Thank you for giving me the opportunity to appear before you to speak about Russia, eastern Europe, and central Asia.
There are many questions that were posed to me, and I obviously cannot deal with them all in about 10 minutes, so I'm going to focus most of my comments on Russia, on Russia's impact on Europe and transatlantic security, and on central Asia, which are my three areas of expertise. I'm happy to take questions on any other topic, though, as well.
One thing I wanted to start by saying is that the west's relationship with Russia is at the lowest point it's been since the 1980s. The fault lines between Russia and the transatlantic community reflect major differences in interests and values, and this is not just about Ukraine. The relationship is cyclical, and there is no quick fix to the problems we face. Many western leaders, most notably former U.S. presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, tried to reset relations with Russia, and each saw the relationship end up in much worse shape than when they started. I certainly hope that President Trump now in the United States will come to realize that pretty soon.
When you look at Canadian-Russian relations, you see they've had their ups and their deep downs, as have U.K. and Russian relations, and I think you can apply that to pretty much any western state and notice that as well. But Russia's annexation of Crimea and its aggression in eastern Ukraine have upended the post-Cold War security landscape. Having lost much of its soft power in the region, Russia has been trying to carve out a sphere of influence in Eurasia using military force when it needs to, economic pressure when it can, as well as new hybrid tools.
Russia also wants to push back at western values and influences in Russia and in the former Soviet space, but it doesn't just want to do that. It wants to discredit western democratic political systems, and we saw a lot of this with what went on in the United States and what is going on in Europe now.
This is in part because the Kremlin and many other autocratic leaders in central Asia and elsewhere in the region see western democracy promotion and rule of law as security threats to their regimes. Russia today is no longer aspiring to be part of the west, as it did for the first 20 or so years after the collapse of the USSR, but it's seeking to rewrite the basic principles of international order and push back at a global system that has been dominated by the west for the last 25 years.
Russian meddling in the U.S. election has helped upend the U.S. political system, and it raises a lot of questions about Washington's commitment to NATO, to eastern Europe, and to Eurasia. We see Russian propaganda, information operations, and Cold War-style subversion going on in Europe as many elections approach. They are magnifying a dangerous wave of populism that is threatening European unity. It could help upend other European political systems, and this has brought repercussions for eastern Europe and countries of the former Soviet space.
This poses deep challenges to Canada and to its friends and allies at a time when NATO and the European Union are all much less united than ever before. This is in part due to the Trump administration's uncertain commitment to Europe and NATO but also because of Brexit and the EU's own internal troubles. As well, this is occurring at a time when there's a lot of social and economic unease in the former Soviet space.
Now, regarding central Asia, there are two main issues that I think are worth focusing on that impact its foreign and security policy. The first is to just underscore that this has been a region that has been very poorly governed, with populations that have been misserved by their leaders since the collapse of the USSR. Many of the region's future problems, as with the current problems, are related as much to the challenges posed by the governments and the political elites in these countries as they are to external threats, whether that be Russia or international terrorism.
Central Asia is in a process of finally moving from its first-generation post-Soviet leaders to the next generation, and of all the autocrats, they've all been there at least 10 years and some have been there more than 25 years. As this transition occurs, the question of political stability remains a key one, and one that looms over the region.
In Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which are the region's most powerful, wealthiest, and most populated countries, the transition is going to be key to overall regional stability. That process has begun actually in Uzbekistan with the death of President Karimov last fall. It is going unexpectedly smoothly, which is very good. But in Kazakhstan, which is the wealthiest of all of the central Asian countries, Nazarbayev is very old, and his successor is still not known. They seem to be in a process of trying to figure that out right now.
One of the things that I need to bring this back to is the fact that when the west and the U.S. and Russia have had the most difficult times in their relationship over the last 25 years, it generally has occurred when there have been leadership changes in other former Soviet states. The possibility for leadership change over the next five, 10, even one year in central Asia and in the south Caucasus, with these aging autocrats.... We also have elections planned in semi-democratic Kyrgyzstan as well as Armenia. The possibility for a leadership change is very high, and also the possibility for misunderstanding.
The Kremlin views any sort of popular socio-economic discontent and popular revolts not as something from the bottom up, as we in the west do, but as something that is orchestrated by outside powers. That is what led to a lot of the confrontation between Russia and the west over the Maidan in Ukraine, over the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, and the like. I think the possibility of some sort of misunderstanding between east and west is very high coming in the future.
