Stories from Hama: Memories of Painter Khaled Al-Khani. Part 1

Introduction by Off the Wall

A painting by Syrian painter Khaled Al-Khani

A painting by Syrian painter Khaled Al-Khani

In few more days, the thirtieth anniversary of the massacre of Hama (February, 1982) will befall us. This time, the anniversary has a special meaning as Syrians, who have broken the fear barrier, are now openly talking about the events that transpired thirty years ago in their homeland. We are helped nowadays in that even the dumbest observer can recognize the lies of the Assad regime, and that has made many of us search for the real narrative of Hama, a narrative that the regime has for decades tried to suppress through its demonization of the Muslim Brotherhood, and to hide, by extension, the stories of the innocent victims of Hafez Assad and his henchmen which according to people from Hama, may have reached 40,000 murdered souls, not to mention the rapes, the pillaging and hateful acts of barbarism the aging thugs are now trying to blame each others for.

As the sons of the perpetrators of the Hama Massacre,  helped undoubtedly by some of those who participated in it, now attempt to suppress the current Syrian uprising through similar machination of brutality, lies, and deceptions, it becomes more necessary than ever for us to recover the real narrative of Hama. It is the narrative of the children who witnessed their fathers and older brothers being murdered, of women who were raped and killed in cold blood, and of entire city districts raised to ground out of vengeful hate that shames us all for its existence among our sentient specie.

My friend Khaled Al-Khani, then a seven years old child, is now a renowned Syrian painter. He tells the story of the massacre as he witnessed it and lived it through the murder of his father, his own epic journey with the few women and children who survived Assad’s murderous machine. In this and the next two posts, I will attempt to bring Khaled’s memories to English readers. It is only my way of telling the Assad gang, we will hold those who did it accountable, and we will not allow you to do the same, Never again.

This story can also be read in French, thanks to my friend annie

Part 1 (French) Histoire de Hama : souvenirs du peintre Khaled Al-Khani

**********

Stories from Hama (Memories of Painter Khaled Al-Khani) Part I

I do not know what happened to me today…? I don’t want to remain in hiding and I will go to my workshop and to every demonstration. I can no longer hide my real identity. I, the artist, have turned into a rebel ever since the Libyan embassy incident. My transformation has nothing to do with my distant memories, in Hama, of my father’s murder and the death of the city of my childhood, the rape our women, our imprisonment, our bombardment, and the subsequent conquering and forcible displacement of those who were left alive among us to the countryside as means to cover the crimes.

I swear to God I’m not hateful and I am not seeking revenge, but just retribution. My current sorrow is related to what I witness transpiring around me daily. We demonstrate, they shoot us with bullets, we then join funeral processions, and they rain a hail of lead on us. And as we walk once more in the next funeral procession, they reply with the same, and so on. We stay in our homes, they break our doors arresting us and intimidating our mothers, if I am not killed, someone else will be.

I swear to God I love life, but I love justice more. Please, tell me what to do. I do not know what befell me today? Today I remembered, more than any other day, I remembered my father. My father was an ophthalmologist in Hama. He was not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but he sided with the people of his ravished city. Believe me, and half the people of Hama testify to that. They gouged one of his eyes while he was a live, then they killed him and horribly mutilated his body. I was little when we buried him and I remember that he had no eyes.

In February 1982, I was a 6 year old first grader. We had just finished the first school semester and had gone on spring break, and what a holiday..  At night, and as we slept, we could hear loud sounds breaking the place’s silence and turning its serenity into a murderous horror.  Obvious was the panic on my aunt who raised me and next to whom I would sleep to compensate her unfulfilled motherhood because she never married, and thus lived with us in our beautiful two-story traditional Arabic home. The rest of my family and my father and my mother slept on the second floor.  Soon, I would hear the voices of my siblings and my father and mother becoming louder coming down the stairs and entering my aunt’s room as the shooting increased. My mother said to my father “Didn’t I tell you to stay on the farm?” For many year, this sentence did not go away from my memories, and the idea that my father left the farm hurt me a great deal and remained with me until I had grown up, forgiven him and  reckoned, It was destiny.

******

The sound of firing fills life. It was the first time I heard its wheeze. It rose further and then began the thunder of explosions. As the hours passed, we got used to these sounds. Time passed and some of the neighbors started flocking to our home. Chaos is everywhere, children crying, women reading the Qur’an, and great concern. This continued for three days, and then we heard a big explosion. Father said that a shell hit the top floor. The house shook as dust filled my lungs like it filled the place and women recited Surat Yassin (the verse of Yassin). Meanwhile, a wave of sharp cries rose and father said we must leave the house as fast as possible, so we went out and people started to gather while shouting. Panic dominated everything, and we went to the house of a neighbor, then to a dark cellar thought by the men a more secure place. There were more of us than the place could accommodate. We stayed there for three days while the firing continued with no stopping. Then an artillery shell, Surat Yassin kept rising all the way to the sky, a second shell and a third, causing the cellar to vibrate madly. While no one of those who took refuge in the basement was hurt, many residents of our neighborhood perished and many were wounded. The doctor who lived in the neighborhood was able to save some. We stayed in the basement until the bombardment and firing calmed down and they got us out saying that we must leave towards safer neighborhoods. Little they knew, for they were wrong as it did not occur to them that a campaign of genocide was taking place. We went out hurriedly through the Hadher market to reach the Ameeriyyah district. We encountered streets through which we had to crawl because snipers were everywhere.

