Fayez Sara

Syrian Documents In the Ethical, Practical Balance

As of early 2024, there were million and three hundred thousand documents tied to the Syrian struggle. Although this is a massive number, it could be considered small given the significance and scale of what has happened in Syria and all the foreign interventions it has witnessed over the past thirteen years, which have hurt all Syrians, regardless of their positions and roles.
The assertion that the number of documents is small is supported by two factors we can add to these reasons. First, the developments in Syria coincided with the most significant shift in communication and information technology seen in human history, providing simple, multipurpose technologies that not only allow for documenting developments and preserving this documentation in optimal conditions but also allow every person affected by the events to do so.

In addition to these factors, the developments and events in Syria have attracted many international, regional, and local organizations and entities. They include missions by security, diplomatic, and other agencies. Moreover, the role played by research centers and media institutions, visual, auditory, and written, as well as social media, cannot be overlooked. An expert on Facebook has claimed that those who run it deleted about half a million posts related to the Syrian revolution, some of which were documentation, in a single year.

The point of this extensive introduction to Syrian documentation is to convey that there has been extensive, almost comprehensive, documentation of everything that has happened in and around Syria, in visual, written, and auditory materials. However, it will take time and the right conditions to reveal all of this documentation, as was the case with the infamous chemical weapons massacres and the Caesar photos, which no one had expected would be disclosed.

The documentation also covers the actions of ISIS and the extremist groups affiliated with it. The documentation of their action, especially their crimes, was intended to suggest extremist groups opposing the regime -and this documentation has been extensive - to demonstrate that these groups do not differ from the regime and share many of its policies and practices. The footage of ISIS and the Jaysh Al-Islam forcing captives into iron cages as a public spectacle that was shared with a live audience and online, is particularly revealing.

Certainly, there has been documentation of atrocious behavior in the Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria and the northwest of the country controlled by several factions, as well. In both regions, there have been human rights violations and policies have harmed the populace, which the authorities of these regions claim as their own. These policies conflict with the interests of the majority of the population, as the facts show. These actions include the persecution of the parties of the Kurdish National Council under the pretext that they are loyal to Türkiye, as well as treating the Arabs in the area like they are all ISIS members. The documentation of the abuses by the de facto authorities in northwest Syria is even more extensive.

We could discuss at length the documentation of the actions of Russia, Iran, Türkiye, the United States, and Arab countries that played a role, but it is beyond the scope of this article. Nonetheless, that does not undermine the assertion that the documentation of crimes in Syria is significant in both its volume and themes. Documentation related to the suffering of victims, which has allowed it to become part of the collective memory, is particularly important. It safeguards the rights of the victims and prevents the emergence of a similar regime in the future.

The question that documentation raises pertains to its utility, particularly its practical and political benefits. These benefits are multifaceted, and foremost among them is that they can be used in the service of Syria and Syrians both in the present and the future, not merely to remove the current regime that has wreaked havoc on the country and given rise to disasters that have broadly been meticulously documented, but also to shape the next regime. It can help us choose individuals and political structures that differ from those we have come to know over the past thirteen years, as they have failed to lead Syrians and to resolve the Syrian crisis, whether in times of war or peace.

By taking this approach to Syrian documentation, it can be leveraged on several fronts. It can help push for the unconditional release of detainees and the release of information regarding the fact of those who will not return to their homes and families. Additionally, documentation can be used to facilitate the return of refugees and displaced individuals to their country and homes, as well as affirming their ownership of real estate and agricultural land, which have been taken from them in some instances. This documentation can also be used to pursue and prosecute everyone who has committed crimes against Syrians. Doing so is not only necessary to ensure accountability for past actions; it is also a necessary response to action currently being taken in areas under the control of the various de facto authorities, and it is crucial for preventing further human rights violations and crimes against Syrians.

The final issue regarding this documentation that requires our attention is the general approach taken by some opposition forces, individual opponents, and activists within human rights organizations. Their efforts have not been up to par given the objectives and goals that could have been achieved for the use of documentation. If opposition groups have failed to correct paths or formulate alternative policies as a result of scrutinizing what occurred, the same is true for the coalitions, political and armed groups, and civil society organizations, as well as many of the activists and figures who took part in the negotiations in Geneva, talks for the release of detainees, constitutional committee discussions, or the negotiations in Astana. They have all been stark failures and squandered opportunities, preventing this documentation from achieving any political gains beyond the moral significance of documenting the crimes, destruction, and suffering inflicted upon the Syrian people, which is so immense that documentation fails to capture it.