Zahran Alloush, the leader of Jaysh al-Islam (Eastern Ghouta’s largest armed Islamist faction, which has total control over the town of Douma near the Syrian capital Damascus) is visiting the Turkish city of Istanbul.
This means the man has succeeded in leaving an area that the Assad regime has placed under siege, and arranged his visit through coordination with the Turkish authorities. Or perhaps it was the Turkish authorities that invited him, within the framework of the much-talked-about efforts Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been making recently. The three influential states, as we have heard, are working to provide certain Syrian opposition forces with quality military support that would allow them to escalate pressure on Assad’s forces, his Iranian protectors, and the Lebanese, Iraqi and Afghan militias that support him—especially on fronts in southern Syria, Damascus, Qalamoun and Aleppo.
Amid all this commotion, there is one point that should not be overlooked: Zahran Alloush has been accused, by a large number of Syrian opposition figures, of many transgressions and malpractices, the most serious of which is the kidnapping of Razan Zeitoune, Samira al-Khalil, Wael Hamadeh and Nazem Hammadi in Douma on 9 December 2013.
Politically, their kidnapping was 'unlike any other abduction.' It targeted the foremost democratic opposition figures to the Assad regime, and documenters of its crimes. They were also the most prominent figures working to support the local community in Douma and to secure means by which the town could endure the policies of besiegement, starvation and destruction imposed by the Assad regime.
Moreover, the kidnapping targeted two symbolic and unparalleled female figures: Syria’s bravest lawyer, Razan Zeitoune, who for many years before the revolution fought for human rights and the release of prisoners of conscience, including Islamists; and Samira al-Khalil, a former political prisoner who spent years in Hafez al-Assad’s prisons, and whose life was the embodiment of integrity and firm opposition to the fascism of Bashar al-Assad and his father.
Of course, all four kidnapping victims have well-established reputations both in Syria and abroad. Wael took part in the revolution, worked as a civilian activist, was detained twice in Assad’s prisons, and was Razan’s partner both in private life and in her struggle for justice. Nazem is a lawyer, poet, and founding member of both the Local Coordination Committees and the Violations Documentation Center. This goes back two decades in Samira’s case, and a decade in the cases of Razan, Wael and Nazem. In other words, their humanitarian work and continuous confrontation with despotism began long before anyone had heard of Zahran Alloush.
Therefore, Turkey, which has shown more support to the various sections of the Syrian opposition and provided better options for Syrian refugees than all other countries in the world, must work to ensure the release of Samira, Razan, Wael and Nazem. The same applies to officials dealing with matters related to Syria in other countries that support the opposition, and officials within the opposition itself, some of whom have been living in Turkey for a long time. They must show Alloush and people like him that the kidnapping of defenseless civilians and activists with a long and unwavering history of standing up to Assad is a crime.
This type of conduct, often described as “difficult to cover,” could incriminate the very actors who support armed opposition groups.
This means that efforts to ensure the release of Samira Khalil, Razan Zeitoune, Wael Hamadeh and Nazem Hamadi are more important today than they have ever been, because the kidnapper of the four activists, or the prime suspect in their kidnapping, is present in Istanbul. Some of the people there who are in touch with him are aware of this, and if their awareness in not translated into words and actions it will become an irrevocable indictment.
Ziad Majed is a professor of Middle East studies at the American University of Paris and writes on Lebanese, Syrian and Arab affairs. He tweets @ziadmajed
This article has been translated from the original Arabic by Ullin Hope