Posts Tagged With: Syrian uprising

My lecture at the Lebanese American University (March, 2019)


Beyond Humanitarianism Paradigm: The Effect of Displacement on Religious Authorities

posted on 10/04/2019


By Fidaa Al Fakih

LAU’s Institute for Social Justice and Conflict Resolution (ISJCR) and the Department of Social Sciences hosted a seminar on “The Displacement of Religious Authorities from Syria and their Involvement in Aid Provision: Looking beyond Humanitarianism.”

The cross-campus seminar was based on the preliminary findings of Research Associate at University College London, Dr Estella Carpi.

Welcoming the attendees, moderator and ISJCR Director and Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs Tamirace Fakhoury said the seminar sheds light on the under-researched topic of “how the displacement from Syria has affected religious authorities and how religious authorities have had to reinvent their mission and involvement in aid provision.”

Dr. Carpi then kicked off the seminar by explaining that the field research she has been conducting in Lebanon is part of a much broader project with Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh of University College London under the framework of “south–south humanitarianism.” The research, she said, looks at southern agents of aid provision, particularly faith leaders or religious authorities who try to help their own displaced communities.

Dr. Carpi’s presentation built on her extensive research on faith-based organizations working in the Syria neighborhood, including her engagement with Syrian refugee faith leaders in Lebanon. “I relied on self-accounts of personal experiences in aid provision to the displaced communities once Syrian faith leaders became refugees themselves,” she said.

Dr. Carpi then mapped a geography of displaced religious authorities following their physical trajectories outside of Syria. She also focused on how displacement from war, violence and persecution reconfigures their spiritual role and their social status within receiving societies. By doing so, Dr. Carpi captured how the spiritual mission of such religious leaders changes in response to their own refugee status and their intent to provide aid, support and solidarity to the displaced communities.

Concluding the seminar, Dr. Fakhoury and Chair of the Social Sciences Department Marwan Rowayheb thanked Dr. Carpi for uncovering concepts of humanitarianism that shed light on new actors often overlooked by researchers when studying Syrian refugee challenges in neighboring host societies.

Dr. Rowayheb encouraged Dr. Carpi to account for the structural differences in the nature of the religious establishments in Lebanon, and to examine the competition between Lebanese religious authorities and displaced Syrian faith leaders that in some instances trigger sensitivities.

Categories: Europe, Lebanon, Middle East, Syria, Turkey, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The challenges of covering Syria (2011-2013)

I was asked to write this piece in November 2013, immediately after I left Syria (and unfortunately that was the last time I have been there). I am not a fan of self-referential journalism and I think the less we talk about ourselves the better it is, unless it is functional to understanding our interaction with the context and the way locals react to our (Western) presence. Still, I accepted to write this and I think there are some insights into freelance labor and all the troubles you face to “get the story out” at your own risk…

(In the photo: Me (right) and Abu Wa’el (left), the commander of the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Dir’ul-Muslimin (The Shield of Muslims) brigade in Ras al-‘Ayn (al-Hasakah, Syria)) (photo by Bahzad Hajj Hamo)

The challenges of covering Syria

con Abu Wael

BEIRUT — Reporting from Syria has become an ordeal of illegal border crossings, where journalists face all sorts of restrictions from both the Syrian government and neighboring countries.

I started covering Syria from Damascus at the very beginning of the uprising in March 2011. I didn’t apply for a press visa, as it would have just meant further restrictions on my movements by security forces. During my five-month stay, I reported on demonstrations, circumventing the regime’s checkpoints, driven around by an aging taxi driver sympathetic to the opposition.

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Syrian Kurdish creative resistance in times of war

Syrian artists in the mainly Kurdish northeast are indulging in their newfound freedom to explore their art without regime restrictions. (In the photo: artist Amr Ferso poses next to his works in Amuda)

Syrian Artists Remain Creative on Margins of War


AMUDA, Syria — Living in Syria is not only about survival. For many Syrian artists, it means keeping creativity alive despite hardships and exploiting unprecedented freedom of expression. According to some artists, the revolution should not be limited to the removal of censorship, but by raising awareness on the most rooted social habits and taboos. Nevertheless, for the time being, most artists who wish to remain in Syria lack any form of institutional and economic support.