Also, this leadership change is going to occur at a time of tremendous socio-economic difficulty for the region. Central Asia's main exports are all natural resources, things like oil, natural gas, cotton, gold, and other minerals, all of which are at historic low prices. Remittances from Russia are down, and high levels of corruption in the region are hurting the investor climate. We have a bad economic environment for the entire region, and the governments of central Asia are slashing budgets, devaluating their currency, leading to high inflation and growing poverty. This is pushing some people much below the poverty level.
The timing of this could not be any worse. We have a regional population boom. Half of the population of Uzbekistan now was born after the Soviet Union collapsed. These people need to find employment, they need health care, they need basic poverty alleviation, and this is a time when the governments have very little money to do that with.
Islamic extremism is another potential problem. It's not one right now, but it could be one in the future. The governments of central Asia and Russia all exaggerate the problem in order to justify authoritarian rule, but this exaggeration often muddies the waters about the true extent of whether this is a problem or will become one. What we do know is that central Asia has, for a long time, been a difficult recruiting ground for extremists due to the highly authoritarian nature of the region and the legacies of Soviet secularization. As I said, we have a population where about half of it was born after the Soviet Union collapsed. We don't have much public debate in the region about extremism, its causes, and its ties to socio-economic inequality, so it's really unsure how much of a problem this could be in the future.
We also know that the region has highly porous borders, a problem given that northern Afghanistan has become very unstable. There are reports of central Asian foreign fighters in Syria, who could easily move back. It's an issue that needs to be watched.
Finally, all of this is occurring in central Asia at a time when the west is disengaging from the region after drawing down from Afghanistan. For most western countries, central Asia is not a priority right now.
But that's not the case for China, which has become the major investor, focusing on infrastructure, mining, transportation, and telecommunications. China has surpassed Russia and the European Union as the main investor in the region. We see Russia, the former colonial power, still trying to use whatever soft power and residual economic influence it has. They're doing that through the Eurasian Economic Union, through bilateral arrangements and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. But the Ukraine conflict and Russia's heavy-handed approach to Ukraine has really unnerved many of the central Asian states. It makes them very nervous about what could come their way from Moscow, and they are keen to keep the west engaged in the region.
This is also occurring at a time when Iran is interested in expanding its influence and trade after the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal.
We have a very changing socio-economic and political environment in the region, and this is occurring at a time when there is a great geopolitical shift happening around it. I think it is a very interesting time and an important time to keep engaged on central Asia and Eurasia as a whole.
Thank you very much, and I'd be happy to take any of your questions.
Thank you, sir, for your testimony.
I want to go back to the role that China is playing and the emerging role, if you will, of China in this particular area.
It's trite but true that power abhors a vacuum. For all the huffing and puffing by the Russians, they are, in some respects, masking a serious economic and demographic decline. There is actual population shrinkage. That makes them dangerous, but it also makes them vulnerable. The Chinese, on the other hand, are exactly the opposite. They are a growing economic power and they are starting to assert their influence.
I just want you to comment on two areas. First, do you see a larger game plan on the part of the Chinese government in that particular area, aside from simply economic influence?
Second, the Chinese government has been in continuous conflict with the Uighurs, a Muslim group of people in the west of China, which I assume receives some comfort from some of the central Asian republics as well. I wonder whether you could offer any observations with respect to those two things: the underlying agenda of the Chinese government and its relationship with Islamic people in its own country, and also with those in central Asian republics.
I think your question about the Uighurs in Xinjiang is very relevant for what China's overall ambitions are for the region. I actually was in Beijing and Shanghai about two weeks ago and had discussions there about central Asia with various government and private sector representatives.
There are two aspects to the Chinese involvement in central Asia. The most important one is to make sure that central Asia remains stable. They are very concerned about instability in Afghanistan, and instability in Afghanistan bubbling up into central Asia, and then from there having a very unstable border right next to its Uighur population. A lot of their investment and their efforts to promote economic development in the region is very much with a goal to make this region more stable and to provide economic opportunity to the region.
The problem is very tied to their domestic issues. The problem is the way the Chinese do this. They generally work through political and economic elites, and there's a high level of corruption in the way in which they invest in the region. They also very often bring Chinese labourers in to do their various projects. This idea that you can create stability, create greater economic prosperity when you are doing it in the typical way that they've done it in Africa and other places, I think is misguided. I do not think that it really is.... The way that the Chinese are investing, I think, fuels some of the corruption problems that the region has, and it really isn't trickling down to the average people. You can see this. There was a protest last year in Kazakhstan and it was over Chinese influence and fear that China was going to acquire land in Kazakhstan.
