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Syria's First Lady Gives First TV Interview in Eight Years: I Rejected Offers of Asylum

"I have been here since the beginning, and I never thought of being anywhere else at all," Asma Assad told Russia 24, the state-owned Russian channel.
Image: Asma Assad
In this frame grab taken from a video released on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016 on the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency, Asma Assad, wife of the Syrian president Bashar Assad speaks during an interview with the Russia 24 TV channel in Damascus, Syria.Syrian Presidency via Facebook

Opponents of dictator Bashar Assad have offered asylum to his wife outside of war-torn Syria, but she turned them down, Syria's first lady said in her first television interview in eight years.

"I have been here since the beginning, and I never thought of being anywhere else at all," Asma Assad told Russia 24, the state-owned Russian news channel.

"I was offered the opportunity to leave Syria, or rather to run from Syria. These offers included guarantees of safety and protection for my children, and even financial security," she added. "It doesn’t take a genius to know what these people were really after: It was never about my well-being or my children, it was a deliberate attempt to shatter people’s confidence in their president, and suffice to say these offers were foolish — and not even made by people who were Syrian."

Assad, 41, is a dual British-Syrian citizen who generally shies away from media appearances. Her last major interview was a controversial piece in Vogue magazine in 2011, a widely panned rosy profile of her and her family that the magazine eventually took down as violence in Syria ratcheted up.

"After five years of war, I think it goes without saying that in every home in Syria, there is a sadness that pervades, and ours is no different," Assad said in the latest interview, which was 33 minutes long. Russia supports the government of Bashar Assad, which has been accused of using chemical weapons and barrel bombs in the conflict.

Asma Assad said told the channel, "I know that Syria can and will rebuild itself. What's important is that we tackle the internal and external factors that fueled and prolonged the war."

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"As Syrians, we've always prevailed, and this period in our history is no different," she said. "Syrians will rise again."

A former investment banker with JP Morgan in London and New York, Assad touted government support services she has established such as interest-free microloans to boost Syria's economy. But she said of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, "The severity of the situation is beyond comprehension."

"The displacement, the poverty, the sickness, the suffering is possibly unprecedented," Assad said.

She criticized Western media organization who "solely focus on the plight of refugees."

"In fact, the vast majority of people displaced are living across the rest of the country, and these people, as much as anybody else, matter," Assad said. "And nobody, nobody, has the right to dehumanize them based on the lines of a map."

Her comments came in the same week as a U.S.-hosted meeting with top diplomats in Switzerland aimed at stopping Syria's civil war, which has now killed up to half a million people. The bombing of the Syrian city of Aleppo, which has become the latest flashpoint of the conflict, has ramped up the global urgency to resolve Syria's suffering.