Walking around the streets of Amuda — 80 km (50 miles) from the front line between jihadists and Kurdish militias in Ras al-Ain — what goes hardly unnoticed is the large proportion of polyhedral artists, devoting their free time to a wide range of activities. It is common to meet a shopkeeper who is eager to read one of his poems or invite you to listen to him play the tambur (a Kurdish string instrument). This is partly because of the lack of specialization, but it is also the symptom of a thriving cultural scene. “Pablo Picasso used to say, ‘We are all born artists, but what’s important is how we preserve this art,'” Rishan Ali Yusef, a sculptor, told Al-Monitor. His day job is cutting marble plates in a factory.

Categories: Kurdistan, Syria | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yazidis benefit from Kurdish autonomy in Northeast Syria

How Syria’s Yazidi community sees an opportunity to revive its identity on the tails of rising Kurdish power in the country’s northeast. 

Yazidis Benefit From Kurdish Gains in Northeast Syria

View of Yezidi temple in Lalish some 50 km north from Iraqi city of Mosul May 11, 2003. The Yezidi religion, seen by its followers as the original Kurdish faith, is believed to date back several thousand years and blends ideas from sources as diverse as Zoroastrianism, Islam and Christianity. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov REUTERS SZH/AS - RTRNBQ2

View of Yezidi temple in Lalish some 50 km north from Iraqi city of
Mosul May 11, 2003. The Yezidi religion, seen by its followers as the
original Kurdish faith, is believed to date back several thousand years
and blends ideas from sources as diverse as Zoroastrianism, Islam and
Christianity. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov REUTERS

AMUDA, Syria — “Some years ago I tried to open a bus company and call it Roj, which in Kurdish means sun,” said Adnan Ammo, a 50-year-old farmer from Merkeb. “I was summoned by political security for a suspected connection with Roj TV [one of the satellite channels affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)]. Even after I explained to them that I am Yazidi and we venerate the sun, they forced me to change the name. I proposed Judi, the name of my son, but that was rejected too, as it’s a Kurdish name. In the end we had to shut down the activity.”

The followers of the Yazidi religion have been historically discriminated against on both ethnic and religious grounds, being part of a Kurdish pre-Islamic sect. The Yazidi faith is currently exposed to the risk of extinction, as expatriates tend to neglect its traditions and a growing number of Yazidis are leaving Syria to escape radical Islamists. On the other hand, most Kurdish parties seem to bank on the revitalization of the Yazidi identity in order to back historical land claims and belittle the Islamization of Kurds, as part of an opposition to Islamist brigades.

Categories: Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rojava: What about the Arabs?

An article I wrote for Al-Monitor in October 2013. Kurdish autonomy in north-east Syria will struggle if Syria’s Kurdish forces do not reach an understanding with local Arab residents. (Forget about the nonsense title given to this piece on Al-Monitor: the content has nothing to do with the PYD’s rise…no comment 🙂

a Syrian beduin woman source ICRC

RAS AL-AIN, Syria — The Mesopotamian Al-Jazira plain is populated by a majority of Arabs, but the northern districts of the province of Hasakah, including the two main cities Qamishli and Hasakah, will soon see the first steps of a Kurdish-led administrative and political decentralization. Arabs here hold different views on Kurdish autonomy, ranging from support to skepticism and opposition. Regardless of the political shape of these regions, it is urgently necessary to reconcile both communities and solve the land disputes caused by the presence of Arab settlers, in order to ward off a Kirkuk-like ethnic strife.

