It never had to be this way

The Syrian uprising is one year old today. It shouldn’t be. What began as peaceful, legitimate protests in search of dignity and a better future need never have become the violent conflict that has seen Baba Amr become the latest symbol of the regime’s shameful disregard for human rights and human life.


When the relatives of 40 political detainees gathered outside the Interior Ministry in Damascus on March 15th 2011, exactly a year ago, the regime had an opportunity to listen. It had a chance to consider their requests – even look at long promised reforms. But the actions of the security forces – the plain clothed mukhabarat – who bundled old men and women into buses and savagely beat them began to say otherwise.

By the time a crowd gathered in the clock square in Homs last April a pattern of repression had already emerged. To clear the square of a peaceful sit-in, regime forces machine-gunned the crowd, killing seventy people.

Even in mid July when some opposition members tried to participate in the regime’s hastily organised national dialogue – despite the ongoing suppression of weekly protests – Assad had a chance to choose a different path. Instead the state murdered twelve people who had gathered on the eve of talks to meet in a quiet Damascus suburb. For me that is the moment when the regime shut the door on participation by peaceful activists even in its own national dialogue except on terms that preserved its absolute control.

The consequences of the regime’s decision to opt for a security solution at the expense of a political one are painfully obvious today. Syria is a country on the brink of civil war.

I never doubted the regime’s capacity for violence or brutality. Syria under Hafez and Bashar Assad was never a free society before the uprising started. People were detained, disappeared and tortured. But – like Syrians of all walks of life and every denomination – I was surprised that the regime should in practice ignore opportunities to deal with legitimate grievances and instead chose repression on an industrial scale.

I can’t help thinking that if the regime’s initial response had been to acknowledge and to deal with these grievances, then the situation might have been resolved through peaceful reform, and the uprising would not have taken this bloody trajectory. Instead, whether through arrogance or incompetence, the regime’s decision to strike with an iron fist has resulted in over 7,500 deaths, and tens of thousands of people illegally detained or injured – in many cases under torture in the prisons.

So what begun twelve months ago, with a dozen school children from the southern Syrian town of Deraa arrested for spraying anti-regime graffiti on walls has become a prolonged crisis that casts a shadow across the whole world. These children who were returned to their parents bloodied, bruised, and abused became the catalyst for an uprising that has now engulfed the whole country.


It is no longer a question of whether Assad will go. It is a question of when. It is a doomed regime that is unable to turn away from violence. In parallel there is an economic clock ticking and the situation inside the country is getting progressively worse. The economy is fraying. There’s no investment, no trade and very little consumer confidence. People with money want to get it out of the country. Business men are looking at other options.

Since returning to London many people have asked for my response to the situation in Syria. For me it’s a mixture of anger and admiration. Anger at seeing a state whose function it should be to protect and nurture its citizens, turn its apparatus instead to killing, torture and fear-mongering. But I also feel a huge amount of admiration for the courage of ordinary Syrians. Admiration not only for the activists, but also for the courage of ordinary Syrian men and women who risk their lives on daily basis to seek what should be universal human rights. This courage to take a stand against such adversity is humbling. The Syrian people deserve better than what they’ve got. They deserve our continuing support as they press for change.



8 Responses

  1. [...] 10.35am: Britain’s ambassador to Syria, Simon Collis, has marked the first anniversary of the uprising by paying tribute to the courage of activists and ordinary Syrians. [...]

  2. David Pollard says:

    There has never been a more brutal face to a government in my lifetime (I am 56) and it MUST BE CONFIRMED that the chief architects of such a brutal dictatorship should end up in international court, charged with murder.
    The restrictions on arming the anti government forces should immediately be lifted.

  3. [...] Britain’s ambassador to Syria, Simon Collis, has paid tribute to the courage of activists and … “It is a doomed regime that is unable to turn away from violence,” he [...]

  4. [...] could take part in the rally, despite it being a holiday today, the New York Times reported.• Britain’s ambassador to Syria, Simon Collis, has paid tribute to the courage of activists and … “It is a doomed regime that is unable to turn away from violence,” he wrote.• Those [...]

  5. [...] Britain’s ambassador to Syria, Simon Collis, has paid tribute to the courage of activists and … “It is a doomed regime that is unable to turn away from violence,” he [...]

  6. staffnurse says:

    So true Mr Collis, the regime should have taken the opportunity last year to bring in reforms .If you recall the first demonstrations didn,t call for regime change , they called for reforms , and all peacefully . Every public demonstration was met with violence and eventually the calls were for regime change.
    The Syrians are suffering for their freedom and they deserve all the help the world can give them .

  7. john says:

    I was hoping that people would be liberated without violence Lnh very difficult to see what a greeting to every activist

  8. Paulbus says:

    Why oh why oh why has nothing been done to stop what is effectively genocide being committed against the Syrian people? Why is it that all we hear is politicians condemning what is going on, but not talking about what can be done to stop it? I feel ashamed that my country has stood idly by whilst innocent men, women and children have been massacred by their own government forces. Have we learned nothing from history? From WW2, from Rwanda, from Yugoslavia? To quote Winston Churchill, (who in turn was quoting the Prime Minister of the day, Stanley Baldwin) “….democracy is always two years behind the dictator.” More people died during the 20th century as a result of genocide than as a result of ALL of the wars together. Surely it must stop.

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