I do, however, think that Chinese influence in the region is not all that bad. The region wants as many different international power players as they can get. Many of the countries of the region are very nervous about the possibility of some sort of future Russian aggression, and they are actively seeking large, wealthy states to be involved. That includes China. We're seeing Kazakstan, and if you look at the Caucasus, Georgia, reaching out to the Gulf states. They view this as also a way to enhance their security by just raising the costs to Russia of any sort of intervention like the one they've seen in Ukraine.
I think that China is not doing it out of its own desire to help the area of central Asia. It's doing it to help keep its own country stable. I think it does have some positive impacts in that it does provide an extra layer of assurance to the central Asian governments that at least one larger power is involved.
Much of the political systems of these countries is highly tied up with schemes of corruption. I think there's a very good article in this week's New Yorker about corruption in Azerbaijan. It's tied to the Trump administration and people tied to President Trump. It gives a very good insight into how closely governance and economic power are linked in this era, how in the early post-Soviet era they were very much courting privatization, and how the legal system is very often used for economic ends, not as a fair court system. These are huge problems.
There is really only one country of the former Soviet Union besides the Baltic states that has really started to address the corruption problem, and that's Georgia. It has gone a long way. Everything from getting health care to dealing with the traffic police, depending on what country you're in, is all tied to bribes. Georgia is the sole exception to that. There are other places that have started, but have just not been as successful.
Ukraine right now is struggling, and it's struggling deeply. I sadly think that it is not making this transition very easily. The corruption schemes, the power of the oligarchs, and the economic power of the president himself are very troubling, and it's very troubling for the ability of Ukraine to get beyond....
Georgia was successful in one way. Because it was a very small country, it is a much more ethnically unified country. For all the talk about Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, being democratic, though he was democratic and built the transition, he could also at times rule with an iron thumb. He pushed some of these reforms through with an iron thumb, and I think that in bigger, more complicated societies that is much more difficult to do.
I think many of these countries are unnerved about the democracy and rule of law systems that western governments give, and the transparency and journalist assistance that western governments give, because this threatens to open up a can of worms and expose how the political system is closely tied with corrupt schemes. I think that is one reason they view any sort of popular movement, whether or not it's assisted by the west—which it rarely is—as a threat to their security.
This is what makes it so difficult to push the human rights, rule of law reforms and to do that type of assistance. There are very brave people in the population doing that, but the audience of people who are really willing to implement it is very small, and they face an uphill battle, even in countries that have made a direct decision to turn to the west, like Ukraine has.
I think this is something that we're going to struggle with. I'm happy to take any other questions if you have any follow-up.
I think it depends on the country. I would agree with the assessment that in the Baltics the fear of aggression is exaggerated. It does help to unify the countries and it does help—or tries—to unify NATO. At least for now, NATO remains a very strong organization. As long as NATO still remains strong and still shows its support for the far eastern flank of NATO, I think the Russians will realize that NATO membership does mean something. I think the Baltic states and Poland are in much better shape than some of the other former Soviet states.
On the plus side for other states in the former Soviet Union, as one of the previous members said, Russia is stretched thin militarily. It is in Ukraine and it is in Syria, so its ability to do something again is questionable, but I think that in certain places there is a greater threat. Small countries such as Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are pretty much are in Russia's pocket economically, so I don't see any huge switch. The transition in Uzbekistan so far has been going very smoothly, so I don't see that as a huge place....
The one place I'm a little concerned about is Kazakhstan. It shares a very long border with Russia. It does have a Russian-speaking population in the north. This is a country that has a very close alliance with Russia, and it's one that's very nervous. The people are nervous. When you go there, you hear concerns about the way in which the country is presented in the Russian media. If you watch Russian media, you can see that they talk about the threat, about the possibility of extremism coming right up to the Russian border. I'm not sure they would replicate the situation the same way that they did in Ukraine to defend Russian interests, but Kazakhstan also has uranium banks. It has a whole bunch of things that you want to make sure never get into the hands of terrorists.
I think that if there's ever an indication that Kazakhstan might look unstable, or if it's pivoting too close to the west, that's a time when Russia might do something and just to go in. I'm very impressed with mid-level Kazak government officials. Kazakhstan has invested a lot of money in sending its government officials for education to places such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, the United States, and the U.K. When you meet these people, you find that they might be at the deputy minister level, and they really kind of “get it” the way that we would get it.
