I have an interview I want to give you verbatim. It took place in April 2013. I had the chance to meet Zaid Tlass, a close relative of Manaf and Tiras Tlass, he was a General in the air force. He and his family were very close to the family of Bashar al Assad, he knew Bashar personally for many years before he became president. So much so that it was considered inconceivable that any of the Tlass family would ever be disloyal to the regime. He told me that when Bashar al Assad became president he had hoped he would make positive changes in the country. He had lived and studied in the West but after he took power, Zaid told me, Bashar changed day by day from the person he was before, becoming harder and harder.
Here is the interview.
Me: The first question is about the early days of the revolution and the defection of Abdul Razak Tlass. As the first sergeant of the Arab Syrian army to defect. disproving the belief that the Tlass family were loyalist , and causing a shock to everyone, can you please tell us the story that started from you and your family, Firas, Manaf and the Tlass family, and the group that was sent to Daraa to resolve the situation.
Zaid: The group that was chosen to go was, Hisham Bikhtyar, Rostom Gazali,Tamer al Hajii, those are the names I recall because they were mentioned in front of me
Me: Where were those names mentioned?
Zaid: I was in Mustafa Tlass’s house for lunch and the subject came up, and the conversation was about Tamer al Hajii mainly, and at that lunch I noticed that Firas Tlass’s reaction was that of a person who is against the regime. One could feel a sense of opposition coming from him. Of course Mustafa Tlass on the other hand did not comment on the situation at all. Manaf Tlass was cursing Atif Najeab, he showed a disgust towards him, he even said this man is a Sunni not an Alwai, he is low!
Me: What did Atif Najeb do at the time?
Zaid: He was the president of the political security office.
Me: No, before that?
Zaid: He was in charge of all the Damascus brothels. he was used to being among the lowest people around.
Me: What position did he occupy at that moment?
Zaid: He was a Molazem till he became a Mokaddam. At first when he was put under the political security office. The previous president handed him the brothel job because he expected him to cause trouble as he was related to the president.
He started treating every one as if they were the whores from his brothels, and the proof of that was his reaction in Daraa, where he brutally punished the children of Daraa. He has no value, he doesn’t differentiate between an elder of a tribe and a whore.
Me: He completely ditched local values and culture?
Zaid: Exactly, as his notorious words said, ” if you want those kids back bring me their mothers so I lay with them and make new ones for you “
Me: Was this the time of defection for Abdul Razak?
Zaid: No this was a few days prior to that.
When Abdul Razak went on TV, those who did not know him personally could not believe that there is a sergeant talking this way about the regime … he was describing the situation and unveiling the atrocities committed by the regime.
Me: Why was defecting from the army such a hard thing to do? Was it due to the mechanics of the army? Was the way it was organized the reason why it was extremely hard to defect?
Zaid: The way the army was structured was that there was always fear. It relied on fear. If you prayed twice, in a mosque or even during your duty, you were flagged as a threat, they labelled you as religious and of course that meant you are a threat to them. You are put under surveillance and you are questioned, even in their security reports you are labelled as religious, it was enough for you to pray to become labelled as a religious man. They went into details of your surroundings, is your wife veiled or not, is your family also religious? Of course the charge of sectarianism was directed towards anyone they didn’t like, whether it was true or not, it was used against anyone that displeased them. So the structure of the army was well organized, even the Alawites were divided into groups, you have for example the distanced Alawites and the Morshid Alawites who were never allowed to be more than a Brigadier, on the other hand you had those who were allowed to do what ever they wanted, they had the right to do whatever they wanted, with no penalty for their actions.
Me: In detail , what was your position or role when Abdul Razak defected?
Zaid: I was contacted by a person from the regime and he said to me you are a good friend of Abdul Razak’s father , and that was true I am very good friends with him, at this point Abdul Razak had not yet appeared on TV screens announcing his defection, he had just picked up and left with his car and as many weapons as he could carry.
Me: How did he do that?
Zaid: At that point the soldiers under his command were supposed to be relived of their duty, but that was postponed because of the situation, so he played a trick on them, asking them to leave their weapons and go to the HQ of the brigade and prepare their papers because they will be allowed to leave soon, and as they went to do that he packed as many weapons as he could into his VW car and took off. From that day till he went on television there was 4 days to a week and in that time I was asked to talk to his father, they told me to see if he could convince him to come back and they will find a way to wrap up the situation and everything will be good. They told him, come back and we will fabricate a story, that it wasn’t you, or that you were kidnapped by Sheikh Aroor loyalists and that you escaped etc. So I did as I was told and went to visit his father, of course I was not the first one. Before me, many others had tried to convince him and his reply was that they had 10 minutes to get out of the range of his gun or he would shoot them dead. He was frustrated by them, after Abdul Razak went on TV they even asked him to disown him and claim he was a drug addict and was mentally unhealthy. He continued to refuse. so when I came to his house he asked me “what’s your situation? Are you here to ask as others before you have?” and I said I am hear to support you and tell you that I am proud of your son and he is the most honourable of us all, he has done what we fear to do.
