In this interview the Charge D’ Affaires of the Republic of Syria, Dr. Abdul-Hamid Salloum, explains the relationship between Nigeria and his country, and the current crisis in Syria
What is the level of bilateral relations between Nigeria and your country?
Our bilateral ties is on the level of “Charge D’ Affaires” (Minister Plenipotentiary) and our trade relations are mostly on the level of the private sector.
Nigeria and Syria signed a Memorandum of Understanding on boosting relations between them when former President Olusegun Obasanjo visited Syria in 2006.
What is the progress made so far?
During the visit of former President Obasanjo, the two countries signed many agreements to boost their relationship. One of such agreements signed was the agreement on the mutual promotion and protection of investments. We also signed an agreement on the establishment of joint commission for cooperation and another agreement on cultural, education and scientific cooperation. We also signed a bilateral air service agreement and an agreement on trade and economic cooperation. I must assure you that we are going to build on these. We are exerting efforts to make a progress regarding these agreements.
Can you name some business interests of Syrians in Nigeria and how they are faring?
We have so many Syrian companies in Nigeria. Many of them deal in buildings, roads constructions telecommunications, oil and gas, etc., and they are all active and working very well in Nigeria. It is known worldwide that Syrians are qualified, talented, skilled, they work honestly and can be depended upon. And they are faithful to the country they live in as much as they are faithful to their own country. We do our utmost best to do jobs given to us and we make efforts to work within the period stipulated in the terms of contract. [viralpullquote ]We have so many Syrian companies in Nigeria. Many of them deal in buildings, roads constructions telecommunications, oil and gas, etc., and they are all active and working very well in Nigeria. It is known worldwide that Syrians are qualified, talented, skilled, they work honestly and can be depended upon. And they are faithful to the country they live in as much as they are faithful to their own country. We do our utmost best to do jobs given to us and we make efforts to work within the period stipulated in the terms of contract.[/viralpullquote]
How comfortable is the Syrian community in Nigeria?
The Syrian community in Nigeria is very comfortable and very satisfied. It is what you could attest to because Syrians are known to respect the country they live in. We abide by the laws of the country, and we are loved and are loving people.
How much of inter-marriages do we have between the two countries?
If you talk about inter-marriages, I don’t have the statistics for now but I can tell you that there are marriages between nationals of Nigeria and Syria, but very few.
What natural resources does Syria have?
We have so many natural resources, they are available in abundance but most of it is oil, gas, and phosphate. We also have promising discoveries about a large quantity of oil and gas in the Syrian territorial water, and in some location of the Syrian territory. Besides, Syria is a rich in agricultural and livestock. The country generates huge income from this.
What should attract a person to visit Syria for business or pleasure?
There are so many things that attract people to Syria. One of them and the utmost is business. People go to Syria for the pleasure of shopping. The prices in Syria are the cheapest in the world. I want to tell you that despite the rise of the prices as a result of the current events, goods and commodities in Syria are still relatively cheaper compared to other countries in the region and in the world.
Which areas in your country have the most breathtaking tourist attraction?
We have so many breathtaking tourist attraction sites. There are so many that cannot be counted. We have the mountainous areas west of Damascus and the coastal area, beside the ancient places within Damascus, Aleppo, and all other Syrian towns. We also have the prominent and famous ruins of Palmyra, Apamea, Ebla, Ugarit, Busra, Ma’aloula and so many ruins. Syria is the cradle of all civilisations, and Damascus is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.
Is the political climate in Syria safe for travellers?
Yes, it is safe in most places, and relatively not safe in some other places. But the government has strong will to maintain peace and order in the country.
You said the country is relatively not safe, can you tell us the genesis of the Syrian crisis?
The crisis first started as political, economic and social demands. The government being a responsible one recognised these demands as legitimate ones, and responded to them accordingly. It must be noted that the people who raised those legitimate demands, backed down and stopped protesting against the government, when it was evident to them and they were convinced that the government was ready to meet their demands. But those who have political plans affiliated to regional and international projects in the region aimed at toppling the government, continued pouring oil on the fire.
As much as the government tried to introduce reformations and met the demands, they escalated tension by destroying public and private properties and committing assassinations. They shot at demonstrators and law enforcement agents, who were not allowed to carry any type of weapons at that time. At the beginning of the crisis, we started noticing the role being played by regional and international sides. But their role in fuelling the crisis became more obvious as the crisis escalated. Terrorists were trained, funded and sent to fight in Syria. It is now very obvious that there is a plan by foreign forces to destroy Syria as a state, a homeland, and as a people, and to eliminate this last Arab power that has been supporting the resistance against Israel.
What has the leadership done to address the crisis?
The government has been doing everything possible from the beginning, to address the crisis. To demonstrate its commitment, the government initiated so many moves and so far, many political reforms have been attained; among which is the new constitution, which was approved during a referendum carried out on February 26, 2012 with about 89.4 per cent in favour of the referendum. The government has also ensured abolition of emergency law. It has also passed a law on media and another law of political parties.
It has also passed a law of local administration and another law on free elections. The government has also issued an amnesty decree and adopted new measures as well as evolved approaches to eradicate corruption. There is also a comprehensive political plan which composes of three stages for solving the problem. The government also raised a high level committee chaired by the prime minister which is working day and night to implement these three stages plans. It also initiated dialogue which is taking place all over Syria on how to overcome this problem and build a new democratic Syria, in which all the citizens are equal without any kind of alienation or discrimination.
Could you give an insight into what culminated in the Syrian-Turkey dispute?
Unfortunately, the current Turkish Government has been playing a very negative role in fuelling the killings in Syria. This role doesn’t correspond to the friendly relations between the two friendly people. It must be noted though that the head of Turkish Government was behaving from the beginning as a head of a party and not a head of a state, so all his policies and stances towards tackling the crisis in Syria were irresponsible.
We can see that the current government in Turkey is playing an outrageous role in infiltrating the terrorists from all over the world into the Syrian territory. It is also setting up training camps for them and opening the borders freely for their movements in both ways. We are confident that the friendly Turkish people who demonstrated against the interference of their government in Syria will put a limit to their government’s behaviour, and restore the relations between the two peoples and the two countries as they were before the eruption of the crisis.