I think Russia is probably very terrified that one of these people would gain a lot of power. Kazakhstan, given the long border and given the Russian media narrative that it is possibly a place that could be unstable, I think is a place to be concerned about as well.
Good morning, Mr. Stronski.
My question is geopolitical in nature. If we look at the three major influences in that part of the world, central Asia, we're talking about Russia, China, and the United States. Right now, there's some talk that there is going to be a grand bargain between the United States and Russia, and one of the elements of that grand bargain will be that Russia will maintain its “near abroad” or spheres of influence.
You mentioned this in your opening remarks. If we look at Turkmenistan, which has adopted a position of permanent neutrality, and if we look at Kyrgyzstan, we see both countries have now tilted towards China, for different reasons. Turkmenistan has done so because, as you mentioned, if you look at the remittances, you see that they have now dropped by half. One third of their GDP depends on remittances from Russia, so obviously China now is playing a bigger part. As you know, Turkmenistan was a hermit kingdom for many years, and now China has moved in to develop some of their natural gas fields.
To me, if the west recuses itself from that area, the two main players are going to be China and Russia. Russia, outside of military influence, has very limited influence. If China has a larger influence, especially with their one belt, one road initiative, will there ever be a flashpoint? Going forward, there has to be some point at which China and Russia may have a conflict. If Russia can offer only a military sort of mechanism, and if China is offering an economic mechanism, somewhere those worlds are going to collide.
Where and how do you see that falling out in the future?
I think you put the big question there. Russia has been a little disappointed with Chinese assistance after the sanctions because there was a pivot to China, but from what I'm told the terms of the gas deal they signed were very bad for Russia and that stoked some anger among some Russian officials.
I also understand that commercial banks in China and in Hong Kong have refused to be a lender because they are afraid of getting caught up in U.S. sanctions, and they value their ability to do transactions in the United States more than in Russia. They are getting financing, but it's coming more from the government and state banks than from the commercial banks. I think there are already people in Russia who see Russia on the losing end of this bargain, and they see the growing power. China has pretty much swallowed up Turkmenistan at this point, and there's not a whole lot Russia can do about it.
I think Russia is just keen to keep these countries in its orbit through whatever means it has. Many of these are symbolic at this point. The Eurasian Union is really not a functional union anything like the European Union. I don't think it ever will be. All of the states in the Eurasian Union are not very happy being in the Eurasian Union. They were strong-armed into being there, and they also played Putin's weak hand after Crimea and western sanctions by, both President Nazarbayev and President Lukashenko, trying to strip much political stuff out of the agreement. It's a very empty agreement.
The Russians are also trying to weaken the Shanghai Cooperation Organization by expanding it to include Pakistan and India. They are doing whatever they can to try to weaken Chinese influence in a way that doesn't look like they are, but I do think Russia recognizes that they are in a losing battle right now.
I think it's even the cultural power. One thing throughout the region that strikes me is how about 20 years ago you heard a lot more Russian, and now you see Confucius centres in the major cities, at the major universities. This is happening not just in places like Kyrgyzstan, but it's happening in Armenia and it's happening in Kazakhstan. These places are close Russian allies and dependencies, and I think that says a lot about their desire to make sure they have options, not just Russia. But Russia, I think, is on the losing end of this battle.
One thing that is clear whenever I go to central Asia is that they want to be connected to the west, maybe not Turkmenistan, which is its own separate category, but even post-Karimov Uzbekistan is reaching out to the west.
We've seen countries that have had bad relationships with the west. I can see it from Washington. For example, Kurdistan is one of them, and they are now suddenly trying to make sure the west doesn't forget about them. The message coming out of this region is that they don't want us to leave them. They don't want to be stuck between China and Russia. The message they're hearing back, though, is a message where we make sometimes strong statements about Georgia or Ukraine, but we're not necessarily following them up with any security guarantee.
They see a U.S. president who questions the fundamental alliances and they ask themselves, “If the President of the United States can question NATO, what does that mean for a partner like Kazakhstan?”
Many of these countries are looking to the west. They see a European Union that is in disarray and they're looking at other countries in the west. Canada is one of them. I think Canada has a role and it's one they would like to play. You see these countries often looking at Japan and South Korea, which are very active economically in the region. As they see Europe and the United States turn inward on themselves, they are now hoping for countries that have not been as in front of the west as places they would like to increase engagement with.
From a Canadian perspective, I think there's probably a longing in the region for a greater presence or a greater focus on central Asia. You also hear that the Nordics are another area that the central Asians are focusing on. They clearly want to have a relationship with the west. They want the economic engagement and some of the countries are more than willing to meet us half-way, at least on the governance issue.
