Wellington, NZ, 16 December – About three dozen people attended a rapidly organised protest outside the Russian Federation’s sprawling embassy in Messines Rd, Wellington.
The protest was organised by Syrian Solidarity New Zealand and supported by local members of International Socialist Organisation (ISO). The gathering soon doubled in size from a dozen people to around three dozen;
Various signs gave a simple message, demanding an end to violence, killings, and support for refugees;
Some made a pointed link between state-sponsored oppression in Syria and in Gaza;
Behind an iron barricade, the flag of the Russian Federation fluttered from a pole that, a quarter of a century ago, was adorned with it’s Soviet predecessor;
Flags may change, but super-power imperialism remains a stubborn constant.
Gayaal was the first speaker to address the protestors;
Gayaal thanked people for attending the protest in front of what he called sovereign Russian territory;
“We have come here to remind Putin and to remind the Russian state that even if Aleppo falls, the Syrian revolution will not not be defeated. The people of Aleppo, who have already sacrificed so much heroically to maintain their freedoms, will never be the same.”
“We are here to send a message from people in New Zealand to the Russian government and to Putin and to al-Assad that the struggle will continue.”
He said the protest was called to show solidarity with the Syrian people in their darkest time in history. He led the protestors in chants that would have been heard throughout the Embassy buildings;
“Free Free Syria”
“Putin Putin you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide”
“Down Down Assad”
“Blood blood blood on your hands“
The next speaker was “Ani”;
“We are here because the greatest refugee crisis this generation has ever seen has just got substantially worse… We’ve seen this extreme escalation of what’s happening in Aleppo, people wanting to evacuate but being held up at the same time by Iranian militias.”
Ani sheeted home blame to Russian adventurism,
“We need to be really clear that this is Russian imperialism that’s backing up al-Assad.”
He said that the US was “actually very marginal to what was happening in Syria”,
“If we want to talk about the US then we can talk about Iraq or Palestine. And we can certainly draw comparisons between Syria and Palestine. They are a besieged people. They are a people that are being exterminated and that extermination is backed up by an empire. But like the Palestinian people the Syrian people are revolutionary, they are fighting back. So even if Aleppo falls, the revolution will not fall.”
“We need to stand up with the Syrian people as revolutionaries… we need to stand with the Syrian people who are fighting for their rights.”
Ani said he would be taking up a collection of donations which would be passed on to the “White Helmets”, a community-based organisation in Syria who, under extreme conditions facing constant bombardment and gunfire, helped to dig people from the rubble of collapsed buildings.
Ani was followed by Daniel;
Daniel accused Russian and Syrian government forces of indiscriminate attacks on civilians;
“As we know, Russia and al-Assad’s forces are known to target humanitarian facilities, hospitals, to bombardments so as to make the lives of the people of Aleppo unbearable. This is the largest humanitarian crisis of our lifetime, and possibly one of the greatest refugee crisis.”
Daniel said that a message should be sent to the New Zealand government;
“Refugees are streaming out of Syria, across the world. The West has a responsibility to open it’s doors to these people, having substantially caused the problems of imperialism that are now affecting these people’s lives. So New Zealand has a role to play to allow these refugees to re-settle and live among us here in peace.”
Daniel led a loud chant,
“Refugees are welcome, racists are not!”
Daniel accused (President) al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies of waging unremitting war against the people of Syria, to crush a popular uprising. He read from a a piece written by US socialist, ;
“They subjected Eastern Alleppo to a siege to starve the people and force them to flee.”
Daniel said that from a population of two million people, there were now only a quarter of that number remaining.
“In the past month, al-Assad’s forces moved in for the kill. Everything from the schools, to hospitals, to homes have been bombed.”
He accused al-Assad’s forces of killing not only so-called “terrorists” but untold numbers of civilians,
“His regime is responsible for the vast majority of the 400,000 of lives lost in the five years of warfare.”
Daniel said that five million refugees had been forced to flee to nearby countries for safety.
“al-Assad had to take to this kind of barbarism to crush the revolution that began in 2011. It was a popular, pro-democracy uprising. Just as legitimate as the other rebellions against the atrocities throughout the rest of the Middle East and North Africa collectively known as the Arab Spring. Syrians rose up against al-Assad’s dictatorship organising a tide non-sectarian, multi-ethnic demonstrations throughout the country. al-Assad responded to the the uprising by sending his police and military to fire on peaceful protests.”
He said that activists had been hunted down, arrested, and tortured in what he described as “Syria’s vast gulag of prisons”. Gayaal said that the regime’s slogan had been “Either al-Assad or we burn the country”. He said that instead of deterring the revolt, al-Assad’s opponants had been forced to take up arms in self-defence. He said that whole sections of the military had defected to form the Free Syrian Army.
Daniel said that liberated areas of Syria had;
“The popular revolt and armed resistance liberated large areas of the country, where local co-ordination committees and regional local councils were set up to begin to re-elect democratic Syrian society democratically, from below.
Russia, with the aim of protecting itself as an imperial power in the region, deployed it’s air force targeting, not ISIS as it claimed, but Syrian revolutionaries. Indeed, 90% of Russian bombing runs were carried out against targets other than ISIS.”
Daniel pointed to a “bizarre division amongst the Left”,
“Where claiming that everything coming out of the mainstream media, because it’s controlled by the US, must be in the US imperialist’s interest. But instead, the response to this is to parrot Russian propaganda, al-Assad’s propaganda!”