Me: So from that early stage you were with the revolution on the inside.
Zaid: Indeed I was. Abdul was placed in a situation that his moral stand could not handle, he took a manly stand, he did not care if anyone followed him, he saw for himself that the tanks were shelling civilians and he could not accept to be there. I continued the conversation with his father and I gave him two boxes of ammunition, and again reassured him that I was proud of Abdul Razak, that he did what we couldn’t do.
Me: So you started planning from this point?
Zaid: From the first day of injustice I started planning, because we were raised to stand against injustice, our religious instinct told us this was wrong, even if this injustice was committed against our enemies we refused it.
Me: And what did you do?
Zaid: Honestly at first I decided to observe the situation, deep down inside I was hoping for the situation to explode, because the injustice that was being committed could not be forgotten with a simple sorry. Personally I wanted the situation to explode especially after what I saw in the Omari mosque, what happened there was incredibly unjust, to enter a mosque and kill people while they are praying and to actually transport boxes of ammunition from the weapons factories and place them there claiming they were terrorist supplies was to much for us to handle. We are not new to these fabrications, we know them all too well. So I continued to observe the situation through Al Jazeera channel, Al Arabiya and so on. Of course the situation became bigger and bigger and massacres started happening all around the country. Where I was stationed in the city of Hama, I was in the area when the first demonstration came out of Aziz mosque, at first it was 5 or 6 people, as you know in Hama there was a lot of fear of the regime, they know the pain all to well, at this point the regime sent them a bus full of police to break them up but every week there were more and more people, till the number became well over 600,000 people in the demonstration called Children of Freedom, where the regime massacred 160 people and I am witness to this. I did not join in any of these actions, I avoided it at all costs. During that massacre I heard the gun fire from a distance. What happened exactly was a group of pick up trucks armed with heavy machine guns opened fire on innocent people, holding flowers in their hands. I assure you that not one of the 163 people killed was carrying any kind of weapon! After this incident a committee was set to change all the security command in Hama, which they did for a week to trick the people, but after a few days they were all back in their positions. At this point the mayor of Hama was very helpful to the people. They agreed together on many things and when he asked them not to write on the walls or cause any distraction they didn’t, they even agreed to clean up after the demonstrations and so on. We continued to witness these atrocities, at this point of course I was secretly helping the FSA, giving them information in secret, helping them with their planning, all of this while I was still in the ranks of the army. Sometimes when a military helicopter would leave the airport they would call me and ask me in code, is it carrying eggs or not? I would tell them don’t worry this one is for surveillance or this one is on a mission and so on.
I never stopped talking to Abdul Razak’s father even though he was watched 24/7, despite the danger it posed I continued to visit him, at that time I had yet to be given a military assignment, the one time when I was ordered, I got myself out of the situation by claiming partial blindness and that I can’t see during the night. During the whole period I only went to my post twice, once when I was asked to vote for the constitution, which I also avoided by saying I voted in another location. Of course you were forced to vote, every one at this point was unhappy, you couldn’t see it in public but even the ones who supported the regime felt unhappy with its decisions and actions and expressed it in closed rooms and private conversations.
Before I defected I used to visit Manaf Tlass, I used to feel he was stuck in a situation he didn’t want to be in. He once told me, “is it possible that Abdul Razak defected and we are still here? Does he have more honour than us?” and that to me was a definite signal, that phrase told me everything. I got the message that Manaf was getting ready to defect, we defected at the same time, each one of us headed to a different country.
Me: Please tell us the details of the day of your defection
Zaid: On the day of my defection, when Manaf left, of course he planned his defection carefully, he called his friends over for lunch and slipped out and left during the lunch. As for me I contacted the FSA and told them I wanted to defect, so on the day of the defection I prepared myself and took the opportunity that I didn’t have a set schedule. On my first day I went to the city of Suwayda, and stayed there for a day, I met with some people from the communist party, Druze of course, who knew I was going to defect.
Me: So you left Hama and came to Suwayda?