“The self-management plan won’t discriminate among the different communities,” said Ahmad al-Ahmad, an Arab staff member in the Ministry of Education from al-Jabriyya, a village next to Amuda. “Therefore, I support it. We want to see locals, whether Arabs or Kurds, managing and developing these regions,” he told Al-Monitor. Ahmad is originally from Tabqa in Raqqa province and he settled in al-Jabriyya 37 years ago. He belongs to the so-called maghmurin, “flooded,” Arab tribes resettled by the government along the northern border of the province of Hasakah in the 1970s, in order to compensate them for the loss of their lands flooded by the construction of the Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates between 1968 and 1973. It was part of the Arabization plan drafted by Hasakah’s police chief, Mohammad Talab Hilal, in 1963 to change the demographic balance at the expense of Kurds.

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Syria: Arab opposition’s agreement with Kurds irrelevant without PYD

An article I wrote for Al-Monitor on the agreement achieved between the Syrian National Coalition and the Kurdish National Council in Sept. 2013 (the one where they finally reached an understanding on renaming the Syrian “Arab” Republic as Syrian Republic…though conditions applied, ,making it an agreement void of any meaning…). 

Syrian Opposition, Kurd Agreement Irrelevant Without PYD

Syrian Kurd Syrian opp agreement source kurdpress

QAMISHLI, Syria — The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) approved on Sept. 16 the first agreement to incorporate a major Kurdish bloc, the Kurdish National Council (KNC). Despite reservations on both sides, the two groupings are supposed to meet to announce the alliance officially by the end September

However, on Sept. 8, the KNC reached a separate deal with the other main Kurdish alliance — the People’s Council of West Kurdistan (PCWK) — which is affiliated with the Democratic Union Party (PYD), to draft the constitution of a transitional Kurdish government to be elected 4 to 6 months later.

Categories: Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Syrian journalist critical of foreign media and their coverage of the uprising

A short interview with a Syrian journalist based for many years in Damascus. Originally published in The Majalla

The Media and the Revolution

Syrian journalist: “Foreign media don’t care about protecting Syrian activists and fixers.” An interview with a Syrian journalist, who has been working for a private publication for the last five years in Damascus.
syrian media
The Majalla: What was the level of polarization on both sides before the revolution?
No one hated Bashar Al-Assad before the revolution, few people were criticizing him. The country was not ready for a revolution, I think 51 percent of Syrians wanted reforms
Q:What are the taboos of the Syrian press nowadays? Is there a way to cross “red lines” without facing the wrath of the authorities?The taboos are the army, ethnic minorities, the President and all the “mafia” members. I crossed the red lines several times: I wrote about Kurds, judicial corruption, and educational corruption. The way to do it is to talk with high officials, not civil servants, and be able to defend your point. However, sometimes they caused me trouble for really stupid layout-related issues. Look what happened to the Syrian-Palestinian writer Salamah Kilah, who has been arrested because they found a leftist magazine in his apartment!

Q: Has anything changed since the lifting of the State of Emergency in April 2011?
The end of the State of Emergency worsened the situation and the escalation produced more lies from State-run media. [Pro-revolution] citizen journalist Bara’a Al-Bushi has been killed in Al-Tell (Damascus), while he was talking to [pro-opposition] Orient TV. Four journalists from the State-run TV station Al-Ikhbariyyah were abducted this month. The explosion which targeted the State-TV offices [August 6] occurred really nearby the Presidential palace in the Muhajereen neighborhood. How is it possible? The Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression was originally supported by Asma Al-Assad, but its president Mazen Darwish is detained since February 16 … The situation resembles the attacks on journalists that happened in Lebanon between 2005 and 2010 [responsibility for which is blamed on the Syrian Government by numerous analysts].

Q: What do you think about the mushrooming media of the opposition, are they reliable and independent?

I am wary of certain sponsors: why this businessman or country is sponsoring that media, what does he want from the post-Assad era? Some Gulf-funded TV stations are moved by clear political and sectarian agendas.
As for reliability, modern media depends on citizen journalists and revolutionary media are transparent and spontaneous, but sometimes you need to verify their accuracy.

