Syrian Activist Seeks Support From Syrian-Americans

Raed Fares, a pro-democracy activist from the Syrian town of Kafr Nabl, has helped lead that town's anti-government protests since the very early days of the Syrian conflict in 2011. This week, Fares is in the U.S., on only his second trip outside of Syria. Fares is attempting to rebuild support for the revolution among Syrian Americans. He speaks with NPR's Arun Rath about the conflict and the toll it has taken on his town.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Arun Rath.

We're going to start this evening with a voice you don't often get to hear. In Syria today, we hear mostly about the fighters, the warriors on both sides and their victims. It's almost impossible to remember the nonviolent protests from the early days of the uprising.

The town of Kafr Nabl was home to some of the earliest protests. And as the conflict has dragged on, even as the town has been devastated by government artillery and bombs, it has retained the spirit of those early days.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)

RATH: This is a demonstration in Kafr Nabl late last month. The town has been called the conscience of the revolution. After the Boston Marathon bombing, some of the protesters in Kafr Nabl held up signs expressing sympathy. And one of those protesters, who was there from the beginning, has made the dangerous journey from Kafr Nabl to speak with us right here.

Raed Fares is a secular pro-democracy activist. This is only his second time outside of Syria. He's in the U.S. to try to rebuild support among Syrian Americans. We were able to speak to him yesterday during a stop in Los Angeles. For most of our interview, Fares spoke to us through a translator, a Syrian American activist traveling with him in the U.S. But at the end of our interview, he spoke to me directly in English.

RAED FARES: (Through translator) So if there's one point that I want to make sure that the American people hear very clearly is that it's not as it is portrayed in the media that Syria is currently a war between the Assad state and extremist forces. In fact, what is going on in Syria today is not actually a conflict between two parties, but it's actually a three-sided conflict.

(Through translator) You have the Assad regime, which is brutally killing its people. You have extremist forces that are coming from around the world that are also fighting against the Syrian people. They're not fighting against the Assad regime in any real capacity. And then you have the Syrian people that are in the middle of all of this who are trying to stand up for themselves and trying to protect themselves and trying to, at the end, achieve some kind of free civil state with democracy.

RATH: And at this point today, how many of the fighters who are fighting the Assad regime are these jihadist, al-Qaida type groups?

FARES: (Through translator) It's impossible to know exactly how many extremist fighters there are in Syria today, but I believe that the numbers that are being quoted in the media are very much exaggerated. I don't think that there's really anywhere close to the numbers of extremists fighting in Syria today that the media suggests that there are.

RATH: Do you believe the United States should intervene more directly in Syria?

FARES: (Through translator) Of course, the United States has a much larger role to play and has not really given any meaningful - presented any meaningful assistance to the revolution itself. The United States of America is the major global power. And it is seen by the world as the protector of freedom and democracy, which is what the revolution was. And so when we asked the United States for more assistance, we weren't asking for humanitarian assistance. That was never what the expected or desired assistance from the United States was.

(Through translator) We wanted that when President Obama would make a statement that Bashar Assad needs to resign, needs to step aside, that there would actually be meaningful effort put towards forcing the Assad regime to resign. But, in fact, there was nothing like that. We didn't take to the streets because we wanted food baskets or because we wanted humanitarian assistance. We took to the streets because we wanted freedom and dignity and democracy. And it was the United States' role to play, to make sure that those outcomes were achieved in Syria.

RATH: Your town, obviously, it's bombed still frequently by the government. It's a dangerous place. Are you going to be going back?

FARES: Of course, I'm going back and - to let you know, today, in Syria, there's airstrike targeted Kafr Nabl, and it was a massacre. And four martyrs - one woman and three kids - today are massacred in my town in Kafr Nabl, but it was airstrike.

RATH: This was an airstrike today in your town, Kafr Nabl.

FARES: Yeah.

RATH: Were they people that you know?

FARES: Of course, I know them.

RATH: You probably know everyone in the town.

FARES: Of course.

RATH: Yeah.

FARES: It's a small town, 50,000 people, so I know all of them.

RATH: Thank you very much for making the time to speak with us. Let me just ask you if there's anything else that you wanted to say.

FARES: I just want to say thank you, thank you for giving me this chance to be here. And just want to say it's a revolution. It's not civil war. Just keep it in your mind.

RATH: Not a civil war. It's a revolution.

FARES: It's a revolution. It's not civil war. It's a revolution. And so people wanted their freedom and dignity. And everybody should be with us. And that's it.

RATH: That's Syrian activist Raed Fares. We spoke to him yesterday. You also heard the voice of Kenan Rahmani, who translated.

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