Zaid: No I left Hama a month before, trying to plan this defection, with my family of course. My first attempt in Suwayda was a failed attempt because I was uncomfortable with the set up, there were no arms to protect us and it seemed very risky, so I went back to Damascus where I was in contact with another group of the FSA. We met face to face and planned everything, that on a certain day, at 3 pm on a Wednesday on the 4th of July 2012, I don’t remember if it was a Tuesday or Wednesday. The plan was that at that time I meet them in Havana cafe, at 3 pm exactly a man came and we sat down for a coffee, then we left and as soon as we got in the car I told him that from this point I consider my self to be defected, I am under your wing now. So he took me to Daraa and I stayed in Abou Khalils house, the same house that Riyad Hjab stayed in before he left, and then I tried to leave Daraa but it was a failed attempt, we were fired at and there was a trap, so I went back and stayed one more night- That night I stayed up with Yasser al Aboud , who took me to Al Taybeh and from there a Jordanian officer was waiting for me. My family was still in Damascus, they were waiting till the next day for their passports to be ready so they could leave normally through the border, no one knew I was defected yet so it wasn’t a problem. Unfortunately there was a leak, and someone told on us, I had to wait to take my family out till the day the explosion happened in the command centre in Damascus. I took my family out the same way I went.
Me: What can you say about the role and influence of Iran in Syria?
Zaid: As for Iran, at the time of Hafez al Asaad , there was a balance that he created between Iran and the rest of the Arab world, he was acting as a safety guard with his relationship with Iran, a positive role that the Arabs supported, but when Bashar came he allowed Iran to take a bigger role in the area, he formed an allegiance with Iran. where we made concrete before, it had to be purchased from Iran, if we wanted to build cars they had to be Iranian, even on a security level he allowed them to penetrate Syria, as they did in Iraq but here it was allowed by the government. They never appeared on the main stage but they were controlling the government from behind the curtains. The same way for Hezbollah, the regime made it easier for Iran to to use them as their agent in Lebanon. The connection of course is that Iran is not a religious state, it has an agenda to become the hegemonic power in the area. They use religion as a tool but they were not really religious, strangely enough there are many contradictions between Alawites and Shia, never the less the Iranians became very powerful in Syria. At this point their support for the regime is never ending and they use Iraq as a conduit.
Me: Who can stop this support?
Zaid: Every situation of extremism presently in use is a reaction to the extremism on the other side. They committed crimes in the name of religion and they shout religious slogans as they commit these massacres, they go back in history and bring up things that have long been forgotten. They used to say that their Messiah would not appear until they have wiped out a large number of the Arabs (90 %), that is what they believe in. Of course we are defending ourselves, we used those actions as a defense. we filmed it and spread it to show the people what was really happening.
They used to force the prisoners to say there is no god but Bashar. Even if you are sitting in Egypt or any other place in the world this was unacceptable, they were being asked to worship a man! Of course I do not believe that the Alawites worshiped him, this was a way to humiliate people.
Me: Again how can we stop this Iranian support?
Zaid: It can be stopped by the more powerful countries, for example Turkey stopped planes and confiscated weapons coming in from Iran to Syria
Me: What about Iraq?
Zaid: As for Iraq, if they were truly a neutral country as they claim, it is their duty to stop and search these planes, but of course they are controlled by Iran, which means they cannot do anything about it. Al Maliki is in harmony with the regime, they are in very similar situations. To stop this is a job for the bigger countries and not for us.
Before I tell you my vision of the new Syria, I want to say that Iran claims it does not want to interfere with Syria’s internal affairs, but none the less the leader of their republican guard is on the ground in Syria right now. Hezbollah’s dead are labelled as martyrs of religious duty. I mean how can you claim not to interfere with our internal affairs while you send the regime supplies and arms? The Arab countries that support us, support us with money. The regime claims they are the ones interfering but in reality he leads them to interfere. We said before, if Iran, Lebanon and whoever do not interfere, or do not allow the regime to act freely, for example crossing Lebanese borders to detain people on Lebanese land, and even kill people on their land, what kind of neutrality is this? We ask whoever claims to be neutral to be honestly neutral. For example, how can Hezbollah claim a neutral stance when it names 12 of its people as martyrs in Syria? That means they were sent on official duty. What religious duty is this they are hiding behind? If Hezbollah has honestly taken a neutral stand we would have no problem with them, even Iran if they had not interfered in this way, we would have nothing against them. They are helping in every way, and it is our right to fight them. Any Iranian on Syrian soil is a military target, even if they claim to be tourists, you want to convince me that an Iranian in Homs is going to visit a holy site while the people of Homs themselves do not dare leave their homes under the shelling?
Me: What do you think of Syria after the revolution? How will the Syrian people live? Is there fear of extremism?