Q: How do you evaluate the role played by internet in this revolution?

Look, in my village there are around 67.000 residents and I would say that only 200 of them have internet access. New media are important because they end up being broadcast on TV.

Those people who use new media will shape the change in this country, but they will not obtain Government posts in the future Syria.

Q: What is your opinion of the behavior of foreign media in Syria during the uprising?

The media have the duty of taking risks, regardless of threats. It’s not true that Al-Jazeera is not allowed inside the country: numerous foreign media were given permits to follow the UN observers. Al-Jazeera has been in Gaza and Iraq and they cannot enter Syria? On the other side, the same goes for pro-regime media such as [the Iranian] Press TV, who didn’t risk going into areas controlled by the Free Syrian Army.
Then you have those foreign journalists who reported about Syria while enjoying the summer in Beirut … Other foreign journalists have provided information about activists to the Syrian intelligence. I have been personally interrogated for working as a fixer, and the journalist I was following has never helped me … he didn’t even bring a bulletproof vest for me!

Q: Does regime change imply media freedom?

No, the future of media will imply lots of suffering and the regime will stay strong. I’m also concerned about the “newcomers,” those kidnapping journalists. For this aspect, I would like to quote Mazen Darwish, when he said: “I am not afraid of sectarianism, Islamists or Alawis, I’m afraid of tyranny and oppression, wherever it comes from.” The Syrian people won’t stay silent, because as long as there is no acceptance of other opinions, we won’t have a more liberal media.

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The first steps of the Syrian armed resistance: Jisr as-Shughur (June 2011)

Looking back at the massacre of Jisr as-Shughur (early June 2011), I gathered accounts from witnesses based in the Reyhanli refugee camp. An interesting episode, in consideration of the continuous attempts to portray the whole uprising as completely peaceful. This was not aimed at disregarding the importance of armed struggle in most uprisings, but the same episode of Jisr as-Shughur was originally misrepresented by some circles of the Syrian opposition, deeply concerned about preserving the peaceful image of the movement. The second part of the feature deals with the sectarian radicalization of some factions of the opposition.  Here is the original copy published on The Majalla

Secrets from Jisr Al-Shughour

Was this Syria’s Point of no Return?

Andrea Glioti looks back at the events in Jisr Al-Shugour, Syria, to investigate the issue of Syria’s armed opposition, and asks whether the resistance is on the brink of radicalization.
jisr as-shughur

Eleven months ago, the Syrian opposition resorted to armed resistance whilst it endeavored to preserve its peaceful image. This was an attempt to gain international support and contradict the narrative of President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, which focused on the threat of armed insurgency.

Unfortunately, the result has been counterproductive, as it has tarnished the opposition’s credibility and nurtured doubts in those who view the opposition as a nebulous movement. At the same time, it would be unfair to criticize the opposition exclusively. It could be said that the main responsibility for the increased militarization and sectarian trends of violence lies with the regime’s brutality.

What happened in Jisr Al-Shughour?

Things were not meant to go as in Egypt or in Tunisia, where the masses succeeded in occupying squares and peacefully overthrowing the local regimes: in Jisr Al-Shughour, near the Turkish border, this was clear by June 2011.

During the five months I spent in Damascus since the beginning of the uprising, I attended several peaceful demonstrations which were repressed by security forces. But the relationship between Jisr Al-Shughour and the regime had been growing increasingly tense for thirty years, since Hafez Al-Assad ordered a bloody military crackdown on armed rebellion of the Muslim Brotherhood in the city in 1980.

“I’m going to tell you what happened, even at the cost of damaging the cause of the revolution,” says Uthman, a refugee from Atma, who had to flee to the Turkish refugee camp of Reyhanli after the battle in Jisr Al-Shughour.

According to Uthman, in Jisr as-Shughour everything started around 20 May 2011, when 15 Syrian workers were killed by state security forces. People were already prepared to respond to the attacks with force. In Omar’s account, the armed protests started right after this massacre.