After incredible difficulties, we reached the Ameeriyyah neighborhood having just crawled the last street with my father helping my aging aunt to whose side I was totally stuck. My mother and sisters crossed with the rest of the people, and the three of us stayed. But then my father asked me to leave with everyone and I refused because I wanted to stay with my aunt who raised me. He forced me to catch up with my mother and the others and he stayed with my aunt, and this was the last time I saw my father alive.

In the Ameeriyyah district, we continued to search for a shelter and we found a cellar packed with people, but they could not let us in because our numbers were very large (most of the population of Baroudeye neighborhood). Later, they let my father and my aunt in because they were only two. The refuge in the Ameeriyyah is where my father was arrested and  where my aunt survived to witness and tell of what happened.

****

Our group followed the road towards Northern Ameeriyyah where we found a shelter large enough for all of us. We stayed in that shelter until the arrival of the “Syrian Arab Army” whence the shelter was turned into a prison. They took all the men including young men out of the shelter and promptly executed some of them right at the door and arrested the elderly men. Only women and children remained in the place. Some were crying, while the majority were forced to shout, at gun threat (“with our blood we sacrifice ourselves for you Hafez“, بالروح بالدم نفديك يا حافظ  and  “O God, it is high time for  Hafez to take your place” يا الله حلك حلك يقعد حافظ محلك) in order to worsen our humiliation. Our imprisonment lasted three days while they murdered whomever they wanted. I swear to God we stayed without food, and I still remember the smell of the place. It was unbearable. We constantly heard screaming voices outside the basement, voices of women being raped, and of and torture that would still visibly affect me whenever I recall or try to describe. Some women had few candies ad Chocolate with them, and before they took the men, one of them brought a few loaves of bread and olives that we shared, and which was barely enough for one man.  Women kept reading Qur’an continuously, albeit in hushed voice.  Then the door opened and they ordered us to get out because they said they will now execute us. We got out as we were shouting “we sacrifice our blood for you …..”, but then they told us that we must head in the direction of the Aleppo Road outside the city.

We walked, raising our arms and repeating what we were told to repeat. The landscape was surreal, the place was full of corpses, swollen, of black blood, and as we moved from one street to another, bodies and destruction were everywhere. We proceeded until we reached the Omar Ibn Khattab Mosque (of which you have been hearing lately as the place where demonstrations to demand freedom started). The Mosque was  destroyed completely, with the washing room being the only section left.  In there, there were some army soldiers who terrified us by pointing their rifles and machine guns at us forcing us to lie face down on the ground. Then they  brought us into the washing room and shut the door tightly. Some women begged the army men to kill us and let everyone else out of the city, but they refused. When we entered the washing room we found fungus covered stale bread that we ate. There were also two ornamental statues of white doves. I do not know why they were there, but to me they signaled the beginning of salvation from the bloodbath. The door remained locked for a day and a half, after which one of officers shouted a speech at us in which he said:

“she who awaits her husband or brother or son or father, don’t be waiting for him because he will not come out alive and will never return.”

They released us in the direction of Aleppo, we walked more than ten kilometers racing against time as we cried and barefoot women kept reading the Qur’an, and whenever we heard the shooting, we instantly lied down, until we reached the point where they had allowed the villagers access to help the survivors. What can I say … I swear by God, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

……….. To be continued

I encourage you to visit the online gallery of Khaled Al-Khani and see how Hama echos resonate in  his work 

Note from OTW: I have opted not to use images of the Massacre and instead to use painting from Khaled Al-Khani’s great work to highlight the tenacity of life despite of the tyrants. Life is what we seek, and the memories of death and destruction brought on Syria by the Assad family will be with us for long time, but hopefully only in the sense that will motivate us to prevent such atrocities from hapening again, not only in Syria, but everywhere.

Posted on January 18, 2012, in Crimes Against Humanity, Hama Massacre, Syria, Syrian Regime Crimes Against Humanity and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 218 Comments.