Zaid: We fear extremism as everyone else does. We are a people who are moderate in their religion, we want a democratic country, a secular country, I personally want a secular country. I don’t care what peoples religious views are, they can worship a chair for all I care. Extremism is a problem for me before it is a problem for the Christians, we as a Syrian people hate extremism, but the situation we are in right now with people’s dignities being pushed, their homes robbed, they are being asked to worship a man, their wives raped and so on. These people, when you leave them alone with no international protection, with no one to save them, you are closing of all their options, even the defectors from the army are not now given the importance they deserve. They are not being supported by anyone, what can they turn to? They have no choice! Me personally, if I were to go on the ground today I would chose the Islamist side, because it is the most effective on the ground, every one else is being lied to and miss-guided. The Islamist capabilities may even be coming from the regime itself, I even have information that the regime allowed Jabhat al Nusra to grow because he wanted this war to turn religious. If I could describe the Syrian situation, this entire area is similar, they are all dictators, every dictator from here to Latin America is similar. From the moment of the Arab spring, even the Arabs states that are yet to revolt, are in a state of unrest. Here, from the first day of what happened to the children of Daraa, was going to happen everywhere in Syria, Homs , Hama, wherever, there was a fire waiting to ignite. The people were unhappy, and by coincidence the spark was the children of Daraa,. if the people had not gotten to a point of discomfort there would not have been a revolution. The people were tired, they saw Rami Makhlouf and the people around the president, they saw their injustice and their crimes going unpunished, the people were fed up, even the taxi drivers of the airport were bullied by Rami Makhlouf, he wanted to dominate the country economically, he had a say in every contract in the country. The people did not want the fall of the regime, at first they were only looking for their basic dignity and freedom. The regime would open a factory in a Sunni area and not allow one person from the area to work in that factory. I mean this is outrageous, they were humiliating the people. The regime wants sectarianism to take over, and the first person to lead this campaign was Bouthaina Shaaban, she was the first one to bring it up, while the people were raising slogans of unity and peace she claimed they were sectarian and religious. Even in Bashar’s first speech he didn’t even give the people the respect to admit something went wrong. He came out on his high horse and started claiming there was a plan for the destruction of Syria, he said there were Israeli commanders leading the operations, he just lied and lied till he lead the country into a secular conflict…… The problems of the Syrian people are tied to 52 people, half of them Alawites and the rest are Sunni.
As for those 52 people, they are criminals in the eyes of the people. The people don’t want anything with the low ranking Alawi officials, they know if they refused to bomb they were dead also. The problem is with president Bahsar. Syria will go back to living together despite this situation he has created. The criminals are from all sects and we all know that, so there is no point in blaming one sect, as I said before these 52 people are divided between Sunni and Alawis and even some Druze and Christians. The regime is an expert in sectarian division, he was able to force the Alawis into backing him up by making them fear us, so many Alawis were mistreated by the regime, they were treated like us.
As for Syria in the future, there will be problems, and those problems are on the necks of the international community, they should assume responsibility. The worst case is that this situation will continue, and then we will become a hub for terrorism all around the world because of this situation and the reluctance of the international community to help us. If the regime had fallen a year ago we would not have had al Nusra and Qaeda loyalists in Syria. This is the fault of the international community. If we say right now that al Nusra is 12 % of the armed opposition for example, they are still not strong enough, the Syrian people are only supporting them because they are the only available means to protect themselves, but if the situation goes on in this way these people will become followers and thus become a burden on us and the whole area. America made the world join it in its war against the Taliban, and has yet to destroy them. These people will be harder to stop, this is Syria, it is a gateway to many important countries. There is no excuse for the world to stand still and watch Syria become a haven for those people. Soon enough, anyone who pleases will walk into the neighbouring countries and commit an act of terror and no one can stop them. We don’t want the country to fall, we just want Bashar to leave with his group, now before its to late, we can solve this, the secular people are being pushed aside, no one supports them, they helped structure them but that was it. They have to train them, help with intelligence, all you need is one Tomahawk missile to take him down. We hope that they become as efficient in their support as the allies of the regime who are supporting none stop with no hesitation. All they do is give us broken promises that have not materialized in any way, the financial support is extremely poor, it is not even worth mentioning. It doesn’t even reach us. Instead of helping the refugees in the camps, come and solve the actual problem. Now you see Jordan is complaining about the security threat, and so is Lebanon and Turkey. We have no choice now but to all join Al Nusra. They are pushing us into this situation. I can’t remain in this position, watching my people die. The regime is committing obvious crimes, he is using Scud missiles, local made bombs, air planes, everything he has to destroy these people. What choices are we left with? He is pushing us out of our homes, what else can we do?
End of interview