome … !
Please start this discussion and keep up your great work. It is essential.



Additional remark: What came into my mind after I posted the comment (which is waiting for moderation), that if one would look deeper into the process of reconciliation in Homs, Syria, one could learn about strategies how to approach this complex issue, how to set up a network which could launch an effort.

Downtown Damascus April 2014

Here are two videos I have taken during Holy Week 2014 in downtown Damascus – it shows almost “life as usual”. We were on our way from the hotel through the old Souks of Damascus to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in which Patriarch Gregorios Laham celebrated Palm Sunday.

It’s bizarre … “life as usual” accompagnied by the constant sound of the missiles … may be the only way to live through such an era of unrest and war.


The following blog post – a bit longer as usual – is a “report” written by Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire on April 24. She sent the piece out to all the delegates of the pilgrimage. Mairead is also a founder of the Peace People. The Peace People began in 1976 as a protest movement against the on-going violence in Northern Ireland.

As an intro to Maired’s text I’d like to add the interview I did with her during our stay in Iran:

But now, here is Mairead’s text:

Ann Patterson and I were honoured to participate in the International Peace Pilgrimage to Syria via Iran, from 5th – 14th April, 2014. During an international delegation to Syria last year, we had both promised to return to Syria, and we also fulfilled a long-held intention to visit Iran.


We arrived in Iran on 5th April, and joined an international delegation of 14 from Lebanon, Australia, Canada, Pakistan, the UK and Germany. We were invited by the Unified Union of Unified Ummah’s, who organized this peace and humanitarian mission via Iran. Although Iranians are themselves suffering economic duress from some of the same nations oppressing Syria, they choose to show solidarity with Syria by sending large amounts of aid, purchased with the individual contributions of thousands of caring Iranian citizens.

We spent four wonderful days in Iran, where we visited Tehran, (for the main meetings and conference), Isfahan (a centre for Iranian and Armenian Christians), and Qom (a religious centre for Shia Muslims, where we met with Shia scholars). There was also a major event at Tehran University, where we spoke to students, and children sang and presented toys, including their own, for Syrian children. We also met with the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament and other political representatives.

I was deeply moved by the warmth and friendliness of the Iranian people, and was particularly impressed with the youth. We asked some women students about their hope for the future of their country and they replied that they feared an attack by the US or NATO, but hoped otherwise. We found this sad, as these young people are eager to travel and make friends in other countries, like most young people.

The cities we visited were modern, and the Islamic architecture magnificent, as was the Armenian church. I would encourage people to visit Iran to meet its people and experience its beauty. Indeed I believe this is the only way to peace – people to people and country to country. Foreign women are encouraged to wear the headscarf, out of respect for Iran’s tradition.

During our visit we also met with an Iranian friend, who shared her story of imprisonment and abuse, due to her human rights advocacy. There is no doubt Iran needs to show greater respect for human rights, but many said that it is moving in the right direction.

It was a great inspiration to visit Iran, and I look forward to visiting again in the future. I would like to extend our deepest thanks for our Iranian friends for their wonderful hospitality during our visit to their country.


On 10th April, forty people, including 24 of the most highly respected and well-known cultural and religious Iranian leaders, together with 16 internationals, flew from Tehran to Damascus. We brought medical aid (co-ordinated by Iranian Red Crescent) and also toys and other gifts, all collected with donations from people of Iran and the international visitors.

We were welcomed in Damascus by Dr. Ahmed Khaddour, Mother Agnes Mariam, the Mussalaha organization, Dr. Declan Hayes, and Mohamed Quraish. I would take this opportunity to thank them for their central role in conceiving this project and bringing it to fruition. Other pilgrims joined us from Lebanon, the US, Canada, and other locations.

During the next four days our delegation visited the Great Mosque, Chapel of St. Paul, the Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque, (in the words of the Iranian Imam, ‘a dream come true for Iranian pilgrims’). It was a great privilege to join and pray with our Muslim and Christian friends.

Our delegation also travelled to Lattakiah and Homs. We saw the damage and spoke to Syrians who were unable to live in their homes and have suffered unspeakable crimes committed by rebels against them. Outside our hotel in Damascus we heard two large explosions that killed a soldier and three civilians in two cars. They were the result of random mortar attacks that plague a city otherwise apparently under control of government forces. Even the wife of the ex-president was killed in her home by such an attack whilst she was cooking breakfast.

In Lattakiah, Governor Abdel-Qader told us that the Syrian people are facing with steadfastness an international plot against their country. He pointed to thousands of Jabhat al-Nusrah fighters that swarmed across the Turkish border on March 21, 2014, with Turkish military support to attack Christian Armenian Syrians north of Lattakiah. Eyewitnesses reported that 50-90 residents were massacred, others taken into Turkey against their will, and a large number sent in flight to Lattakiah. We visited some of these refugees, who were staying in an Armenian Church.

