Hazem Saghieh

Syria in the Narratives of its Invaders

With the revolt that recently erupted in Iran, Syria came to feature in the rhetoric of the Iranian regime and its followers. It was mentioned in the following terms: they- Western powers, enemies, spies and their subordinates- want to destroy Iran like they tried to destroy Syria.

Before that, with the Russian war on Ukraine, the Russian narrative, which is being echoed by a growing number of people, mentions Syria in this manner: evil shall be defeated in Ukraine as it had been defeated in Syria.

Both narratives, at the end of the day, are a single narrative of two chapters: The Iranian chapter describes the problem: the conspiracy. The Russian chapter describes the solution: Holy Fire. Scorched earth. A purifying cleanse after the defilement.

This is how the murderer tells the story of the murdered and the robber tells the story of the robbed; from it, he deduces the appropriate “lessons”.

Naturally, there is a savior in the background of both narratives: in the Iranian one, it is the slain general Qassem Soleimani. In Russia’s narrative, it is the ‘butcher of Syria’, General Aleksandr Vladimirovich Dvornikov, whose expertise has been sought in the hope of putting an end to the setbacks suffered in the war on Ukraine.

Syria is, in both cases, a silent being. Her invaders represent her and her experience; only they speak on her behalf. They are especially keen on doing so when they are faced with their own ordeals, for which the silence imposed on Syria is used to demonstrate that they, like the heroes of epics, are destined to be targeted constantly.

Of course, both Russia and Iran allow for the emergence of alternative narratives about Syria only to the extent that they allow alternative narratives about any other matter!

In these proliferating mendacious recollections about Syria, we see a blend that combines the criminal’s tendency to revisit his crime, establish a place where the lies are tested, in parallel to testing weapons, and reassure himself that victory has been attained and that the Syrian corpse has been killed and will never be heard of after today.

Such a coarse narrative resembles only the coarse actions it “narrates” at a time many describe as the “age of information.”

And the fact is that calling the actions of Russia and Iran “colonial” or “imperial” does not say much. It could even be a little bit misleading:

When those to whom colonialism is attributed review their colonial history, we find the overwhelming majority and the mainstream use apologetic language, which totally contrasts with the triumphalist rhetoric of the Iranians and Russians. While we see increasing numbers of attempts, at least in democratic countries, to revive ancient cultures and identities that had almost been erased by early colonialists, such concerns are nonexistent in the dominant Russo-Iranian political cultures. Repeatedly denying the existence of a Ukrainian nation and presenting Ukrainians as mere “neo-Nazis” are only the most recent and most revealing expressions of this tendency.

Moreover, the crimes committed by older colonialism targeted communal identities and repressed them harshly, perhaps depriving them of opportunities that some say their history had been moving towards realizing. As for the Russo-Iranian crimes committed in Syria, they targeted a national identity of a country that had supposedly gained its independence more than three-quarters of a century ago.

Furthermore, the crimes of European colonialism, with all of its viciousness and patronization of the native inhabitants, came with major advancements, both material and cultural, institutional and political. No one can deny this progress, even if they were vehemently opposed to imperialism, especially when these advancements are compared to the absolute destruction that Russia and Iran leave behind them.

According to the commonly accepted figures, the human costs of the major standoffs between the Syrian people and the French occupation, which went on for 26 years, led to the deaths of 150 in the Battle of Maysaloun (1920), 4,213 during the suppression of the ‘Great Syrian Revolt’ in 1925-7, and 600 during the bombardment of Damascus in 1945. These figures would not have satisfied General Soleimani as a quick breakfast in between his journeys from one military front to another, and the same is true of General Dvornikov’s appetite.

In 2003, London witnessed the biggest protest in its history in opposition to the Iraq War of that year. The great nineteen-sixties protest movement against the Vietnam war, which rocked the United States and the Western world, is also still in the memory. Were protests of any scale, even microscopic, against Iran and Russia’s destruction of Syria allowed anywhere in Tehran or Moscow?

With such qualities, the Russo-Iranian narrative about Syria is a story of pure barbarism about acts that can only be called pure barbarism.

As for retaliating to these actions, it is not in anyone’s hands, not in the foreseeable future at least. However, the response to the narrative begins with developing a Syrian one that comes from the narratives of individuals and groups, as well as continuing to unravel the history and reality of Syria as they are and they had been, without sugarcoating anything or making any false claims.

In the meantime, the Iranian- Russian cooperation that was founded in its most extreme form in Syria continues. The Iranian drones gifted to the Russians for use in Ukraine tell us that the barbaric battle they are fighting is one and the same: the two collaborating parties also claim they are fighting imperialism and accuse the Syrians and the Ukrainians of being imperialist stooges!

Syria’s narrative about itself would be better off saving itself from this trap, just as Ukraine’s narrative had saved itself from the same trap.