Some comments from Russian-speaking fighters/media mujahideen on Astana talks

Out of interest, I have translated a few personal reactions of Russian-speaking mujahideen (which includes both those who are fighting in jamaats and those who are media activists* in Syria, these do not include any individual in IS nor connected to or supportive of IS) to the talks in Astana. The individuals were not expressing the views of any jamaat or group. I’ve addressed this in the note below as well, but the overriding message from these comments, aside from a rejection of the talks, and the plan of “safe zones” is that these are tricks that will not benefit the Syrian people.

A Russian-speaking individual (not part of a jamaat):

“The Syrians don’t even want anything to be decided there [in Astana]…They don’t want things to be decided for them. They want to live by their own principles…Even if there won’t be any [more] bombs. These people don’t want Assad. For 6 years they’ve been trying to just change a president who refuses to go. But today, people who have no connection to this country are making a decision…[Assad] is a criminal but he remains as the lawful president of the country…”

A Russian-speaking information activist:

“I don’t support [the talks], like the majority of Syrians. It’s all hypocrisy and lies.”

Another individual expressed the view that trusting Assad/Iran/Russia in Syria would be a mistake, noting what had happened in Ukraine.

A Russian-speaking fighter:

“[The talks] will never benefit the Syrian people.”

Another fighter:

“Who benefits from this [the “safe zones”]? We haven’t forgotten Chechnya and what happened after negotiations…and nothing will [come of this] either. There is a 60,000 strong army of mujahideen.”

The fighter said that Jabhat al-Nusra had been fighting for years and so it would hardly stop fighting now. The fighter also noted that, Mohammed Alloush, the head of the opposition delegation did not attend the second day of talks.

*As those of you who are following my work for Janes will know I have written about the phenomenon of Russian-speaking media mujahideen, individuals who are making “hijra” (“Emigration”) to Syria not to fight but to make lives there. These individuals — like the Russian-speaking fighters, by the way — say that they were motivated by wanting to help the Syrian people and so they have taken on the role of information activist; I’ve written about how the developing conflict in Syria has created space to extend the concept of jihad** beyond the military, noting that these new media mujahideen, unlike their predecessors, do not have a role with a particular jamaat and their task therefore is not to promote a jamaat–instead they are able to have a wider remit, which is expressing itself in different ways, from front-line reporters to photoblogging. Not all of these individuals express political opinions. As noted above, the major concern of these individuals is to present the conflict from the point of view of the Syrian people, or to show “what is really happening” to the Syrian people, or to show what life in Syria is “really like”; several have complained that Russian media reporting on Syria is propaganda and that it is not presenting a real picture of the plight of Syrians or what Assad/Russia is doing in Syria.  I wrote a longer piece here about Western narratives of radicalization and the assumptions that are made about those who go to Syria,  and about how these can be unhelpful in understanding motivations but am not including it–perhaps I will expand on it for a later post, if I have time.

** (yes, I do love footnotes) another related thing I am looking at is the concept of the jamaat and the community and how this has developed in Syria.

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