June 3, 2013
After years serving as the leading academic apologist for the Assad government, Yahya al-Aridi announced last week that he has left Syria and broken ties with the regime. The dean of the Media Faculty at Damascus University, al-Aridi’s resume includes a Ph.D. in linguistics from Georgetown University, a stint as the government’s spokesman in London, the director of Syria’s Channel Two state television and a frequent Middle East commentator on Iran’s Press TV.
See the original interview in Arabic here.
Anchorwoman: The dean of the Media Faculty at Damascus University, the former manager of the Syrian Media Center in London, the Syrian television anchorman and the former manager of Channel 2 in Syria… Dr. Yahya al-Aridi occupied all these positions before he left Syria to declare he defected. Dr. Yahya al-Aridi now joins us from Jordan.
Isn’t it late for you to take a position against the regime, and why now after two years?
Aridi: I haven’t declared defection. I’ve just expressed my viewpoint. You might be right I’m late, and I apologize for every drop of blood that has been shed and every life that has been wasted in this beloved country.
It took me a long time because of many reasons, but as they say in English, better late than never.
One way or another I have expressed my viewpoint from the beginning; since the early months of the Syrian movement. I quit my job as a dean of the Media Faculty to return to being a regular professor at the Faculty of Arts.
I used a pseudonym to write about what was happening in Syria. One of the reasons why I didn’t state a clear position was because I was afraid. I used to write sharp criticism that would endanger me.
As for why now, I was afraid that I might die, just like any other Syrian who has died, and then the truth about my opinions would die with me; something I didn’t want to happen. Now I state it clearly; what’s happening in Syria is a crime.
I have spent 25 years in the public service, whether through teaching or through media and television. I must have had some influence on people whom I spoke to from my mind and heart, helping them to build credibility. Maybe I can influence those to express their opinions as well about what’s happening. There’s a lot of silence.
Another reason for why now, is the fact that I come from a certain area in Syria in the south. The citizens of this area had fought both Ottoman and French occupation. [Referring to Druze] They were heroes, and their bravery was recognized. Now, they’re accused of being attached to the regime. They’re accused of backing the regime, and not participating in the revolution, but they’re innocent of these accusations.
These are good reasons for me to express my opinion.
Anchorwoman: You previously told me that you were counting on a change inside [Syria], but the situation has become frightful. Explain about the situation inside.
Aridi: Allow me to wipe the sweat [of my forehead], because I still feel afraid. It’s also hot here in the studio.
Anchorwoman: What are you afraid of?
Aridi: I’m afraid. Everyone knows the situation inside Syria, and how hostages are kidnapped and people are blackmailed. [Everyone knows] what punishment those who cross the line receive.
As for your question, I was waiting for the policy to change. I waited for months [for the government] to use a different approach to deal with the cases. The police solution was taken from day one, which resulted in deaths and bloodshed in Syria. I sent many messages regarding that Syrians don’t deserve to be killed for asking for some oxygen.
I lost hope after a while, and started to express my opinions using a pseudonym.
Anchorwoman: As an expert in Syrian media, how does the Syrian media work at this critical time?
Aridi: The Syrian media is engaging in a war, and doesn’t have a political message. They’re engaging in a media war to perfectly satisfying the regime. I can simply say they don’t own their decisions. There are specific mission for them. From the very beginning, the story was about conspiracy, insiders and terrorists.
Through all its history, Syria has been subjected to conspiracies. It has an important location and everyone knows the value of Syria.
Everyone knows the nature of Syrians who deserve to be free. There’s a Syrian land, Golan, which has been occupied since 1967. Even [occupied] Palestine used to be part of Syria. This Syrian man won’t be able to liberate his land unless his free. Slaves don’t liberate countries.
They accused the foreign media of attacking Syria and fabricating things. The truth is that this media hasn’t been allowed into Syria, so activists on the ground emerged to report what was happening.
Another thing happened to the Syria media that made a large impact. Its language has changed, so it became focused on sectarianism. They’ve started to use phrases to justify the killing in Syria.
People in the Syrian media sector are good and experts, but they receive an already-made news material.
Anchorwoman: Who makes this material in Syria now?
[Aridi pauses without answering.]