BEIRUT: Robert Ford, the most recent US ambassador to serve in Syria, sent a message Friday to the Syrian people, urging them to support the opposition, regardless of their religious or ethnic affiliation.
“The future will include all Syrians of all backgrounds,” the ambassador wrote on the U.S. State Department’s Facebook page.
His comments come at a time when the Syrian regime has been shaken by brazen rebel-mounted attacks on its symbols, including a bombing in Damascus that killed several members of the country’s top security echelon.
Meanwhile, minority groups have expressed concern and even fear over the possibility they will be marginalized or oppressed should the country fall into the hands of radicals.
Alawites, who have by and large stood by a regime which members of their sect dominate, fear reprisals from Sunnis, who make up the bulk of the opposition and have borne the brunt of the regime’s repression. Christians, Druze, Ismaili Shiites and Jaafarite Shiites are afraid of a possible Sunni Islamist regime, which could curb their rights. Kurds have expressed concern that their grievances are being overlooked by the majority Arab opposition.
In his post, Ford expressed sympathy for those who are hesitant to join the opposition, but sought to allay their fears. “The Syrian opposition has enunciated a clear vision that there is a credible alternative to the Assad regime that will end the violence, protect [Syrians’] fundamental human rights, and address their aspirations.”
An Arabic-speaking career diplomat, Ford was appointed ambassador to Syria last year, making him the first person to fill the post since the U.S. pulled its envoy in February 2005, immediately following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Since the beginning of the uprising in Syria, which began in March, 2011, Ford has – in unusual fashion for a diplomat – consistently voiced support for the opposition through messages on Facebook and visits to hot spots. In July, 2011, he and the French ambassador to Syria traveled to Hama amid large-scale anti-government street demonstrations. Ford continued to stay in Syria even as the violence increased, arguing that his presence was important for him to bear witness to the events and engage in dialogue.
The U.S. finally withdrew Ford in October of last year, after government-enforced travel restrictions and growing threats against his life prevented him from traveling to areas of unrest. But he has continued to post open letters to the Syrian people, consistently addressing the concerns of minorities and other Syrians worried about their country’s future.
In a nod to reports of growing fear among Syria’s minorities, the ambassador wrote, “There are some who are uncertain of the future and fear retaliation because of the community to which they belong ... Neither a community nor an ethnicity must be blamed for the actions of individuals in the regime. It must be clear that only individuals who committed crimes against humanity will be identified and held accountable for their abhorrent actions.”
In an effort to assure Syrians of U.S. support for a new democratic government, Ford pointed to the work of international organizations documenting human rights abuses, as well as multilateral initiatives, such as those undertaken by the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center (www.syriaaccountability.org).
He said such work will pave the way for a process of transitional justice, which will include truth-telling, reconciliation, and secure documented evidence to support potential prosecutions, which he stresses is “a priority for the United States.”
“We will remain committed to working toward a political transition with a sense of urgency. Far too many Syrians have died for the cause of freedom, and the transition must go forward,” wrote Ford.
He concluded his post with a note of optimism: “We continue to believe that a political transition in Syria, led by the Syrian people and supported by the international community, is the best chance for Syria’s future and for a stable and democratic transition.”