Kurdistan is struggling to do it. Kazakhstan talks a great talk. They have great plans. All they need to do is implement them. The other countries are really very much regressing. Uzbekistan, however, is also opening up a little bit and doing some interesting things right now, but it's still too early to see where that is going to go.
I'm not sure if I would agree that the Soviet Union has not dissolved. We now have 15 independent states that actually have their own separate identifies, that are very keen on defending those identities and defending their sovereignty, and they have institutionalized entire post-Soviet governments. So I think there are certain mindsets that still linger and the Kremlin certainly would like to reintegrate as much of it as it can, but I think many of these political leaders are resistant. I think we saw that in the push-back to the Eurasian Union and the concerns that have been raised over some of Russia's aggressive behaviour.
Moscow might not recognize that, but I do think it will be difficult to fully reintegrate any sort of Soviet.... Russia is extremely aggressive right now. It is taking advantage of vacuums around the world, taking advantage of people being distracted. I think no one was really looking at Ukraine until Crimea happened, and Russia is wanting to push back at the west wherever it can. The negative influence it had in the United States might not have caused Trump to win, but it certainly helped. It certainly hurt former secretary Clinton, and I think we see that replayed in Europe. We're seeing these tactics, which were more reserved for their immediate neighbourhood, going elsewhere. I think that all western states, Canada included, need to firm up their resilience to this type of pressure.
Are we in a cold war? The Cold War had very strict ideologies. We don't have the same sort of ideology today, but we are in a very dangerous situation. We have a Russian government that is very anti-American, very anti-western, and if you come down here, you have half of the U.S. population that is as vehemently anti-Russian as it ever has been, and that was not the case just a few years ago.
I don't see the ideologies, but I do see the animosities growing. I also see the mechanisms that tried to keep the international playing field stable, and tried to keep the NATO member militaries and Warsaw Pact militaries from having an unintended conflict, have broken down, so I'm very worried about when ships get buzzed, or flights, you know, when fighters get too close to each other.
Has promotion of democracy failed? I think it has failed in some places. I think in Russia it doesn't look very good. In parts of central Asia it does not look very good. Ukraine is struggling, but it has a free press and it has people who are willing to take to the streets. I think in Georgia it has been successful. I think in Moldova it has had its ups and downs but has been more or less successful. I think a place like Armenia, which is very closely tied to Russia, does have a somewhat free press and it is more democratic. It's not a democracy, but it is more democratic than other places in the region.
I don't think it can be a total success, but I do think when you look at assistance, we need to figure out the type of assistance that will be useful. In places like Georgia, Ukraine, even Armenia, or Kyrgyzstan, where it has been a little bit more successful, that is still very important to do. But I also think in places like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, where people are really being pushed into poverty, there are things we can do to improve human security, which is also tied to human rights. That could be basic education, health care, vaccines, or food security assistance, all of which will help people who are really struggling in environments where our assistance in democracy and promoting the rule of law has been more difficult.
I also think countries that have decided they wanted to join the OSCE council of Europe need to be held accountable for that decision, and if they continue on their path—Azerbaijan is not living up to a lot of it—I think there should be consequences for their membership in these organizations.
Good morning, all. I would like to start by thanking Development and Peace, who invited me here to Canada to share my story and to talk about the work that I do in the Darna centres in Syria, which serve the vulnerable Syrian families who have chosen to stay in Syria as the war continues.
I would also like to thank the committee for inviting me here today.
I am Rand Sukhaita, a woman from Syria. I'm a pharmacist and a mother. I'm from northern Syria, from a small city called Idlib. I fled to Turkey almost four years ago with my small family. Before this, I moved between cities, trying to find a safe one in which to give birth to my baby. The first year in Turkey was the hardest, because I didn't know whether I would be able to go back to Syria soon or have to stay there. I was following the news every day. It took me one year to realize I wasn't going back to Syria soon.
I then decided to think of the Syrian people who were left behind, who are facing every day all kinds of struggles, from displacement to bombing and shelling, to chemical weapons from the regime and his allies, to the extremists who destroyed all the villages' valuables and interfered in their personal freedom. In spite of all this, they are still trying to make a better life and a better future. They are struggling for their freedom and dignity. This relates to the Darna centres' mission, which is to construct a society that lives with dignity.
We have three centres in Syria, one in the south and two in northern Syria, in Aleppo and Idlib. Unfortunately, we closed our centre in Aleppo after the evacuation happened in December.
