This past week, Captain Iyad Deek defected from the Syrian Armed Forces. In a video message viewed widely on YouTube, he invoked God and the Holy Quran, announcing his defection and his intention to join the Khalid bin Waleed brigade under the Free Syrian Army (FSA). He also called on fellow soldiers to join the FSA and “defend the Syrian people until we reach freedom or we meet our God.”
I was able to reach Captain Deek in Rastan, where he is headquartered, and asked him to tell me why he chose to join up with rebel forces.
Deek: We don’t have that much time—in the end, we are humans and we are affected by what has happened around us and what taken place in our country. These events have been bloody. Nobody has been able to escape these events—not even animals. Animals have not even been spared from this injustice and bloodshed. Houses have been destroyed. Their occupants have been killed, including children, women and the elderly. Elders have been imprisoned.
Animals have not even been spared from this injustice and bloodshed.
My father, who is a lawyer and stroke victim, was imprisoned at the age of 65 for two months in an Assad prison and endured unbearable torture. This is just one example, never mind what happens to women and children. I for one know staggering numbers of people who are in prison and subjected to the most atrocious types of torture, tyranny and injustice, to the point that some people have died under such torture. We have received many corpses with signs of torture, even burn marks. Some of them had their fingernails removed. Their eyes were gouged. And this is what pushed me to defect from this unjust army.
Hilleary: What risks are you taking by defecting?
Deek: Of course, the risks are tremendous, and I can’t even begin to explain them to you. I was blind to everything but the injustice of what was happening to my people – and the things that could happen to me if I were to fall into the hands of the unjust regime. The amount of injustice and tyranny that happened to our people is beyond anything one could imagine. I stopped worrying about what could happen to me because, at the end of the day, we as Army and as Syrian men, we are here to protect our country, and our mission as the sons of Syria from the day we were born has been to protect this country from any injustice that might fall on it and upon its sons.
The amount of injustice and tyranny that happened to our people is beyond anything one could imagine.
Hilleary: Let’s go back eight months in time to when the Syrian people first took to the streets in protest. What orders were you given, as a soldier, and how did you feel about your mission?
Deek: First, I have not followed any orders that were unjust because I am a human being and I reject any injustice that could befall any other human being. This is the most important thing.
The orders were numerous: This being a Muslim country, the demonstrations against the regime began in mosques and houses of worship. So we were banned from praying. We, as Syrian soldiers, were banned from praying! We were forbidden to watch television. We had orders not to talk on our cell phones. We were forbidden from communicating with our families, so that they wouldn’t know what was happening in their country, in their houses, in their cities.
As an example, I will give you the name of somebody, an officer from the city of Deir Azzor. His name is Brigadier General Seif Abdullah. He was giving orders to the people who were calling out, “Allahu Akhbar” [God is Great] in the mosques–this was the signal for demonstrations to take off. Abdullah used to say, verbatim, “We will cut the throats of anyone who says ‘Allahu Akhbar!’
And the oppression amounted to firing on the protesters, random firing on all protesters, all peaceful protesters. We deny all the reports by the lying Syrian media outlets and all the channels that belong to this regime, that among the protesters there were armed civilians. The only armed people that were fighting there were not civilians, but army defectors, motivated by their human and moral imperative to defend their loved ones, their brothers, and their families. Because the army is born of the people. It didn’t come from another country, unlike the Syrian regime itself, a regime that brings other fighters from outside the country and elements of Hezbollah and other terrorist elements.
We were forbidden from communicating with our families, so that they wouldn’t know what was happening in their country, in their houses, in their cities.
Hilleary: Did you think the uprising would last this long or that it would end up being this violent?
Deek: Of course, we expected the uprising. We are the children of this country. We are the experts. We know how unjust this regime is. We all expect that the uprising will linger for a long time. But we are all ready, until the end of time, to keep demonstrating, right down to the last child in this country, until we bring down this regime, because we have full faith in God and the power of the people–the “screaming throats.” This uprising will prevail, and the democracy that we are seeking, the freedom that we are demanding? We will continue struggling for this until the last drop of our blood is shed, and we will use whatever power we have until we achieve victory or die trying.
But we are all ready, until the end of time, to keep demonstrating, right down to the last child in this country, until we bring down this regime, because we have full faith in God and the power of the people.
Hilleary: Are there actions that you took as a soldier during this uprising that you now look back on with regret?
Deek: Not at all. But we are humans in the end, and all humans make mistakes. The best sinners are the ones who repent. No man is infallible, but I don’t recall doing anything regrettable, thank God.
First, we are Muslims. Our deeds are governed by religious law. Second, we abide by humane and moral principles. Our humanity does not allow us to do anything against our morals or against the law. The proof of this is that the revolution includes all religions: We have Christians, Alawites, Shi’a and Druze. Our revolution is not an Islamic revolution. It is a revolution against tyranny and a revolution to implement democracy and freedom. And we support all peoples who strive for democracy and freedom.
It is a revolution against tyranny and a revolution to implement democracy and freedom.
Hilleary: In the video of your defection which you released this week, you said that you would be joining up with the Khalid bin Waleed Brigade. How strong is that brigade? How many members are in its ranks? And do you work independently from the Free Syrian Army?
