On Saturday October 28th a young Syrian delegation headed to the Jordanian border in its way to catch their Austrian Airlines flight going to Sweden where a seminar will be held about "Honor Killings" with five countries participating (Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Sweden and Denmark).

Once the delegation arrived to the borders and after their passports being stamped that they have crossed the borders, suddenly, "an authority" that refused to identify itself stopped the delegation, confiscated the passports, rummaged them and their luggage in an unusual way. Then, they were told that they are not allowed to leave right away and to wait instructions issued by "higher authorities".

From 3 p.m till 10 p.m the girls and the guys waited those instructions and answered questions like (How sent you? Who coordinated this seminar and the participation in it? who funds you? What are your aims? …etc) then they were told that "the higher authorities" did not allow them to leave?!

What is the problem if they were prohibited to attend that Seminar in Sweden? It seems that "the higher authorities" does not see any problem in that. But here is what happened:

The work done by the Syrian Woman Observatory, along with its governmental and non-governmental partners, concerning honor killings was admired by many institutions, associations and organizations either locally, regionally or internationally. As it was the first time in Syria that this issue is being tackled. This work showed specially a new face to both Christianity and Islam in regard to this issue.

It was the first time such condemnations are being issued on that level. And as a result of this relative success, we thought about proposing an idea of a project to the Euro Mediterranean Youth Programme that aimed at exchanging experiences among the countries that suffer from this issue. The idea of the project, among many others, was presented during a Study Visit to the Euro-Med Youth Programme to Syrian in September 2005, and was approved later with interests of many sides. Worth mentioning here is that the Study Visit took place in Damascus and participants representing the governmental Revolutionary Youth Union and the Syrian Red Crescent attended it, among others. Moreover, the European delegation visited the First Lady, Mrs. Asmaa Al-Asad in the last day of the activity.

We were among the main partners who prepared for this seminar in Sweden, starting by the delegates to the detailed programme of the activity. And recently Palmyra Club of the Syrian migrants in Sweden joined to this trip via planning to an effective meeting with the Syrian community in Sweden. Palmyra Club gathers a significant portion of the Syrian community in Sweden and collaborates with others.

Since then, the work is underway to provide the best circumstances for the seminar. We succeeded in that along with our partners, and some said that this was one of the few cases that an activity is being organized in such a detailed way with a Syrian organization. We considered the success of this seminar, a success to Syria. This is not national overbidding, which we do not master any way.

Taking into account that the Syrian participation in such events has often been ignored to a great extent, and used to be subject to problems and personal considerations and patronage, and even diverting away from the main aims of the activity.

The work done by SWO and its volunteers, along with the support of the partners, played to great extent to show a new side of the Syrian face that has long been hidden. From a long time, there has not been an independent initiative on such level. Many didn't believe, until recently, that such independent initiative can be launched and achieves its aim without obstacles coming from "any authority", and even share in coordinating such international seminar.

Everybody knows that the issue of the "obstacles" was mentioned many times in the questions raised to us in the local and the foreign media. When we said that we have not encountered any harassment by anybody, we meant that as we never encountered any kind of bothering during the period we worked in.

However. What happened on October 28th 2006 was a surprise on all levels? It was not understandable, unjustifiable and illegal. Not understandable because the seminar tackles only one social issue and about exchanging experiences concerning "honor killings". Unjustifiable, because the consequences of this travel ban are so bad and without any warrant. It is illegal because no body can provide any legal justification to ban the delegation participation in this seminar.

There is nothing hidden in our work. When we said that we do not deal with politics, we said that clearly as we believe in the need for social work, away from politics and not out of fear or as a way to escape any consequences. We tried to make everything we did, reflected in our observatory and clearly published in details as much as possible. We said explicitly that we do not want to make any foes for us or confront anybody. We want to engage in an open and earnest debate concerning the issues of our society.

So why that happened on October 28th 2006? It is just a painful stab in the face of Syria. This can only mean deforming the image of our country in the worst way possible! We have the right to ask bitterly and with a voice shrinking in pain: Who dares to do that? Who dares to deform the image of our country in such a way? And what are those hidden "upper authorities" that have such a strong desire not to declare their identity? And are they really "upper authorities" or just "other authorities" that hid behind their own relations for their "private" interests?

Have those, who make such a decision, thought about the consequences? Have they thought what other countries and delegations would think about banning one of the most important delegation from participating in an international seminar, and without any justifications? Have they thought about the effects this incident will have on the whole idea of collaboration with the Syrian society? Specially the important collaboration with the Euro-Med Programme? This collaboration which suffers from nearly a situation of standstill until recently!!! What were their aims from that ban? What aims they hide behind the big mottos?

We have our own perspectives concerning the answers for these questions. But we will not speak about that neither now nor later. And as we ignore the fact that other are playing under the table with whatsoever "privileges" this gives them, we will not engage ourselves in the strategy of scandals. But we make them accountable and responsible for any offense resulted or will be resulted from such a decision.

What we say now is that, those who think that they can impose their conditions, are so wrong. Those who think that we have to enter through their own gates are so wrong. We have worked voluntarily and independently during all the last period. We have done our utmost efforts and this is what we are planning to continue in the future. Whatever obstacles we face, we will continue running our activities and doing whatever we think is of benefit to our society and country. We will continue preparing for local, regional and international workshops and symposiums.

This is our own country and we have the right to develop it, we said that and will say it one more time, and will not make any concessions in that regard.

SWO, (Who Stabbed Syria… in the Face?)

SWO (1/11/2006)