“On the third of June, we took weapons with us and hid them, while marching in the demonstration,” he recalls, “when the snipers of the military security (al-mukhabarat al-askariyyah) opened fire on us from the post office, we hit back—killing some of them”.

The protesters were then joined by the battalion led by Lieutenant Colonel Hussein Al-Harmoush, the first high-ranking officer to defect, and planned an offensive against military security forces, which were the only intelligence branch that refused to hand over its weapons. Omar explained that military security forces are mainly made up of Alawis and hardcore loyalists.

“The siege of the post office lasted for 3 hours,” remembers Tareq Abdul-Haqq, a 26-year-old activist from Jisr As-Shughur, while showing me the videos he filmed during the clashes. “We tried everything: dynamite barrels used in construction, exploding a gas cylinder . . . in the end the last surviving officers came out because the noise of these explosions drove them crazy.”

The wider confrontation with military security forces lasted for two days, causing the government in Damascus to deploy a reserve security contingent to the restive city on 5 June 2011. Unexpectedly, the insurgents succeeded in resisting the offensive with Kalashnikovs seized from the security headquarters, and the contingent had to retreat. “After having defeated military security, we set up checkpoints and planted landmines [in preparation] to face the arrival of the army,” says Omar.

The people of Jisr As-Shughur already knew how it was going to end. According to Tareq’s account, Bashar followed the example of his father and deployed 11,000 soldiers to Jisr As-Shughur on 9 June. Tareq chose to flee on 12 June, one day before the army broke in the city to ‘restore security’ by destroying mosques and private property. By that time, most of those involved in the clashes had already escaped to Turkey.

According to Syrian authorities, at least 120 security officials were killed. Pan-Arab media, such as the daily newspaper Al-Hayat and the TV channel Al-Arabiya, reported that activists heard gunshots followed by “an explosion,” and believed that this was a response to defections within military security forces. “The head of the military security in Jisr As-Shughur, Abu Yarub, ordered the killing of 30 officers who had refused to shoot on us,” confirms Tareq. “We found their corpses in the toilets when we finally broke into the headquarters.”

It is undeniable however that some security officers were also killed during the armed confrontation; “the explosion” was possibly caused by the gas cylinder hurled at them. On 3 August, Joshua Landis pointed out the same incongruences on his blog, SyriaComment, and called on Western media to admit the presence of “armed elements” in the opposition, without denying the violence committed by the regime.

However there are some who believe that the peaceful image of the resistance should be defended, possibly fearing that the descent of the revolution into civil strife would decrease its support abroad.

We are all Syrians…apart from the Alawis?

The endless bloodshed led part of the military resistance to an alarming point, which was recently highlighted by the Human Rights Watch report on abuses committed by opposition armed groups (20 March 2012). One might excuse the executions and kidnappings of military personnel as natural developments of guerrilla warfare, though the opposition should have refrained from torture and sectarian attacks on civilians (especially as these echo the brutality of the Assad regime). On 25 March 2012, the two most prominent military figures in the opposition, Colonel Riyadh Al-Assad and Brigadier General Mustafa Shaykh, joined efforts under the banner of the FSA to strengthen coordination and distance themselves from the actions of other armed groups.

An even more worrisome development is that the year-long conflict has nurtured forms of sectarian resentment which were previously latent—or totally absent. The longstanding mantra of the Syrian political opposition has been to ward off sectarianism. This is represented by the legacy of people like Christian Prime Minister like Faris Al-Khouri (1944-45 and 1954-55), Kurdish President Hosni Al-Zaim (1949), and the Druze Commander of the Syrian Revolution (1925-27), Sultan Basha Al-Atrash.

