Iranian activist group Iran Freedom hosted an online panel conference on Thursday to deliver eyewitness accounts of the experience of life in besieged Aleppo and to discuss Iran’s role in the conflict.
The conference, entitled “Online Q&A Eyewitnesses: Untold stories of residents of Aleppo”, brought in a diverse panel of men and women who served a variety of roles in the Syrian conflict.
Host Zolal Habibi first introduced Zaher Sahloul, a Syrian-American physician, past president of the Syrian-American Medical Society and founder of American Relief Coalition for Syria.
“I want to thank the Iranian opposition for providing this platform”, Sahloul said.
“Right now, 50% of children in Syria do not have access to education. Syrian children in refugee camps think only of their next meal. We have to make sure that hospitals and schools are rebuilt… We need a collective effort on the international level to help the people of Syria.”.
English teacher and activist Abdulkari Alhamdo also took part in the conference.
“We lived very difficult months in Aleppo…A month in Aleppo is like years outside Aleppo. We thought that the world had forgotten us, that we were abandoned inside a forgotten part of Aleppo”, said Alhamdo.
“We saw huge solidarity from a lot of people, a lot of media and activists and around the world. We couldn’t find that solidarity from politicians, but that is not important; what is important is human beings. Seeing demonstrations around the world supporting us gave us hope that we could live in that horrible situation.”
Mr. Alhamdo also reflected on the future of Aleppo and Syria.
“We will take back all Syria for the cause of freedom. We didn’t want the war, we just wanted peace for our families…this destruction was made for us.
“Hiroshima, Chichen Itza…These were cities that were destroyed, but outlived the forces that destroyed them. There are other places in Syria that are at risk of being exterminated by the regime. We want to make sure that they have health, that they have shelter…The Syrian-American diaspora is really eager to go back and help our destroyed city. We want a united country.”
Alhamdo, like other panelists, noted the Iranian presence in Syria as a major problem.
“The Assad regime is no more than a toy in the hands of Tehran. Iran has more power in Syria than Assad himself”, he said. “We must take this into considerations during [U.N. Security Council meetings], but they are always focusing on Trojan horses made by Assad, by Iran, just to fight, oppress and kill people.”
Speaker Fatemeh Alebed, the last remaining OB-GYN in Aleppo before leaving recently, spoke alongside her 7-year old daughter. Alebed said that the actions of Iran-backed militias in Syria, coming from Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and elsewhere, were intensifying the problems on the ground.
“This regime has a deadlock and that is why they are taking such actions”, said Habibi during the conference. “The regime has never hid their reasons for being active inside Syria.” She then quoted several statements by Iranian’s regime officials over the primary strategic importance of the Syrian conflict.
“Assad cannot do or say anything without [Iran’s blessing]”, said Alhamdo.
“We should separate the Iranian regime from the Iranian people”, said Mr. Sahloul.
“[Syrians and Iranians] have the same cultures, the same values… Sectarianism is a source of extremism for all parties. I asked President Rouhani, “if Imam Hossein were alive, would he be standing with the children…or with the people dropping barrel bombs on them? He had no answer.”
The National Council of Resistance of Iran has obtained information suggesting that Iran’s role in Syria is much larger than more conservative estimates had indicated. There is growing evidence of heavy involvement by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officers in Iran, and definitive evidence of the presence of Iranian-backed militias throughout the country.
“Our mandate as citizens of the world in the last five months was to protect [Syrian cities]”, said Sahloul.
“We were lucky enough to do that, but the conflict is not over in Syria.”