Deek: Not at all. We on the ground work in full coordination with the Free Syrian Army and its noble leadership. We all work as one man and we do all the work in coordination with all the rest of the group, without making any individual decisions. To the opposite. We are demanding democracy, and anything we do is in consultation with all people and all the factions, in coordination with the leadership of the Free Syrian Army.
Hilleary: The Free Syrian Army claims to have 15,000 members.
Deek: I can confirm that the number is correct. And the number is increasing all the time because our institution is a military institution, and in every army in the world, the military institution is there to protect the people, to protect every member of the people from injustice. That’s why there are so many honorable people whose morals are pushing them to not cave in to any directive or order to inflict injustice or oppression on any of the civilians.
First of all, our revolution at the beginning was peaceful. We relied–and we still rely–on the street and the force of the demonstrations and the protection of the protesters in the streets that has evolved with the daily escalation of oppression by the regime. The greater the oppression and the tyranny against the people, the greater will be our resolve and our military action to counter this repression.
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Hilleary: Are you looking for help from the international community?
Deek: As far as we are concerned, we call on the entire world and all the countries that seek freedom and democracy and their media and their parliaments and all the international organizations, we call on them to support the Syrian people—the “orphans,” as call we this revolution. It’s an orphan revolution because it hasn’t received any support from overseas, from the world, in spite of what the Syrian media claims.
The greater the oppression and the tyranny against the people, the greater will be our resolve and our military action to counter this repression.
First and foremost, what we seek is an international protection of civilians on the ground and the establishment of a no-man’s land to protect civilians and those who have defected from the Syria army, because the army goes after all the defectors.
We also need a no-fly zone to block any military aircraft from bombing military locations that have defected from the army, trying to get away with full military gear. Because if there is a no-fly zone in Syria, I can assure you, as an officer who was, and still is, on the ground, working in the military of the Free Syrian Army, I can assure you that there are many military divisions that are ready to defect with all their military equipment and their armaments and their men, as soon as there is a no-fly zone, either from NATO or from Turkey or the Arab countries.
Hilleary: What are conditions like in Rastan right now?
Deek: Rastan is a fort that is standing with its men and the army officers who have defected from the rotten Army. Rastan is now surrounded by checkpoints of both Assad’s forces and shabiha. The number of checkpoints exceeds 36, as of now. Rastan is totally encircled by those checkpoints imposed by the Bashar al Assad regime.
Inside the city, people are not allowed to get out of their homes. Every day, there is a curfew from 8 pm to 7 am. The curfew forbids people from getting first aid. It does not allow the injured and sick to get any medical help. And if a woman needs to give birth, she can’t get any assistance, and that can lead to the death of her newborn, and nobody can help or provide assistance to any sick or injured or a woman contemplating birth or take them to the hospital, and these are facts, which we can fully verify.
As for us, we have split from the Army as officers and we are leading this revolution, defending the free people. And we will continue until we achieve victory, and I affirm to Bashar Al-Assad that he is going to fall down, God willing, by the power of the people. They are going to try him and bring him to fair justice, because we aspire to democracy, and God willing, we are going to try him in the city of Rastan.
Hilleary: If you had the chance to offer a message to the Syrian President, what would it be?
Deek: To Bashar, the tyrant, I say this: You have to take lessons from your predecessors. Because Bashar backed Gadhafi, Gadhafi who called his people “rats”, but at the end, he was found in a sewage ditch. Bashar has described his people as “bacteria.” And he is a doctor. And that’s why I advise him – and he knows how to fight bacteria — we are going to treat him the way bacteria are treated, and this is going to be his end, God willing. I advise him to step down, to leave the authority to the people to decide their own fate.
To Bashar, the tyrant, I say this: You have to take lessons from your predecessors… I advise him to step down, to leave the authority to the people to decide their own fate.
Hilleary: And if you could give a message to the American President, Barack Obama?
Deek: As for Obama, I send him this message: Since you seek democracy and you support democracy of the people, by the people, and freedom for the people and you came to power through democracy, I urge you in my name and the name of the Syrian people, with all their children, women and youth, to support the Syrian people, because they are being slaughtered in the streets every day, a thousand times, getting no support except from God.
Since this interview, 50 tanks and armored vehicles firing anti-aircraft and machine guns raided agricultural fields around Rastan, where Captain Deek and other members of the Khalid bin Waleed brigade are based. At least 15 are reported dead and 18 wounded at the time of this writing. Two hundred busloads of security personnel have been brought into the area and are reported to be combing through farmland and nearby villages, looking for defectors who may be in hiding. I have not been able to ascertain whether Captain Deek is among those injured, dead or missing.
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Middle East Voices routinely reaches out to officials representing the pro-Assad side of the conflict in Syria. As part of this ongoing effort, we have contacted, among others, the Ministry of Information in Damascus and the Embassy of Syria in Washington, D.C. To date, none of them have responded to our requests for statements or interviews.
Cecily began her reporting career in the 1990s, covering US Middle East policy for Dubai-TV English. She has lived and/or worked in the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf regions, consulting and producing for several regional radio and television networks and production houses, including MBC, Al-Arabiya, the former Emirates Media Incorporated and Al-Ikhbaria. She brings to VOA and MEV a keen understanding of the region's top social, cultural and political issues.