Syria′s first lady Asma Assad says she refused an offer to flee the country | News | DW | 18.10.2016
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Syria

Syria's first lady Asma Assad says she refused an offer to flee the country

In an interview with Rossiya 24, the Syrian first lady said she stayed in Damascus despite offers to flee. She also criticized western media for focusing more on Syrian refugees and people in rebel-held areas.

In an interview with Russian broadcaster Rossiya 24, Asma Assad said, "Yes, I was offered the opportunity to leave Syria or rather run from Syria. These offers included guarantees of safety and protection from my children and even financial security. It doesn't take genius to know what these people were really after."

Assad did not specify who had come forward with the offer, but she said the attempts were "a deliberate attempt to shatter people's confidence in their president."

"I've been here since the beginning and I never thought of being anywhere at all," the 41-year-old told the broadcaster.

Asma Assad with her husband President Bashar al-Assad, casting a vote in the 2014 elections. He was reelected amid raging violence

Asma Assad with her husband President Bashar Assad, casting a vote in the 2014 elections. Assad was reelected amid raging violence

Help for Syria's people

Tuesday's interview was British-born Asma Assad's first international appearance since the Syrian uprising in 2011 and the subsequent war. Approximately 300,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands of others living in dire conditions, caught in the fighting between al-Assad'sRussia-backed forces and rebel groups, including the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front and militias of the "Islamic State" (IS). An internationally-brokered ceasefirehas not been effective in stalling the violence.

Describing her meetings and charity work with wounded soldiers, the mother of three children said, "I could tell you that I feel pain and sadness, but a lot of other people would say that as well. I think what's more important is what we do with our feelings, how we can channel those feelings into initiatives that can help these soldiers or victims rebuild their lives."

Justifying her help to Syrian people, she said, "In Syria, we believe in keeping our word. That is very important." The first lady, who reportedly drives herself to aid centers, also addressed the issue of safety in her country. "I refuse to live in fear," she said, adding that everybody in Syria was at risk at present. Her task was to encourage people to go on living their lives, going to work and sending their children to school. As first lady, she was doing the same for her family, she told the Russian channel.

She also said that despite the current crisis the country was facing and his myriad other responsibilities, her husband President Bashar al-Assad did make time for his family. "He takes his role as  a father very very seriously. He's a very giving man," Asma Assad added.

Speaking about how she and her life had changed after the war began, she said, "I am no different from many other people in Syria...We are constantly moved and saddened by the tragedies this country faces on a daily basis."

On western media

Describing the acute humanitarian crisis in Aleppo, which is caught in the crossfire between rebels and President al-Assad's Russia-backed soldiers, Asma Assad said, "In truth, the severity of the situation is beyond comprehension. The displacement, the poverty, the sickness, the suffering, is probably unprecedented. Ironically, western media organizations have solely chosen to focus on the plight of refugees and those caught up in rebel-held areas, whereas in fact, the vast majority of the people diplaced are living across the country." She said the government was trying to step up aid to affected people and improve public amenities.

On international criticism, Asma Assad said that "it was to be expected and part of the position" that she and her husband carried. "Even as this interview wraps up, it is certain that I will be subjected to some pretty harsh criticism by certain people or media organizations that are only interested in portraying me in a negative or a superficial manner...What's important is that I remain humble and true to who I really am."

She married President Bashar al-Assad six months after he assumed the presidency in 2000 following the death of his father.

A former investment banker, the first lady has projected herself as a progressive rights advocate. However, her relative silence and perceived passive role was criticized by several activists following the rebel uprising in 2011.

In the background of the civil war, Asma Assad's public appearances have been condemned as "a despicable PR stunt" by the United States. Some pictures, posted on Instagram under the Syrian presidency's official account, show her smiling and posing with athletes and graduates.

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