Istanbul, Asharq Al-Awsat – Professor Mousa al-Kurdi gave heart-wrenching testimony about the humanitarian situation on the ground in Syria before the recent “Friends of Syria” conference in Istanbul. Professor al-Kurdi has personally witnessed Bashar al-Assad’s transformation from “courteous” student to “monster”, as the Syrian president was one of his students at the University of Damascus. In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Bashar al-Assad’s former university professor reveals his take on the Syrian revolution, his former student Bashar al-Assad, and his hopes for the future of the country.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your profession?
[Al-Kurdi] I am a university professor, independent academic, and oncologist. I am also the president of the Arab Institute for Clinical Excellence; I was elected to this post by the Council of Arab Ministers of Health more than 5 years ago.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why did you appear to give evidence before the “Friends of Syria” conference?
[Al-Kurdi] The Syrian National Council [SNC] called on me to present a general picture about what is happening in Syria, because I – along with some members of my family – recently spent a year and a half in Syria where I worked with a small group to deliver some medical assistance to those who were suffering, particularly in Baba Amr and the rest of Homs. Transferring blood bags [into Syria] is, in the eyes of the regime, a crime punishable by death or at least arrest and referral to court. The same goes for transferring medical equipment. The person responsible for smuggling us into Syria was turned over to the courts. Whilst those who support the revolution and freedom have their throat cut whilst they are still alive, whilst those who take pictures or transfer video clips about the revolution abroad are blinded and then killed…many people had not heard about this before, and this had a significant impact on everybody [at the Friends of Syria conference].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] When did you return to Syria?
[Al-Kurdi] I returned to Syria a year and a half ago, to live in Damascus, and carry out my task of improving healthcare there. Prior to leaving the country, I taught at the University of Damascus, and Dr. Bashar al-Assad was one of my students.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Were you in direct contact with him?
[Al-Kurdi] Don’t hold that against me…
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you tell us about his character?
[Al-Kurdi] He was very different than he is today.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In what way?
[Al-Kurdi] He was very mild-mannered, courteous and kind…at this time he did not demonstrate any excessiveness, whilst his bodyguards were very discreet and did not cause any disturbances. Nobody at Damascus University paid much attention to them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about your own relationship with him?
[Al-Kurdi] There was previously a sense of cordiality on his part, in one of the conferneces that took place in 2004, Bouthaina Shaban [al-Assad’s media adviser] came to introduce me to him, and he told her that I had been one of his professors [at university].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What was Bashar al-Assad like as a student?
[Al-Kurdi] There were a large number of students at university, but I recall that he was mild-mannered and he would attend all of my lectures without fail. He would also attend the scientific sessions. I recall that he was very courteous with his fellow students, and he was very popular and well-liked.
It was clear that he was courteous to his colleagues, but I recall hearing that once, upon being criticized…he cut off the conversation and stormed out of the room. However he is generally remembered fondly, but only by those who do not oppose the government. I have been repreatedly told that he has not forgiven my leaving Syria in 1992. A senior official informed me that the projects that I have proposed are hindered by the fact that I left Syria. So he has turned against supporting his old teachers for political reasons, to the point that he refused to help development of health care in Arab worlds, and tried to stop this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What happened?
[Al-Kurdi] This president who was previously calling for renewal and modernization turned into a monster, but he is a monster that can only scare the weak, and this is proof that he is a coward and will only be deterred by force or the threat of force.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are your views of the “year of the revolution”?
[Al-Kurdi] What is interesting is the intensification in the news about regions that are loyal [to the regime], for I would say that the majority of Damascus – where I lived – has defected from the regime, including the university professors and students, as well as even the officers and officials. The vast majority of people are waiting for the killing to end to return to the street. People informed me that they have had enough of this killing and destruction, as well as the lies of the media, namely that Damascus is loyal [to the regime]. Whilst opinion polls of Syrian expatriates in the US also revealed that around 80 percent want to see regime change, and the majority of these expatriates are Christians. There are a small percentage of the people who support the regime till death, including some members of my own family, but they are only a very small percentage. The regime is targeting entire cities, and this is what happened in Homs. As a soldier in the Syrian revolution, I will try to provide support via international organizations who I will conduct dialogue with.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you tell us more about this?
[Al-Kurdi] I do not like to talk about this issue, as some people may be harmed by this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do you mean?
[Al-Kurdi] Firstly, I don’t know who you are, and even if I did, it’s not important, for the lives of other people are more important than my own, and there are some people who are risking their lives – and the lives of their family – to transfer what needs to be transferred at the right time. It is clear that intimidation tactics are being used, and there is only one way to deal with a regime that wants to rule us or annihilate us.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] When did you leave Syria?
[Al-Kurdi] I left Syria for Cambridge in March, where my wife underwent surgery, and at this time I did not know that I would be leaving and not returning! I was invited to the special conference for the unification of the [Syrian] opposition, and I was asked to give testimony to the “Friends of Syria” conference, so I now have no chance of returning [to Syria] because if I do I would be mince-meat!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What were your impressions about the situation in Syria the last time you were there?
[Al-Kurdi] If the situation remains the same, with regards to the killing and slaughter…then things will go on another course, for nothing will stop the people after what happened. I think the army will become more divided and people will take to the streets in their millions, if the killing does not stop.