Ana Maria Luca

The Syrian opposition in Moscow

Talking to Dr. Mahmoud al-Hamza, head of the Syrian National Council in Russia

Syrians in Qatar protesting.

Dr. Mahmoud al-Hamza is the head of the Syrian National Council (SNC) in Moscow. He was born in Hasaka, Syria, but moved to Moscow to obtain his PhD in Mathematics. Al-Hamza worked as the Chief Researcher in the Department of Mathematics at the Institute of Science and Technology, a division of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow. However, he was fired soon after becoming an active member of the Syrian opposition, where al-Hamza helped to organize a series of meetings between SNC members and officials from the Russian foreign ministry.


NOW talked to al-Hamza about his meetings with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in addition to how SNC representatives tried to persuade the Kremlin that its interests in Syria would not be harmed.


NOW: How many meetings were held between Syrian opposition members and the Russian government?  


al-Hamza: I was part of all four committees that came to Moscow to meet with the Russian Foreign Ministry. I also coordinated all the visits. The first one was led by Radwan Ziadeh, Director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies. The second one was led by Dr. Ammar Qurabi, President of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria. The last two meetings were between the Syrian National Council (led by Burhan Ghalioun) and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


NOW: What happened during these meetings?


al-Hamza: The first two meetings were informal, and we spoke to a representative of President Vladimir Putin. The last two meetings were with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. All of the meetings were about the situation in Syria. We requested the meetings in order to clarify to the Russians that what was occuring in Syria is a revolution - that the people are against the regime. We explained the brutality of the regime, and what our goals are. We presented our demands and told the Russians that we want democracy and freedom. We stressed that we are neither against other minorities in Syria, nor against Russia itself - in fact we consider Russia a friendly country. We told Russian officials that they should stand by the people, not the regime.


NOW: What did the Syrian opposition delegation offer in terms of Russia’s interests in the region?


al-Hamza: The Russians know everything that’s happening in Syria - to the smallest of details. We were there to guarantee that Russia's interests in Syria would not be harmed.


We offered guarantees that we would cooperate with Russia to build a new army and economy. But the officials responded that they are against any international interference, including multinational armies and fighters. We asked them to help us topple Bashar al-Assad, but they countered by asking us to pursue negotiations because they don’t want to interfere. When we asked them to stop supporting the regime with weapons, the Russians replied that there were existing treaties between the two governments that they were forced to abide by.


I found them to be extremely rude. Lavrov was trying to convince us that we should negotiate. He asked the SNC delegation: “Are you with negotiations or with the revolution?” When a representative replied that “we are with the revolution,” Lavrov said “then expect a sea of blood.”


We told him not to give up on Syria, that we wanted Russia by the opposition’s side. We asked, “We are not enemies, why you are pushing the Syrians to burn the Russian flag?”


NOW: What were your thoughts on Russia’s political stance?


al-Hamza: They refused to recognize any massacre caused by the regime. But I was always hopeful, I believed in the need to cooperate with the Russians.


NOW: Do you think the Russian government is really pushing for a negotiated settlement?


al-Hamza: I am convinced that the Russian government is trying to buy more time for the regime - they do not believe in a political settlement to the conflict. They want to destroy the revolution and the people, and they are doing nothing other than supporting the regime.


NOW:  What is the situation like for Syrian opposition members in Russia?


al-Hamza: I stopped all contact with the Russian government. After these meetings, I felt unsafe in Moscow. A year and a half ago, I was also fired at the request of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


The Syrian opposition supporters in Moscow are under threat - they are being followed and investigated. Plus, the Syrian embassy is allowed to do whatever it pleases to its nationals in Russia.


NOW: Most European countries have restricted visas for Syrians, fearing that they may seek asylum within the European Union. Does Russia have the same policy?


al-Hamza: The Russian authorities are selling visas, each for hundreds of dollars. The refugees who are coming here are regular people. We have around 1,500 registered refugees in Russia. However, Syrian regime supporters do not register as refugees. They live in big houses where everything is provided for them. Over 50 Alawite students recently came to universities in Moscow, all of them holding Russian passports.


Yara Chehayed and Vivianne el Khawly contributed with translation.

The Syrian opposition representatives reportedly met four times with Russian officials, trying to convince them that Moscow’s interests in the Mediterranean would not be harmed. (AFP Photo)

"They refused to recognize any massacre caused by the regime. But I was always hopeful, I believed in the need to cooperate with the Russians."

  • texmex

    Putin, are you playing games and hardballs, not gay are you?

    June 8, 2013

  • Vlad Tepes

    Allright Russia! Keep up the good work!

    June 8, 2013