We also visited refugees from Haram, near Idlib, Syria. They told us how over a year ago hundreds of foreign fighters had crossed from the nearby Turkish border, kidnapped over 300 people and brutally killed another 150. Many had fled and were afraid to return to their area, seeking instead to live in as refugees in Lattakiah. They also reported that Jabhat al-Nusrah fighters received support from the Turkish military, and launched cross border artillery, tank fire and missile attacks against not only Syrian Army positions but at the civilian population of Lattakiah. (Some Syrians told us that Turkey has evolved into a major military operational base for a NATO backed invasion of Syria.)

In Lattakiah we met with Lilly Martin, an American immigrant to Syria who has lived there permanently for 24 years. She told us that missiles are fired daily into Lattakiah from Turkish territory, upon the civilian community, and often killing many people on the streets of the city. She said that Syria was “neither in civil nor sectarian war” and that the crisis that began in March, 2011 in Deraa, Syria, was not a popular uprising, or a revolution but rather a foreign funded and foreign planned attack on the Syrian government and its civilian population, for the express purpose of regime change. When asked, “What do you see as the solution for Syria, and whom do you want to hear this message?” Martin replied, “The solution to the crisis in Syria will come when the United States of America will make a public political decision to stop aiding and supporting terrorism, and specifically the Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates who are killing Syrians daily. I want President Obama to hear my message and the message of the Peace Pilgrimage to Syria, April 2014.”

This is an interview, I, Ulrike Reinhard, conducted during our stay in Lattakiah with Lilly Martin

In Homs, where the Mussalaha movement began with Mother Agnes Mariam as one of its leaders, and where its members continue to work for peace and reconciliation, we met a group of ex-fighters who have accepted the Syrian government offer of amnesty (the 5th such) and stopped fighting. Some are now working with the Mussalaha movement for a peaceful solution in Syria. (Before leaving Damascus we learned over 100 rebels had agreed to give up their guns and that this is happening throughout Syria.)

We also met with six registered opposition parties. They said that internal problems, such as marginalization of a big part of the Syrian society, was part of the conflict, but that Syrians could deal with these problems, without foreign intervention and internationalization of the crisis in order to implement foreign agendas.

During a reception, the religious leaders, including Grand Mufti Dr. Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun and His Beautitude, Patriarch Gregorios Laham, shared their message that Syria is united in its diversity, and their belief that Syrian people will be able to reach an understanding amongst themselves and resolve their differences in a national dialogue and without the use of guns. They believe in a Syria that is created by Syrians and not by outside forces. Like most Syrians, they are sure that if other countries will stop the flow of arms, fighters and other interference in Syria, the Syrian people will be able to reach an understanding amongst themselves and rebuild Syria together. We were also informed that they all support the planned elections in spite of the fighting.

Our delegation left Syria inspired by and hopeful for the Syrian people, for peace in their country, and we ask our countries and indeed all countries, to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Syria.

To all those who have lost loved ones, we extend our deepest sympathy. We thank our hosts and the Syrian people for their kindness and hospitality and assure them of our solidarity as they rebuild their country, which has suffered so very much.

PEACE PILGRIMAGE TO SYRIA VIA IRAN  5-14 April, 2014Further Links to our Peace Pilgrimage:

Syria Solidarity Movement

Conversations in Syria

Father Dave’s blog

A different take on Syria

In the following videos Prem Shankar Jha, a well known journalist in India, tries to give you a different take on what is going on in Syria from what you you usually read in (Western) newspapers and see on TV. In his eyes the unrests and the destruction of the Assad regime in Syria were carefully planned by the US and its Western allies. And now – after realizing that they are de-stabilizing just another Arabic country and by doing so they are just putting even more pressure on Israel – it’s impossible for them to say: We did wrong!

I cut the entire video down in single pieces and tried to separate them by subjects.

No Arab Spring in Syria
What happened in Syria was different from Egypt and Tunisia – it had nothing to do with the so-called Arab Spring in northern Africa.

Why it was different in Syria …

How the unrests evolved and who encouraged them

Israel and Oil – The 2 major reasons for destroying Syria

The failure of journalism and the media
The lack of Western media staff on the ground and the role Al Jazeera played in the process.
The misuse of social media sources.

youtube’s role in the media circus – and how it was used by whom.

When the Americans and the British realized they were wrong
Inconvenient Facts – Not liked by Hillary Clinton

Assad’s Choices

Where will Syria go?

Is Smooth Transition Really An Option?

I have been to Syria three time during the last 10 years. A few weeks they refused to let me him without giving any reason – maybe lucky me! So at least I do know the country a little and I have a feeling about its people. I never felt unsafe – even when I was travelling with my friend Bea Gschwend: two girls crossing the country on local transportation. Even though I don’t speak the language, getting in contact was never an issue. People were curious what brought me here, they wanted to know more about my home country and they were always very proud of Syria. The region I liked best were the mountains in the northwest, bordering Turkey, and the lively villages along the Euphrat river. A green stripe in the desert. So maybe this is why my attention is drwan into the current situation in Syria.