Darna means “our home” in Arabic, which is the main goal for the centres. Besides access to services, the centres provide a safe space for families and individuals, so they can rebuild their social networks—lost through displacement—and find a sense of belonging to a community again. All of our centres apply an open door policy, so that anyone from the community can come to access the service. Our staff can provide service or refer them to any other service provider in the area. That is why the centres are not operated as a stand-alone service but as part of a holistic approach that seeks resilience for the community.
The centres provide vocational training, English, computer, and business courses, as well as sewing workshops for women. Women there are trained to sew clothes so they can find a job in the local labour market. From the lessons learned from our work, we know that it's important to couple skills development and income generation programs with psychosocial support and protection programs in order to enable women to overcome the trauma they have experienced in war and adopt to their new role. In addition, we have to link the skills development training with local labour markets so that they have job opportunities afterwards.
Syrian women are more vulnerable to discrimination, poverty, and social exclusion than their male counterparts due to social cultural norms present in the region. Many have found themselves for the first time ever as the sole breadwinner for their family, given the death or incapacitation of or separation from the primary male earners. Yet those who have found themselves in this situation also tend to lack the skills, capacity, and confidence to procure income-generating work. This often puts women in an impossible position of having to provide for themselves and their families.
We know that when women generate an income, they make better decisions with their income. Their priority will be mainly to provide education for their children and to have access to the community. That's why we should start working with women and listen to them if we want to achieve peace. We should include women in each step of the process.
It's very important to work to empower women so they can deal with their new role. At the same time, we should be preparing their community—husbands and families—to accept them in their new role, and to accept that they can go out of their home, work and generate income, make better decisions, and support their families. This is the main challenge we're facing now inside Syria in some areas. Even though I believe that war is the worst thing that can happen to human beings, it's a real opportunity for real change.
After the revolution, I started to see women acting differently. They worked in organizing the demonstrations, in field hospitals, as teachers, and even in civil defence. They documented human rights abuses. They were arrested and kidnapped. They worked in media. Here, I'd like to give an example of what happened in Aleppo during the evacuation. The only activist who raised what was happening in Aleppo was a woman called Lina al-Shami.
Let me tell you about Hannan, who is married and is the mother of three children. She has had to support her family on her own ever since her husband suffered a stroke that left him partially paralysed. She recently took an 11-week sewing course offered in one of our centres. She says, “Through the training course, I personally evolved a lot as a person. I am no longer Hannan the shy, but Hannan the responsible woman who provides for her family. I have more confidence in myself. Even my husband looks at me differently. I did not imagine that one day in my life I would be in that place! Today, I dream of teaching sewing or running a learning centre.”
The Syrians need us to share their stories and show their daily bravery in facing this crisis. They need us to believe in them, invest in them, and build their capacity to strengthen Syrian civil society so that it can develop new leaders in order to make the change. We need to directly support Syrian organizations, to invest in Syria, and to build its capacity to make real change with less short-term intervention, and more resilience-based approaches.
Let's think about the civilians who are facing the extremist groups in some areas. How can they do this without our support if they are left alone without any tools to do so? How will the next generation be able to resist without access to education? We should know that only the Syrians themselves will be able to build their country again. Any solution that doesn't include them will not be successful.
Believe me when I say that are a lot of Syrian women who struggle daily for their lives and their dignity and for a better future, and they provide role models for how women can be and should be. This week, as we celebrate International Women's Day, I would like to remember the thousands of women who faced death under torture and the thousands of women who have been disappeared.
Actually, personally I don't believe that Assad supports the minority.
One of my friends, Marcell Shehwaro, is an activist, and she was Aleppian. She was arrested because she was participating in the demonstration. She participated in the demonstration in my city, Idlib. She held the microphone. She's Christian. In my city, most are Muslim, and conservative also. She said that Assad didn't protect her. He arrested her. He killed her mother at one of the checkpoints.
This is the picture he's trying to market, but I don't think this is the reality. Even the Christians are displaced. As you mentioned, most of them came here to Canada and to Europe illegally in small boats. If they felt safe, they would have stayed. But they don't feel safe.
I would like to say that the conflict, for sure, affected every area it was in. I consider that most of the areas in Syria have now been affected, starting with Damascus, which was facing no water for one month. Last month there was no water and no electricity, and that led to no school. So, no, I can't consider one area in Syria safe. It affected everybody. Since there is an ISIS, and Jabhat al-Nusra and extremists, it's helped him to market the picture this way.
I hope I was clear because my English is bad.