He said that as soon as the rebellion had started, al-Assad had started claiming that the revolutionaries were puppets and funded by US imperialist interests.
Daniel dismissed that claim and insisted the uprising against al-Assad remained a popular cause.
Daniel also called on the government to increase New Zealand’s refugee quota, saying it remained the lowest in the world per head of capita. He said it was apalling that the number of refugees had been 750 for decades. He was disgusted that Australia, with it’s racist policies toward refugees, still accepted more refugees than New Zealand did.
Daniel concluded by saying,
“So we’re here to day to stand in solidarity with the people of Syria, with Aleppo, to call for a stop to the massacre of people of Aleppo, and to allow refugees free movement out of the country.”
The next speaker was “Karam”;
Karam thanked people for coming to the protest to stand in solidarity with his country. He said that he was not only Syrian, but came from Aleppo;
“That’s Eastern Aleppo, the part that has fallen recently under attacks from the regime.”
“I do believe we are protesting in front of the right place. Although there are so many other places we need to protest in front. It’s Russia that started in September 2015 bombing civilians and bombing moderate opposition [rebels] while claiming to be targeting terrorists. While in fact all they have been doing is supporting Assad to stay in power.”
Karam made the point of differentiating the roles played by imperial super powers in Middle East affairs,
“We might be protesting in front of the American embassy, but not for the Syrian issue. Maybe for the Iraqi issue. But for what’s taking place in Syria, it’s Russia. Solely, basically, the one [Russia] that’s killing civilians and the one that’s supporting a dictator who has been ruling this country for sixteen years, who inherited it from his father, who ruled the country for thirty years!”
He described how Bashir al-Assad had assumed power in Syria, even to the point of the country’s constitution being amended to permit 34 year old al-Assad to become President. The constitution specifically forbade anyone under 40 from assuming that role. That criteria was changed overnight from “40” to “34”. [See also: Bashar Al Assad – Ten years later ]
Karam was derisory of the gangsters ruling his country calling them “dirty thugs”.
“Shomi” from International Socialist Organisation then addressed the protestors;
Shomi said that the Russian Embassy had blood on their hands and said;
“This popular up-rising was that close to actually over-throwing Assad and it was only with the military backing of Russia that prompted Assad to make a comeback. That’s how close the revolutionaries were to actually succeeding in Syria.”
Shomi described the massacres we were seeing today in Aleppo “as an absolute outrage” and condemned the New Zealand government for it’s inaction;
“Here, in Aotearoa, we need to be quite firm in saying that the New Zealand government, whilst they’re quite happy to talk about this in the United Nations forum, have done absolutely nothing to actually condemn Assad.
I think the New Zealand government has been absolutely atrocious. We need to be putting the pressure on the government here to be increasing, not doubling, but quadrupling the refugee quota, if that’s that it takes. Because they have a played a hand in being silent about the massacre that’s been happening Syria.”
Shomi criticised the Left parties for being silent on Syria, saying;
“Where are the Left parties? We’d like to see more condemnation of what is happening Syria. We need to have a huge anti-war movement globally, to show we stand in solidarity with the people of Syria!”
Shomi read out graffiti that was left on a wall in Aleppo;
“This is graffiti as people were being bombed by Assad, by Russia, and by Iran as well. Here is the graffiti that was left;
‘We will return, Aleppo. Our destroyed buildings are witness of our resistance and you criminality!’
And that is why it is so important that we’re standing here outside the Russian. They are war criminals and they have blood on their hands!”
Shomi concluded with another round of loud anti-Assad, anti-Russian chants.
Phil was the last speaker to address the protest;
Phil said he was a member of the NZ Labour Party, and said that this demonstration would have “huge support from the public in general”. He said that his daughter had been collecting for UNICEF for Syria and the public had expressed their support for the Syrian peoples’ struggle. He pointed out that more people would have attended the protest, had it not been called at such short notice.
Phil referred to the Arab Spring coming to “some fruition” in five countries in the Middle East and said that it”can’t simply be attributed to terrorists”.
He said it was a “huge lie to describe the opposition to Bashir al-Assad as simply terrorist opposition”.
The protest concluded with loud chants;
“Russia out of Syria!”
Toward the end of the protest, a lone policeman arrived in a police stationwagon to talk with ISO organisers,
There was a short, amiable conversation with “Ani”, who assured the constable that the protest was peaceful. The constable’s main concern that the driveway remain clear should vehicles passing through the Embassy gates;
As with previous protests, it was regrettable that the constable was seen to be carrying a weapon – a yellow taser;
The presence of the policeman was fortunate, as one of the protesters collapsed through sudden ill-health. He assessed the situation, and it was decided that a friend would drive the woman directly to hospital rather than wait for an ambulance.
Note1: Thanks to Daniel for follow-up information. (Some corrections to factual errors have been made on 20 December 2016)
Note2: Vehicle license plates and the face of one person who declined consent to be photographed, have been obscured.
Note3: Certain names have been changed to protect people from potential repercussions.
Socialist Worker: The counterrevolution crushes Aleppo
Al Arabiya: Bashar Al Assad – Ten years later
Facebook: Syrian Solidarity New Zealand
Facebook: International Socialist Organisation, NZ
Facebook: Fightback – Aotearoa/NZ
Other Blogs & media
The Wireless: ‘Tomorrow, I am going to leave my homeland’
Green blog: The Atrocity of Syria – What to do?
The Daily Blog: The war machine rolls on while children beg for blankets
Previous related blogposts
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