By all means the uprsings in Syria wouldn’t have started NOW without the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. The situation is different though – as we are trying to explain later. The Syrian regime and its security apparatus is known for its brutal and non-human activities. 30 years ago, 1980, they’ve killed 30.000 people or more in Hama massacre in order to quell a revolt by the Sunni Muslim community against the regime of al-Assad. Today – as reports – more than 2000 were killed in the recent unrests and many are tortured in the nations prisons. To follow the events – besides the twitter hashtag #syria – global voices and all4syria (mostly in arabic) – are good and very reliable sources. Online political science courses also give valuable insights on how political competition has evolved in Syria.

In preparation for an article on I initiated a “virtual” conversation between Seth Kaplan, a business consultant to companies in developing countries as well as a foreign policy analyst, and Ayman Abdul Nour, founder and editor in chief of Ayman is native Syrian. While Seth’s approach is more analytic and scientific (he has written various papers on state building in fragile countries), Ayman is confronted on a daily basis with the events in Syria. He had to leave his home country a few years ago and just immigrated 2 days ago to Canada after living 4 years in Dubai.

The goal of this virtual conversation is – besides bringing these two gentlemen together – to start a discussion on how a transition in Syria could look like. Is there anything like a smooth transition possible or is radical change needed? Based on Seth Kaplan’s 3 statement below (excerpts from his article: A New U.S. Policy For Syria: Fostering Political Change in a Divided State), I conducted the following interview with Ayman last week in Duabi. After a short intro on the current situation in Syria, Ayman is responding to Seth’s statements.

Seth Kaplan – Statements

Statement 1
Social political dynamics of Syria can’t be compared with Egypt and Tunisia!

Whereas Egypt and Tunisia are states based on relatively cohesive populations and geographically recognizable units, Syria is a divided polity with weak formal institutions that have little history behind them and that are stable only to the degree that they are backed by a formidable security apparatus. The country has inherited a unique blend of geographical, ethnic, religious and ideological heterogeneity that complicates all efforts to construct a cohesive whole from its disparate parts. The state’s very diversity dominates its political dynamics, limiting policy options, inhibiting risk-taking, and making any government highly defensive.

Statement 2
For all its flaws, Syria’s autocratic regime has been more inclusive than Libya’s and Egypt’s!

In the last 40 years Syria has made some progress towards building a more cohesive state, and reducing sectarianism. Before the Asads rose to power in 1970, the country was among the most unstable in the whole Middle East. The regime has done better than Mubarak in Egypt, Gadaffi in Libya or Saleh in Yemen in reducing poverty and co-opting important sections of society. One of Hafez’s greatest political achievements was the construction of a quasi-corporatist system that aligned the interests of most social groups with his government, effectively buying their loyalty with state employment, education, and various social benefits in a “containment system”. That network gradually expanded to encompass almost all of Syrian economic life. Still there is more than enough space for improvement and the country’s economy has been struggling for some time. Recent reforms may have been necessary but they have incited anger at the government because the equity of the socialist era is being replaced by an inequity that is perceived to favor insiders. In this respect, Bashir’s attempts to improve the economy may only be showing how hard it is to change Syria given its myriad social divisions and weak institutions. The recent history of Iraq and Lebanon are clear warnings.

Statement 3
Gradual inclusive transition instead of radical change!

What we are now seeing in Libya should be a wake-up call for anyone seeking rapid change in Syria. The West should be aware of the fact that Syria – and other weakly cohesive Arab countries such as Libya and Yemen – may not have strong enough institutions to make fast transitions to Western style democracy. (Egypt and especially Tunisia may have much better chances.) The goal should be a gradual transition through a slow process of step-by-step moves over many years – not dramatic change overnight. This may not be what the protestors want, but it is more likely to create an outcome that will benefit the population – and avoid chaos. Fast change won’t be sustainable – and may instead destroy the glue that is holding Syrian society together today.

There is no easy solution to how to reform Syria. One idea is to create a National Security Council encompassing leading members of each of the major ethnic, religious, and social groups to oversee a gradual transition. It would operate with a clear set of principles regarding the introduction of reforms and the conduct of political parties, the media, schools and religious bodies to prevent these from playing the sectarian card. A larger group of leaders, possibly gathered through a national conference or through the existing parliament, could formulate a set of guidelines to guide the NSC in order to give its mandate wide acceptance. Elections and other changes would be controlled by this oversight body to ensure that change promoted inclusiveness, cohesion, and institution building, and was not carried out in a way that led to conflict. While change might be gradual at first, it would gain momentum as both elites and the general population acquired a greater stake in, and a greater comfort level with, an increasingly open system.