The Friends of Syria Meeting: Speech of Dr. Burhan Ghalioun, President of the Syrian National Council #Syria

Ladies and Gentlemen, Brothers and Sisters, Dear Friends:

I thank you for your participation in this Friends of Syria Conference. I salute all the righteous souls of our fallen heroes and the journalists who were killed while covering their stories, and pay tribute to our great people, who have not stopped in their struggle to regain their rights, lost since the Assad family took over power. We started a revolution of freedom and dignity in the heart of Damascus, Syria on March 15. Our revolution was peaceful, but the regime’s response was atrocious. It bombed Lattakia from the sea; its soldiers slaughtered the people of Daraa; armored vehicles moved into Hama; and Homs is now being pounded by heavy artillery shelling that targets any Arab or foreign journalists who enter the city. The neighborhood of Baba Amr has been under siege for 20 days, during which most homes have been destroyed, a ban on bringing bread or medicine into the city has been imposed, its hospitals have been destroyed, and its women and children are being abused or killed. All this is to force residents to surrender and submit to the regime’s will. Yet the Syrian people have not surrendered, nor will they give up. A free people was born in Syria, and it does not fear death, nor does it accept to bargain away its long-deprived rights or give up its sovereignty by any definition.

We, the people of Syria, applaud your solidarity with us and your commitment to the cause of our people, and we are proud of our friendship with you. We welcome any assistance you might offer, or means to protect our brothers and sisters who are struggling to end the rule of tyranny. But let me also be frank with you: We are here today to work together for the future of Syria and the Syrian people. There is no room for regional rivalries, nor is there room to move the Syrian issue from one international camp to another. Our goal is a free, independent, sovereign Syria, and meeting the aspirations of the Syrian people is our objective. What is most desired by our people today is to, quite simply, transition to a system of government that is not based on force or under which citizens are terrorized and tortured. The Syrian people do not want a government that, rather than punishing corruption, revels in it. The Syrian people seek a government under which citizenship alone shall guarantee their rights and duties, rather than nepotism, favoritism, and personal loyalties.

What the Syrian people seek –all the Syrian people– is a government that knows the true meaning of accountability and responsibility. What the Syrian people seek is a government bound by the rule of law and under which all citizens of all segments of society are free and equal in their rights and national obligations. The Syrian people, all the Syrian people, want an end to the rule of a Mafia family and the establishment of a forward-looking, democratic, civil state in this new era. A system of government under which no Syrian must give up his dignity and freedom to stay alive. A system of government under which all Syrians have equal opportunities, and can enjoy the fruits of their labor and talents, rather than seeing them go to the close relatives and aides of senior officials.

We in the Syrian National Council, on behalf of the Syrian people, thank you for your help. We value your friendship. However, the key to the solution remains in the hands of Syrians; it is neither an external solution nor a military one. The key to our victory is in unity and mutual understanding.

To all my fellow Syrian brothers and sisters I say: Syria is our goal. With all honesty and openness, I speak before you now as a Syrian Arab citizen who happened to be born a Muslim. The beliefs I hold do not affect my commitments as a citizen, nor do they provide me with a national or cultural identity any more so than they would a Kurdish Syrian or Assyrian or Armenian, or any other ethnicity from across the spectrum of Syria to which each of us may belong.

What is happening today in Syria has nothing to do with a conflict between a minority and a majority. Those who are guilty of violating people’s honor and trampling on their rights, who kill their fellow countrymen and steal from them, have no religion or ethics, and are not of us. They have no humanity. And so I say to my fearful Alawite compatriots: You are my brothers and sisters, and your unique role in rebuilding the new Syria cannot be undertaken by anyone else, because it is a right you have earned through your historic struggle for Syria. No one has the right to hold you responsible for crimes committed by the Assad-Makhlouf Mafia. You are not responsible for the actions of corrupt dictators.

I say to my Christian brothers and sisters: Many of you left your historic Syria in the past in search of freedom and better opportunities. When you left, a dearly held part of Syria died. The new Syria is no longer merely a dream; it is within our reach, and we will work together to ensure that each Christian who needed to leave can return to the land of his or her forefathers.

The new Syria will not be the property of any sect, denomination, or group. Rather, it will be a homeland for all its citizens equally, a democratic civil state based on the rule of law and civil liberties in which our citizenship transcends any social, ethnic, national or sectarian faction. The new Syria will be one to which Syrians will be proud to belong; a Syria in which any citizen has the right to seek the highest positions in government without regard to ethnic origin, religion, or gender.