  1. “By Anne-Marie Slaughter”
    Mrs. Slaughter talking about violence! :)

  2. I am sorry but bringing the commentators back to the point and reality of Syria is like herding cats.
    In Syria there is a slow and increasing breakdown of law and order and the people are taking revenge themselves on members of the security services and the thugs of the regime and areas are now free of army units and barely have security. There will be a food and electricity crisis and the lira will lose even more of its value.
    The AL gave a rope to the regime and instead of grabbing it it is going to have it as a nose around its neck.
    It boggles my mind what goes on in the few brain cells of the ruling clan as to what options they have.

  3. We may have many problems with the AL initiative, but it has allowed the opposition to make some progress on the ground. More people are coming out to demonstrate. The rate of killing has declined. Some areas are slipping out of the control of the security thugs. Not bad.

  4. I was told today that the Dollar hit 90 SYP. I do not know how reliable the source is. Can anyone confirm this?

  5. Do you know if the facts in Barel’s article (“Rivalry among Syrian defectors could mean another military coup”[1]) are true? e.g. Did the Turks freeze FSA’s account? Barel definitely has an agenda of his own…

    [1]

    http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/rivalry-among-syrian-defectors-could-mean-another-military-coup-1.408828

  6. with a little delay I am reposting this Revlon comment from SC: Revlon is also successfully exposing the lies coming from the menhebs.

    http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/?p=13169#comment-292351

    604. Revlon said:

    The AL initiative, or what has been published thereof, notwithstanding its good intentions and its scarificed for end-goal of free national elections, has enough serious flaws that shall guarantee both the prolongation of the plight of the Syrian people and its eventual failure.

    The scarcity of details makes it seem more like a vision than a plan; It can hardly be considered a road map, unless one regards Oslo agreement as one.

    Here is my take on some points that were published on Cairo (CNN) website:

    ((The Arab League agreed on a path forward in Syria on Sunday that instructs President Bashar al-Assad to delegate powers to his vice president following the formation of a national unity government.))
    Comments:
    - Delegate means that Jr can still reverse, suspend, amend, or append the delegated mandate.
    - Powers: implied powers shall be limited to authorising the deputy to start dialogue with the opposition on his (Jr’s) behalf. Other executive powers, including the control of the killing and torture machine shall continue to be in his hand.
    __________________________________________________________________
    ((The Arab League called for the government to start a dialogue with the opposition within two weeks and for the new government to be formed within two months)).

    Comments:
    - “Within two weeks”: of what date? Jr could accept in principle yet take weeks to months to “delegate powers”!
    - “Dialogue”: Who sets the terms of the agenda for dialogue? What if there was no agreement on the Agenda?
    - “The opposition”: Who are the opposition? Jr could produce hundreds of “regime-friendly” opposition, who have zero-constituency that would counter the weight of the representatives of the revolution.
    __________________________________________________________________
    ((The unity government should within three months prepare to elect a council that will write a constitution, the Arab League said. It should also prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections.))

    Comments
    Here is the expected, rough formula for power sharing for this government:
    Regime: 50%
    Opposition: 50%
    - SNC opposition 25%
    - NCB 12.5%
    - Other stoolpigeons: 12.5%
    That guarantees 60 to 70% of the vote in the government, and with it the main ministerial folios.

    Is the national unity government going to elect the council which would wrtite the consitution, as the NCB would like, or will there be national elections like the Revolution and SNC insist on? It is not clear to me!
    __________________________________________________________________
    ((The president will delegate his first vice president the full power to work with the national unity government to enable it to perform its task in the transitional period,” the foreign minister said.))

    Comments:
    - The president shall delegate powers to work with the government. The armed forces and security agencies are out of bound. They remain in the hands of the president.
    All troublesome activists, within or without the SNC may somehow be found dead of AlJazeera drug overdose, blown up by Alqaeda suicide bomber, blown up with their car by road side FSA bomb, or suicide by several bullets in the head!

    - His first vice president: Who is he? Jr could appoint any one he wants from now until the signing of the agreement!
    __________________________________________________________________

    ((The Arab League will take its initiative, which does not back military intervention in Syria, to the United Nations in a bid to build international support. The organization also said it would extend its monitoring mission in Syria and increase the number of observers there.)).

    Comment:
    I find this clause most disturbing, and it is in my opinion much worse than even direct military intervention.
    The latter would cease with ousting Assad and his regime, while adopting the AL political initiative by the UN may virtually lead to auctioning of Syria’s economic and geopolitical future to the best bidding international and regional protagonists. In a nutshell, Syria shall become like Lebannon, under extra-judiciary, international mandate!
    __________________________________________________________________
    ((The Syrian government roundly rejected the plan, which it views as “blatant intervention in its internal affairs,” Syria’s official SANA news agency reported soon after the announcement.))

    Comment:
    This is probably a preliminary position that could serve one or two purposes:
    - It could entice the opposition, who can not negotiate the terms of the initiative, into accepting it.
    - Once they do, the regime would announce their conditioned approval.

