Sir Roger Tomkys – A Perspective on the Syrian Conflict

17:22 Monday 23rd June 2012
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: Syria’s under-pressure government says it will not use chemical weapons against its own people, but would do so against an external attack. The President’s days in power seem to be numbered. The Arab League has called on Bashar al-Assad to step down, offering him safe passage, and rebels say they’re encouraged by assassinations last week. Let’s get some analysis now from a former Uk ambassador to Damascus, Sir Roger Tomkys, now Master of Pembroke College in Cambridge. (TAPE)
SIR ROGER TOMKYS: All the reporting it seems to me is pretty well committed, not just to reporting what’s happening, but to doing everything it can to persuade the world that the Assad regime has had it. It probably has, but I’ve got a slight reserve about it, because I don’t think there’s much balanced reporting going on.
CHRIS MANN: The Arab League says that they would let him have free passage to exile. Do you think he will take that offer?
SIR ROGER TOMKYS: No. He is the leader of a community of somewhere between a million and two million people, who’ve survived in a hostile environment for about a thousand years, who’ve been top dogs for the last forty, and who will expect, after all the killing that has gone on, there may well be a real holocaust. We often talk about holocausts, but there might be a real one, in which the great bulk of the community get wiped out if he goes. Well, in the end, I suppose he’ll try to save his own family, but he’s not going to go easily.
CHRIS MANN: Do you think that Syria then will be a threat to stability in the region for some time to come?
SIR ROGER TOMKYS: Instability in Syria is going to be a threat to the region for I think a long time to come. And I think the prospects for ordinary Syrians, whether Assad and the regime survive in any form or not, .. the odds must be they won’t, but … whether they do or not, I think that the prospects for ordinary Syrians is absolutely miserable.
CHRIS MANN: And we’ve seen in Iraq have we not a decade or more later it is still a nightmare scenario there. Could Syria be the same?
SIR ROGER TOMKYS: It would be worse, because .. there’s a smaller population .. the fault lines are much more complicated. Spill-over into Lebanon is very serious, a very serious risk. Killing in a way started when the Muslim Brotherhood tried to overthrow father Assad in 1982, encouraged by Syria’s neighbours. And twenty or thirty thousand people were killed when father Assad put that down. There is blood spilled. And an awful lot of the blood that’s been spilled in the last six months has been along the fault lines between the areas in which the Alawite community live, and the areas in which their former masters the Sunni, who are now .. have been subject to this pretty brutal rule for forty years, the Alawites have been their neighbours. And that’s where the killing has been talking place. And I can’t for the life of me see who is going to stop the young men on the other side going and taking reprisals against everybody they hold responsible for whatever has been done in the past six months or a year. (LIVE)
CHRIS MANN: That interview with Sir Roger Tomkys, Master of Pembroke College, former Uk ambassador to Damascus.