Dr. Raphaël Pitti is a well-known French doctor who specializes in anesthetic resuscitation and emergency medicine. He also became a specialist in war medicine while serving as general physician of the armed forces and shares his knowledge with his up-and-coming peers as an associate professor. But more than anything, Dr. Pitti is a great humanitarian which is why he has been to Syria more than 20 times since 2012. He is the head of the training department in the medical NGO UOSSM France (Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations France). He made all his humanitarian missions in Syria and Ukraine with UOSSM France.
Last week Dr. Pitti graciously carved some time out of his busy schedule to do a Zoom interview with SYRIAWISE.
Dr. Pitti, how did you get involved in supporting the people of Syria?
It happened in a way that surprised me as well. I am a doctor and, in the hospital where I was working, 60 kilometers from the city where I live, I heard an interview early in the morning, around 7am I believe, with a French Syrian doctor, Dr. Ahmad Banana, who explained that the hospitals in Syria were being bombed, that the doctors were also bombed by the regime, arrested and suffered hell and I was quite upset to hear that so I decided to go myself to Syria and see firsthand what was happening.
Where did you get your experience as a military doctor?
As you know, my specialty is anesthesiologist-resuscitator and I specialize in emergency room medicine as well as war medicine. I also train and teach at a major university. Since the 1980s I have been involved in a number of crises and wars, including ones in Lebanon, Yugoslavia and Africa in countries like Chad and Djibouti, the Comoro Islands so I’ve always been confronted with tough situations and conflicts in war.
Why do you think more people aren’t taking a similar stand? Is it because of ignorance of what is actually happening in Syria, or are there other reasons?
From the very first time I was in Syria, I was in Dana, a hospital 60 kilometers west of Aleppo. I was there from Sept 2012 until October 6, 2012. In the hospital I was in I received many people who had been injured in different parts of Syria and the surrounding areas of Dana. They came to us in big numbers. On the third day I was there, I went to bed at 2 am and only two hours later something woke me up and I fell on the ground. It was just seconds later that the hospital was bombed. We ended up evacuating everyone, we had to close down the hospital.
I denounced the bombing of this hospital. I even wrote a column and wrote letters to doctors across Europe and in France saying that this was a war crime, that war crimes were happening of which I was a witness.Dr. Raphael Pitti
Many of my colleagues were dead, many people were injured or killed. So, we were forced to leave clandestinely to the hospital of Al Bab which is in the northwest of Aleppo and we ended up working in a clandestine hospital on October 6. Eleven days later on October 17th that same hospital was also destroyed.
When I returned to France, I denounced the bombing of this hospital. I even wrote a column and wrote letters to doctors across Europe and in France saying that this was a war crime, that war crimes were happening of which I was a witness. I even tried to reach the Council of Doctors but it didn’t interest anyone. Syria was too far from people to reach but I continued talking about these war crimes, not only in France, but in Europe as well. I went to Germany, Canada, the UN in Geneva and the UN in New York to denounce these war crimes that no one seemed to care about, or be interested in.
The aggressor is the Russians but we have to be careful to pick and choose our words carefully so that we don’t humiliate them? You know the Russians have besieged cities, bombed cities, killed people, but we are the ones who have to be careful with our words.Dr. Raphael Pitti
And now with what’s happening in Ukraine for example, everyone is happily saying that it is a war crime and it surprises me to be honest. For ten years no one has said anything about Syria, but in Ukraine they are enthusiastically denouncing it, but still, nobody is going to the street. No one is actually vocalizing it. They are just recognizing it. We let Putin do as he wishes in Syria and we are letting him do the same in Ukraine. This morning the WHO said that 250 medical structures were destroyed by the Russians in the east of Ukraine and the WHO declared it was a war crime against humanity, and then we have the French president Macron saying that we must not humiliate Russia and it is unacceptable to hear such words come out of our president! The aggressor is the Russians but we have to be careful to pick and choose our words carefully so that we don’t humiliate them? You know the Russians have besieged cities, bombed cities, killed people, but we are the ones who have to be careful with our words.
4: Could you please tell us briefly about the book you wrote “Va où l’humanité te porte”?
This book was requested of me actually since September 2016 by a French publisher who approached me and asked me about what I did in Syria. Many had heard me on TV and radio denouncing the war crimes happening in Syria and the fact that Westerners did not react to the situation so I was asked many times to write about what I had lived and I had always said no. However, there was one woman editor who pursued me and kept coming after me and one day she sent me a message on messenger asking me: “What do I have to do to get an answer from you?” So I called her and we spoke and she managed to convince me eventually. She said: “What if this book was a good way to awaken young people’s interests?” And thinking about it I found that she was right. Thinking about the dangers I had gone through I had always felt protected by God but at the same time I used to ask myself: “What am I doing in Syria?” Slowly I began to think about all the reasons that brought me to Syria. I was born in Algeria during the war, and through my experiences in the army I knew war well. I always understood that it is people around the world who pay the prices of war. It is not the government who does. It is the women who are raped, and the children whose childhood is taken from them
And that’s what my book is about: to go where humanity takes you. That’s what the title translates to: Go Where Humanity Takes You.
They [Syrians] have been bombed in all weapons, their women raped, their children killed and they were subjected to mass executions.Dr. Raphael Pitti
We only have one earth. We do have differences, but in the end there is only one humanity. These differences are not obstacles but rather a route. I tried to explain all of that in the book: that this humanity is happening in a unique world. Wherever we walk on earth, we walk under the same sky, so there’s only one humanity. Everywhere we walk, we are at home. That’s what I understood and learned from all the travels around the world and from my experiences. So whenever I see a Syrian mother crying, an African mother crying, or a Ukrainian mother crying, I always share in the grief of their suffering.
Do you have any message to deliver through SYRIAWISE as a humanitarian physician dealing with issues related to Syrian refugees?
The Syrian population was deeply martyred and suffered all sorts of violence and war crimes. They have been bombed in all weapons, their women raped, their children killed and they were subjected to mass executions. Nothing was spared in Syria. And now unfortunately we see the difference in treatment between Syrian, Afghan and Ukrainian refugees and it’s completely inhuman. These differences are unacceptable.
I wish and hope that Syrian people can one day return to their country and live their lives peacefully. But like I said before, wherever we go on earth we must be able to feel at home. I wish for the 21st century that borders no longer exist. I wish Syrian people can live in peace, that they can find work and live in dignity anywhere around the world. And if one day Syria is free and liberated, they can return to their homes and rebuild them. I said on TV one day that none of us have chosen our parents, the color of our skin, the places we were born. It’s all the result of chance and destiny. Who is he who dares to prevent a young African born in the desert in pure poverty from leaving that place hoping for a better life? Everyone has the right to realize his/her dream and live in dignity. We are all one humanity and everyone deserves to live in dignity.