Nevertheless, some recurrent down-to-earth conversations I have had here in Turkey are partially changing my perspective on the influence of these historical figures on the revolution. “In Syria, it is forbidden for a Sunni to be employed,” complains Abdul Sattar, a refugee from Latakia whom I met recently, along with several of his peers. “Look at these guys here,” he says, referring to the seven other men at our meeting, “they’re all educated with degrees, but all the jobs are given to the Alawis.”

He then went on to praise his political mentor, Shaykh Adnan Al-Arur, a Saudi-based Syrian Sunni preacher known for his anti-Shi’a speeches. I asked him what would happen to Alawis in the event that Al-Arur will return to his homeland. His reply stressed that none of the Sunni religious figures could force someone to be an Islamist, even if that person was willing to join the ‘Party of Devil’ as he called it—the Lebanese, Shi’a Hezbollah. Referring to Hezbollah as the ‘Party of Devil’ is common among some Sunni demonstrators, mostly because of its alleged involvement in curbing the Syrian protests.

However, none of the seven Sunni defectors objected to Abdul Sattar’s praise of Al-Arur as the only respectable political figure of the opposition. It is worth mentioning a contrasting example: when I was in Beirut a few months ago, a member of a local committee from the Khaldiyyeh neighborhood of Homs was equally adamant in stressing that he was not a follower of Al-Arur, and accused Syrian Shi’a Twelvers (the largest branch of Shi’a Islam) of being promised paradise for killing Sunnis.

Interested to hear from others on the issue, while in Reyhanli Camp, I met with Bassem, a 40-year-old school director from Abdama. He was convinced that Burhan Ghalioun cannot lead the Syrian opposition because he is ‘not a real Muslim.’

While based in Istanbul, I had the chance to talk with Ibrahim Al-Hajj Ali from Aleppo, an officer expelled from the army for trying to set up a Sunni Islamist cell. Al-Hajj told me that “the war happening in Syria is a war waged on the Sunni sect […], a war of beliefs between the creed of truth and good and the creed of evil.” I also interviewed Abdul-Rahman Al-Shardub, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Syrian National Council, who praised the Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein for being “one thousand times nobler than Bashar Al-Assad.” The majority of Syrians in the room seemed to agree with himIt appears that sectarian trends are spreading rapidly within the ranks of an opposition initially worried to distance itself from any form of religious intolerance.

In contrast, the perception of the regime needs to remain that of a system built on shared interests, and not a sectarian one shaped by the hegemony of one sect over the other. A sectarian conflict would persuade part of the public of the regime’s narrative, which has been attempting to divide the revolution along religious lines from the beginning.

An excellent example is provided in an account by Abdul-Rahman Batra, a member of the HCSR (an aid providing organization based in Istanbul, Antakiya, Jordan and Lebanon) who used to work with the video-blogger Rami al-Said in Homs: he says that the International Red Cross was granted access to the Sunni neighborhood of Bab Amro after the government offensive on 29 February 2012, but that the regime prompted Alawi residents from the neighborhoods of Al-Zahra and Al-Nizha to seize the provisions.

Indeed, these alleged forms of selective punishment of Sunni neighborhoods, coupled with the instigation of fears in religious minorities, have increased the risk of the revolution being completely hijacked along sectarian lines.

Categories: Syria, Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1. Blogging and reporting on five months of revolution from Syria: A witness account from the siege of Dara’a

A piece I originally wrote for the New Internationalist after visiting  a lawyer in Dummar (Rif Dimashq), who was married to a woman from Dara’a.

People vs the regime



The regime bans foreign journalists from reporting the people’s uprising in Syria, but the people report it themselves. A witness account from the Syrian city of Dara’a.

Ahmad is a student at the University of Damascus. We met last Friday during the demonstrations in the neighbourhood of Midan. Although worried about the fate of the revolution, he is still confident that ‘in 70 days the regime will fall’. He wants me to meet someone whose family has witnessed the hell of Dara’a, the epicentre of the protests, which has been under military siege since 25 April.

