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Assad Family Interpreter: 'The War Is Not Syrian-Made'

Assad Family Interpreter: 'The War Is Not Syrian-Made'
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Mihran Bertizlian, an interpreter for Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad, speaking to RFE/RL Armenian Service Director Harry Tamrazian in Yerevan.

A man formerly employed by the Syrian presidential family says intense shelling has forced him to flee the country for safety.

Mihran Bertizlian worked as a Turkish interpreter for the wife of President Bashar al-Assad, Asma, before taking refuge in Armenia five months ago.

Bertizlian describes scenes of violence and destruction in his hometown of Aleppo, where homes, mosques, and markets have been devastated by the fighting that has pitted Assad's forces against rebels for more than two years.

Speaking to RFE/RL in Yerevan, Bertizlian says he left Syria out of fear for his family. "I stayed until things got worse," he says. "There were a lot of bombs falling close to my home, there was no water or electricity. So I left my home, my homeland, and the city I love."
SEE ALSO: Photogallery -- A History Of Aleppo's Armenians

Bertizlian, who has been following events in Syria on television, says he knows a lot of people have died as a result of the violence. But he does not hold Assad responsible for the carnage, and describes the Syrian president and his wife as "nice people" deeply committed to their country's well-being.

Nor does he believe that Assad is behind the deadly poison-gas attack in Damascus that is now prompting U.S. threats of military action. The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama estimates that the August 21 attack killed more than 1,400 people, one-third of them children.

Activists inspect the bodies of people who died in a suspected chemical-gas attack in Damascus on August 21.
Activists inspect the bodies of people who died in a suspected chemical-gas attack in Damascus on August 21.
Although U.S. and officials from other countries as well as several human rights groups say the evidence strongly points to the Syrian government's involvement, Bertizlian insists too little is known about the assault to make accusations.

According to him, the root of the Syrian conflict lies not in Assad's policies, but rather in what he sees as Western efforts to encourage antigovernment uprisings across the Arab world.

Despite his loyalty to Assad, however, Bertizlian admits that Syria needs "more democracy" and says he would actually support a democratic revolution in his country, provided it was conducted by Syrians.

He says the rebel army currently fighting Assad's forces is heavily infiltrated by foreign rebels whose main concern is not Syria but Islam. "I want to see a revolution by Syrians. This revolution was started partly by Syrians, but it's no longer a Syrian revolution," he says. "In a Syrian revolution, the Christians, the Kurds, all the different ethnic groups in Syria would join. I believe this revolution is not Syrian-made."

Bertizlian, a Christian of Armenian origin, says he regularly spoke with foreign Islamic rebels while still in Syria. He says their stated goal is to topple Assad, whom they see as pro-Israel, as part of their larger crusade to reclaim Jerusalem.
The Middle East is a very different place, with many cultures, religions, and languages. Obama cannot understand us.

At the same time, Bertizlian feels Obama and other Western leaders have little understanding of the region's intricate religious, ethnic, and political realities.

"The Syrian people can help each other. If they want, they can replace Bashar or leave him in place," he says. "Thank you Obama, but let us decide what we are going to do, you can't help us. The Middle East is a very different place, with many cultures, religions, and languages. Obama cannot understand us. He wants to help us, but we don't need his help."

As expectations of a Western military intervention grow, thousands of Syrians have fled their country en masse, mostly to Lebanon and Turkey.

The likelihood of a strike appeared to recede this week as a diplomatic effort to place Syria's alleged chemical weapons under international control -- and ultimately destroy them -- gathered momentum.

Bertizlian does not think the West will go ahead with the strikes. But he believes Assad's life is nonetheless at risk as long as he continues to cling to power.

"If I were in his shoes, I would leave the country and never come back," he says.
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