    The final, regime-conditioned initiative shall be as bad and devastating to the revolution as the AL Observers mandate has been.

    Cheers.

  7. Observer
    “The AL gave a rope to the regime and instead of grabbing it it is going to have it as a nose around its neck.”

    I think you may be right. The AL gave the Assad mafia enough rope to hang itself. Let’s see what the coming weeks/months bring.

  8. Regarding Bar’el’s article, he is building too much from a single Facebook status update. He just *assumes* that since an officer more senior than Riyad Assad defected, that there are fissures in the FSA. In all honesty, I doubt Assad has control over a significant number of troops inside Syria. Definitely, no money from Turkey is getting to Homs and Idlib.

    Guerrilla warfare requires a very high degree of initiative from its members. They make their moves when the opportunity presents itself. What may be a safe situation in the morning, could very well turn out to be unfeasible in the afternoon. Therefore, guerrilla fighters need to be highly independent and self sufficient. The idea that Riyadh Assad is issuing orders to Baba Amr and Khaldia from Turkey, is only realistic to people who don’t know a thing about urban guerrilla warfare.

    As to Turkey closing some sort of bank account, the FSA would have made a huge fuss over it were it true. The thing about some Israeli commentators, is that their misinformation is quite subtle at times. Alot more effective than Dunya accusing the BBC of inciting sectarianism blah blah blah.

    “Delegate means that Jr can still reverse, suspend, amend, or append the delegated mandate”

    No. The Arab League’s language had to be diplomatic, with no loss of face for the parties involved. Clearly, the AL wants to apply the Yemeni model in Syria; the head of state stepping down and making way for a transitional process. It was the best possible outcome we could have expected from an organization that traditionally couldn’t even agree on what to order for lunch.

  9. On Monitors
    There is news that members of the GCC decided to withdraw their observers. If they withdraw funds from the observers mission, the mission is dead.

  10. The Guardian reports that the GCC is going to send a diplomatic delegation to Russia.

    I believe that 7ee6an was the first (and only) place to see this coming, months ago. We said that what needed to happen was AL pressure first on the regime, and then a concerted Arab diplomatic initiative to convince Russia to change its position.

    At the time, many thought this scenario it far fetched. They had every right to think so, but if one accepts the fact that junior has alienated the countries of the region, who are now eager to see him go, then this would have been the logical chain of events.

    I would like to make a prediction, that it will be junior’s own Alawites who drive the final nail in his coffin, and make some sort of arrangement with the opposition. There is just no reason whatsoever for them to keep paying the price for his vanity and that of his family’s. The economy has tanked, security is as rare as dollars, diplomatically the country has never been so isolated.

    The Guardian quotes Landis as saying that Besho can last forever since no one wants to intervene militarily. What Landis keeps on forgetting is that change can, and will, come from within. The regime had every advantage a dictatorship could dream of, and now those advantages are, one by one, slipping away.

    Getting rid of Besho will be the first step, and although there will be alot of work afterwards, things will pick up steam after that.

  11. Excellent post Aboud, Yes, 7ee6an was the first blog to encourage pressure on Russia and the entire BRICS group.

  12. In the midst of the Muallem lies fest, the AL meeting seem to be voting against extending the mission. Many are saying, good riddance. Muallem’s heavy reliance on Al-Dabi’s report was probably the last nail in the coffin of the mission.

    There is a new post coming up today about the AL Decision. As I said, I am extremely busy and will probably have less active presence for a while. Patience is urged, and counting to 10 is also recommended not only by “Uncle MGB” but also by Granpa (OTW)

  13. Hello to all,

    After the downfall of the regime we will face a very tough time, there will be a massive crowd who have kept silence about the atrocities they have witnessed. I was in Hama last year and remember well to have the famous halawat bi jibn in front of the nourias in a small shop. The owner saw me taking pictures of what has been once the fortress of Hama. He told me that under what is now the Cham Hotel the regime had buried thousands of people after the massacre. I can never set a foot in this hotel he said to me.

    Life has its way to keep us moving, but i think there is just a few things noone should ever see or should experience. I have a friend who is Bosnian, a very smart women who works as an translator in an big company. Whenever she hears an thunder she freaks out, it always brings back to her the memories of a besieged Sarajevo, even after all that time.

  1. Pingback: Stories from Hama: Memories of Painter Khaled Al-Khani. Part 1 « band annie's Weblog

  2. Pingback: Hama ’82 : memories and testimonies « band annie's Weblog

  3. Pingback: Histoire de Hama : souvenirs du peintre Khaled Al-Khani « annie bannie's Weblog

  4. Pingback: Stories from Hama: Memories of Painter Khaled Al-Khani. Part 3 « Walls حيطان

  5. Pingback: Lest we forget-31 years (Introduction by OTW) Stories from Hama: Memories of Painter Khaled Al-Khani. Part 3 « band annie's Weblog

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