Five most bizarre quotes from Bashar al-Assad’s new interview


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gives a press conference in 2009. (DIETER NAGL/AFP/Getty Images)

Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad hasn't released many public statements since fighting began in his country two years ago when the government began brutally cracking down on peaceful protesters, but he has certainly been consistent. In Assad's telling, he is beloved by most Syrians, the rebels are foreign terrorists backed by hostile governments, the military is certainly not committing vast human rights abuses, and Syria will return to normal very soon.

It's a view of the Syrian conflict that seems largely particular to Assad. It's also one he stuck to in a recent interview with German filmmaker Hubert Seipel, which the New York Times' Robert Mackey and Shreeya Sinha have acquired and transcribed. The interview was conducted in English. You can read the full interview at their site, but it's worth excising, here, some of the quotes that best illustrate Assad's uniquely optimistic – and self-serving – take on the war.

1) The fighting was started by terrorists, not the military crackdown on peaceful protesters.

We didn’t launch the war and we didn’t choose which kind of war because we didn’t choose it anyway. You have terrorists coming with very sophisticated armaments, nearly all kinds of armaments that they can carry with them and started killing people, destroying infrastructure, destroying public places, everything.

2) Turkey installed a missile shield to protect against Syrian SCUD missiles only because Turkey is so aggressive.

This is part of the missile shield that they started a year ago in Turkey, but the Turkish didn’t want to say that this is a part of it because many Turks refuse that Turkey is part of this program. The second aspect of it that [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip]Erdogan has been trying hard to rally the Turks and to muster support to his policy against Syria, something that he failed. So he distributed the Patriot on our border just to give the impression that Turkey is in danger because Syria may think of attacking Turkey, which is not realistic.

3) All those massacred civilians actually loved me.

The people who were killed in the [Houla] massacres are state supporters loyal to the government, so how could a militia, loyal to the government, killing people, loyal to the government? This is contradiction, unrealistic. Actually militia of the terrorists coming to that city or to that village and committed the massacre, and they took the photos and put it on YouTube and on the TVs and they said this is the government, which was not realistic. Actually it was committed by the gangs, by the terrorists.

4) Who can say whether Syria has instituted enough "reform"?

Well the criteria that you used to talk about the speed of reform, nobody has criteria. When you drive your car you know that this is the law here, 100 kilometer, let’s say, per hour. Well about the reform, does anyone has criteria or certain meter? So it’s subjective.

5) Assad's peace plan

If you want to succeed (I mean I was talking to Kofi Annan at the time.) If you want to succeed, you have to focus on the violence part of your initiative. If you don’t stop the violence, if you don’t stop the terrorists coming to Syria through different countries, mainly Turkey and Qatar, if you don’t stop the money coming inside Syria in order to stoke the fire – the whole initiative will fail. So that was the core of our discussion in the first meeting.

Correction: This post originally stated that the interview had been "translated into English." In fact, the interview was conducted in English, which of course explains Assad's sometimes disjointed phrasing. The post has been corrected.

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Max Fisher · February 21, 2013