Toshipa Dearel

SSA Newsletter

14.2 (2009) Spring Issue

‫نشرة رابطة الدراسات السورية‬

Book Review Essay: Syrian Ba’thist Memoirs
General Mustafa Talas. Mir'at Hayati [The Mirror of My Life]. 4 Parts. Damascus: Dar Talas, 1991-2004, 3,740 pages. Muhammad Ibrahim al-'Ali. Hayati wa al-I'dam [My Life and Execution]. 3 Volumes, 1,700 pages. Damascus, 2007. Reviewed by Nikolaos van Dam In my view, Mustafa Talas‟ memoirs Mir'at Hayati [The Mirror of my Life] are indispensible to anyone wishing to seriously study the history of the Ba‟thist era in Syria in detail and in depth. The memoirs provide detailed descriptions of behind-the-scenes situations and of the secretive Ba'th organization and its leading personalities. Mustafa Talas provides essential hitherto unpublished material. Talas was minister of defense for over 30 years (1972-2004) and personally took part in many important developments within the Syrian Armed Forces and the Ba‟th Party from its earliest days. Whereas it had previously been taboo to write about sectarianism or the secret intricacies of party history and its intrigues, this has now become possible in Syria. This development was not only due to Talas‟ position (although it certainly made it easier), but also because speaking of such issues is no longer considered as sensitive as it once was. Nevertheless, what is now permitted for a select group of Ba‟thists in power, remains prohibited to others. Other memoirs (or other kinds of publications or statements) which only hint at sensitive phenomena could land their authors in prison and could be forbidden in Syria. Part 1 (1948-1958) deals with Talas‟ youth, his years at the Military Academy, the Ba‟thist Qatana revolt (1957), and the unification with Egypt (1958). In addition to his studied analysis, Talas also provides compelling anecdotes, including stories about Hafiz al-Asad who was there at the same time. Al-Asad was both respected and feared. As a disciplinarian he was known to butt (yantah) heads...