A group of Iranian activists and citizen-journalists met on the third anniversary of the start of the Syrian revolution (18 March 2014) to discuss the current state of the Syrian revolution and how Iranians can support it.
Among other things, the meeting produced the following open letter to the Syrian opposition, as everyone present at the meeting felt this was a crucial issue at this stage.
As one of the few Iranian media projects focusing on the Syrian revolution and the Iranian regime’s role is suppressing it, Naame Shaam  has taken it upon itself to translate and circulate the letter. Here is the full text.
Dear friends in the Syrian opposition,
We are a group of Iranian activists and citizen-journalists who have been following the Syrian revolution over the last three years with much pain and frustration. We are writing to you to express our disappointment at the lack of communication and information aimed at the Iranian public coming from the Syrian opposition, and to invite you to re-think your political strategy and tactics in relation to mobilizing the international community to support your epic struggle against the murderous Syrian regime.
We find it extremely odd that, for three years, the Syrian opposition has not made any effort or attempt to talk to the Iranian public. At least none of us is aware of any such attempts. Given the scale and magnitude of the Iranian government’s involvement in the ongoing war in Syria, this ‘omission’ is indeed bizarre, to say the least.
The result is that most Iranians know next to nothing about what is really happening in Syria. Those who do know a little mostly get their ‘news’ from biased Iranian state-controlled media – i.e. they only hear and read the Syrian and Iranian regimes’ propaganda. How can you then expect Iranians to sympathize with and support your cause?
To give you just a few examples:
– We have heard of many Syrian opposition figures and activists holding public meetings and events aimed at the general public in various other countries, mostly Western. Yet we have not heard of any Syrians organizing events or talks, or even issuing statements, addressing the Iranian public or the Iranian opposition, including Iranian communities in those same diaspora countries.
– Many Syrian opposition websites provide content in languages other than Arabic, mostly European. While we understand the historical and technical reasons for this, one would expect that at least some essential documents and news would be made available in languages that matter (in terms of their speakers’ potential impact on the events in Syria), namely Persian and Russian.
– In a great deal of news and commentary coming out of various Syrian opposition factions and media outlets, when they talk about the Iranian government’s role in Syria, no distinction is made between the regime or the government and the Iranian people. Many Iranians do not identify with their government and do not support its actions in Syria, whether for progressive or conservative reasons.
Why this is a problem
We are not in a position, nor is it our intention, to tell you what to do and how to go about conducting your work. But from where we stand, this lack of communication and information directed at the public of one of the main players in the Syrian crisis seems like a big mistake, both strategically and tactically.
Strategically, the main Syrian opposition factions seem to be focusing too much on state-level politics and not paying much attention to the importance of mobilizing public opinion and winning over grassroots support around the world. For a popular revolution like the Syrian one, this is rather paradoxical.
For example, we heard that the Syrian opposition’s Moath al-Khatib recently met with an official Iranian delegation in Berlin. Regardless of whether anyone will ever manage to persuade the Iranian government to change its position on Syria, we would have liked to see the Syrian opposition reaching out to the Iranian opposition and grassroots movements, building links and asking for their solidarity and support.
Our point is: this is still a popular revolution, as you yourselves insist. It is not just a ‘diplomatic crisis’.
Tactically, everyone knows that it is the Iranian regime’s support that has practically kept the Syrian regime going for three years – especially since Hezbollah Lebanon’s official entry into Syria in mid-2013. In fact, it is no longer the Syrian regime forces that are doing the fighting with the support of Hezbollah Lebanon and other militias. The major battles, as far as we are aware, are now being fought mainly by Hezbollah and the Iraqi militias, which are funded and controlled by Sepah Pasdaran. The Assad regime would not survive 24 hours without this direct Iranian role. And ordinary Iranians are the ones who are footing the bill.
Thus, if you want to seriously cut or weaken this lifeline, you should make more effort to inform Iranians about their regime’s role in Syria. This may not only help stop the Iranian intervention in Syria, but will also benefit many Iranians who are suffering economically because of their government’s foreign policies.
We are writing to you with the intention of helping and supporting the Syrian revolution. So here are some practical suggestions that we hope you will take on board.
– Provide information and news in Persian, so that Iranians hear your side of the story, not just the Syrian and Iranian regimes’ side. Persian sections on your various websites and media outlets would obviously be ideal. But even if it is basic, occasional reports, it is still better than nothing.
– Allocate some of your media budgets to this Persian work, because it is important. We note that the Syrian opposition’s National Coalition has recently launched a new initiative (‘Unleash Your Creativity’) aimed at funding and supporting professional media projects. It would be great if some of this money went to media projects aimed at the Iranian public.
– The war in Syria concerns the Iranian public too, not only for general moral or political considerations, but for internal, material reasons as well. For example, there are now Iranians who are losing their lives in an unjust war that is not even theirs; the financial costs of the Iranian regime’s intervention in Syria is starting to seriously impact ordinary Iranians in economic terms; Iran as a whole will have to face the political and legal implications of our government’s actions in Syria… and so on and so forth. Iranians need hear from you that Syria is becoming ‘Iran’s Vietnam’, and that Sepah Pasdaran, Hezbollah Lebanon and the Iraqi militias need to pull out of Syria before it is too late for everyone.
– Please avoid sectarian language and sectarian politics. The war in Syria is a political not a religious one. Iranians need to hear from you that the Syrian revolution is not about religious fanatics who hate the Shia and Iran as a country. They need to hear from you that you have a problem with the Iranian regime, not with the Iranian people or the Shia community.
We hope you will take these suggestions on board, discuss them seriously among yourselves and act upon them.
With respect and solidarity,
Tehran, 23 April 2014
Notes: Naame Shaam is a group of Iranian activists and citizen-journalists who prefer to remain anonymous for the time being for security reasons. However, we do have members and friends outside Iran who can speak on our behalf without risking their lives. If you would like to talk to them, please get in touch at [email protected].
For more information about Naame Shaam, please check our website at www.naameshaam.org and our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Naame-Shaam/438772749584524.