Omar is a lawyer who lives in the suburbs of Damascus. When he was a judge (before being downgraded because of his refusal to set free some criminals with high-placed acquaintances), he used to work really close to Dara’a’s security chief Atef Najib.

Omar’s wife and two of his kids are still in Dara’a. According to the Syrian authorities, the army withdrew from Dara’a on 5 May, but Omar assures me that the tanks are still surrounding the city – they just changed their strategy, occupying some of the surrounding villages.

Dara’a was already suffering from a series of political and economic grievances, but the last straw unleashing popular rage was the arrest of a group of kids for writing anti-government graffiti back in March. Omar remembers that episode very well. As the kids were detained, their fingernails were removed; their fathers, demanding their release, were told by the head of security forces in Dara’a, Atef Najib, to forget about it. Najib offered himself to impregnate their wives to have new children.

During Omar’s interview with Imam Shaykh Ahmad Sayasna of the Omari mosque in Dara’a, the religious leader clearly complained about the way Dara’a’s needs have been totally ignored by the regime. During the siege, the situation has deteriorated to pure sectarian violence.

Omar recalls the brutal killing of his brother-in-law. ‘It was 6am. He went down to the computer repair shop, where he used to work. He wanted to lock up the shop to avoid thefts. You see, in those days the army and the mukhabarat were looting people’s houses, stealing everything in gold they could find. The army entered the shop. They asked him his name. Hamza, he said. Hamza is a typical Sunni name, so they shot him in the head, cut his limbs and burned the body.’

The owner of the shop was hiding in the upper floor; he witnessed the whole scene. Because of the curfew imposed on the city, the shreds of Hamza’s body were handed over to his family only 10 days later. While pointing at the corpse, a general told the family: ‘You want freedom? Here’s your freedom.’

Omar might go to Dara’a in the coming days but, like all of the city’s inhabitants, he will be forced to stay at home for fear of being hit by snipers who don’t even spare children. ‘A child went into the streets and got shot in the leg by a sniper. The child’s father rushed to protect him with his body and the sniper immediately killed him. Then the sniper descended from the rooftop, removed the father’s body and killed the child.’

The families of the murdered are denied a proper funeral. In order to prevent further demonstrations, the army limited the number of people allowed to attend the procession to six. Moreover, not all families are allowed to receive the bodies of their dead relatives: Omar explains me how they are firstly obliged to sign a declaration which acquits the army from any responsibility for the massacres committed by ‘armed terrorist groups’.

Omar says that in the period of the ‘official’ siege, from 25 April to 5 May, most of the men and boys of Dara’a have been killed. However, the death toll shown on the national TV channels was reduced – the army had removed most of the corpses from the streets. Around 10 bodies were left to be seen by the cameras; many others had been eaten by dogs. For the same purpose of showing a sanitized version of the truth, the troops have been ordered to rebuild the most damaged areas. Afterwards, Alawi families have been gathered in Dara’a, dressed up in traditional Hourani clothes so that the national media could broadcast their women and kids throwing flowers on the tanks, thereby backing the official version of a military intervention requested by the civilians.

But who killed members of the security forces? The so-called Salafis, who are blamed by the government for scattering chaos across the country, according to Omar, are usually Alawis who grew their beards and dressed up like Sunni fundamentalists. ‘It is enough that they raise their hands to spot their tattoos portraying Bashar al-Assad and [the cousin of the prophet] Ali,’ Omar points out. On the other hand, he admits that some of the demonstrators opened fire on the army, but says they were only reacting to the ongoing massacre.

A rally of some 4,000 people departed from one of the surrounding villages to bring food supplies to Dara’a. At the second checkpoint, the soldiers shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is the greatest), so people expected them to be merciful. On the contrary, the outcome was another massacre. Omar confirms that after this episode, the protesters seized some weapons to raise them against the army.

The choice of armed resistance is a difficult one, considering the military imbalance between the protesters and the regime. But people are frustrated.

This piece was written in Damascus on 12 May 2011. Nates Recoias is a pseudonym.

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