And to my Kurdish brothers and sisters, I say: Syria belongs to us all. There is no contradiction between a Syria that returns to embrace its Arab character and a Syria that respects your national identity and in which you are assured of equal constitutional rights as a group and as individuals before the law. The new Syria will have a decentralized government, thereby enabling local authorities to take control of their affairs. The people and land of the new Syria will remain united, and the new Syria will avail itself of every opportunity to celebrate the diversity that has enriched its long history. Your identity will be nationally and constitutionally recognized and respected accordingly, and your rights as citizens will be assured. You will play a significant role in rebuilding the Syria of our dreams, the Syria of which we have been dreaming for decades.

To all Syrians, I say: The Syrian National Council will not accept any form of political isolation, nor any form of discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, or gender. We reject any form of government that does not draw its legitimacy from the will of its people. For all those who fear what will happen as result of Assad’s and his thieves’ departure, I say: The Syrian National Council envisions a future Syria based on the rule of law and state institutions within a free and civil society that is founded in a prosperous, diverse, and creative nation. Syrians should never have to leave their country in search of freedom, opportunities, or a decent life.

To all Syrians who fear that chaos or instability will substitute the rule of Assad’s mafia and his supporters, I say that the solution is in our hands as Syrians in our unity and mutual understanding and the road ahead is clear:

• Continue the popular Revolution and resistance until Basher Al-Assad is ousted or a delegated authority takes over as per the Arab League Ministers’ Action Plan.
• Afterwards, a “Presidential Council” will be formed, and will be composed of well-known and national leaders who represent the different segments of society. The Presidential Council will in turn appoint a transitional government of political, military, and technocratic figures who have not fought against the Revolution; a government that will manage the nation’s affairs and maintains its structure and institutions, particularly military and civilian administration.
• The formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Committee in collaboration with civil society associations with the responsibility of investigating crimes, addressing legal and psychological consequences for the terrorism perpetrated by the previous regime, and preventing any sectarian or political reprisals. The committee will work to reconcile and restore the sense of nationalism and human values that have been lacking during this crisis.
• The transitional period ends with the election of members of Parliament, under the supervision of Arab and international monitors. The Parliament will choose a new president, appoint a new representative government, and establish a constitution based on parliamentary, pluralistic, and democratic rule to ensure a civil state in Syria. Only when the Legislative Council holds its first session will we have a new life with a democratic parliament, with God’s help.

We will work with the different state institutions to ensure national security and the safety of all citizens from the first day of the transitional period, and we will not tolerate any acts of revenge or attack or discrimination.

Dear Brothers, Sisters, and Friends,

All of the Syrian people look up to us and we sincerely hope that the assembly of this conference will be a turning point for the Syrian people’s long-awaited and bitter struggle to restore their natural rights and freedoms from the bloody and corrupt military rule. The regime exploited the international community for stability and used humanitarian, patriotic, and noble slogans to discredit an entire nation and rob it of its resources while controlling its children’s lives. The military dictatorship insulted individuality, humiliated the nation, and held its will in contempt, as it did to its culture, standing policy, history, and its foundation. For the past half-century, the military dictatorship has used control and violence as a means of governance. It has led to the bloodshed and abuse of individuals, including children, women, the youth, and the elderly without distinction, where thousands were imprisoned and thousands more were exiled. The Syrian people demand the following:

• First and foremost, the urgent provision of immediate relief, the declaration of disaster areas in Syria, and the establishment of humanitarian corridors to provide emergency assistance to Syrians. We demand that all women, children, and the wounded be evacuated from the besieged cities. Humanitarian and aid collection centers must be established in neighboring countries.
• Second, to secure and ensure freedom of work and movement for international relief and human rights organizations to help people in coping with the harsh conditions across the country.
• Third, to provide a means of protection for Syrian civilians and to remove all threats facing them, in order to create conditions that allow them to freely express their opinions and create an environment that helps foster self-determination.
• Fourth, to recognize the Syrian National Council and support its efforts in coordinating various parties involved in the Revolution within the framework of a national plan to accomplish change and oust the corrupt and tyrannical regime.

We owe it to our revolutionary youth who sacrificed their souls in order to bring freedom to their people; we are inspired and empowered by them. We work for their cause, and our efforts do not compare with their sacrifices. We have trust in all of the Syrian people, and call upon everyone to unite in their work towards freedom for our nation.

Dear Brothers, Sisters, and Friends,

Syria has a long history in the cradle of civilization and humanity. It is at the crossroads of many religions and cultures and remains the land of love, tolerance, and peace. Thanks to the great sacrifices of its children, democratic forces, and the help of the free world, it will soon be the land of freedom, rule of law, citizenship, volunteerism, and prosperity.

God bless the righteous heroes of liberty and peace. God’s mercy and blessings be upon you.