Category Archives: Hama Massacre
I hope that you receive this letter in good health. I also hope that you receive it while in a state of non-partisanship you promised during your election campaign and with the clarity of mind, determination to serve, and the zeal for the interest of our country and its values that we expect from you as a member of one of the two chambers of this August Body.
I am writing to you to concerning the upcoming vote on the authorization for President Obama to use military force in response to the abominable use of chemical weapons against women and children by the Assad regime of Syria. I will not tell you how to vote, because the moment you were elected by your constituents was a moment when a heavy historical burden was thrown on your shoulders. It is your job to weigh in the evidence, and it is your job to define what constitutes our national interests and to provide the executive branch with the means to assure that these interests are realized and not jeopardized by friends or foes. All I can do, Honorable, is to tell you a few things that I, as an American of Syrian roots what I believe and know.
I will not go at length on evidence concerning the regime’s unique capacity or its use of SARIN, I am sure that what you have probably far exceeds what is available to me from non-classified releases or to an activist on the ground in Ghouta or elsewhere in Syria. One piece of information, which disturbed me, was a report that came out yesterday concerning an intercepted radio communication between regional commanders of Assad’s army and an artillery captain who expressed initial reluctance to launch a chemical weapon attack, but yielded after having been threatened with execution. The outcome of that diabolical exchange was 27 chemical warheads launched within the span of 14 minutes leading to the death of more than 1400 civilians, with one third of those murdered being children. Syrians knew this was coming, so did the world months ago. But no one took action, and this is why we now face an emboldened habitual war-crime regime. The last two and a half years are full of stories in which Syrian soldiers and officers who tried to adhere to their oath to protect their nation and were executed on the spot by thugs loyal to Assad and willing to participate in his murderous plans to burn Syria for the survival of this thuggish and corrupt rule of the 23 million Syrians, of for that matter, those who may be left after he accomplishes his “Assad or we burn the country” genocidal plan against Syrians and their homeland. This captain has failed the moral and human test, and he should, like his superiors be held liable for committing war crimes. But the main murderers remain Assad (in Arabic) and his inner circle of thugs and no one else.
You will be debating war. A war in which our nation will be using missiles and bombs to punish the regime of a war criminal and to deter the war criminal from ever thinking of using chemical weapons again. I confess that the thought of one cruise or tomahawk missile missing its target and hitting a civilian area horrifies me. Likewise, I am also horrified by the thought of our soldiers placing themselves at grave risk, only to fire missiles at installations that were emptied of regime thugs and hardware and filled with innocent Syrians, moved from the numerous torture chambers in Assad’s dungeons of horror and murder, and placed in various chemical weapon production and storage facilities to become target of the free world’s strike. I am horrified by the word collateral damage, which I believe shouldn’t even exist in our dictionaries, other than as an archaic word. Like you, like any soldier, father, mother, sister, or child, war terrifies me.
I am also horrified and abhorred by all kinds of torture. My horror is real, for even though I have not been subjected to such torture, I have, however, met and talked to many wonderful Syrians who have been subjected to horrific torture at the hands of Assad thugs, and have barely avoided death by torture, unlike some of my other brilliant, wonderful, and civilized friends, who have lost their life at the hand of Assad torturers in one or another of the countless number of torture chambers perfected by the Assads over forty years of their murderous rule of my home of origin.
Our nation is now finding an ever increased interest in our Natural Heritage as well as our historical heritage. Yet, part of our history and heritage as humanity, lies in Syria, where some of the oldest continuously inhabited cities like Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, and others are being demolished by the vicious and unending bombardment of missiles, barrels of death, and now mas murder internationally banned chemical weapons. The regime of Bashar Al-Assad is the culpable, we know it, and you too. These crimes against Syrians and their land resulted not only in murdering more than 100,000 Syrians, but also in the shameful destruction of Syria’s precious heritage of humanity with unparalleled levels of hate and vengeance. Thousands of years of history have been destroyed by Assad and his thugs in these cities. In most of these cities, more than 70% of the historical districts were destroyed by Assad bombs and rockets with the rest remaining under constant threat. Unfortunately UNESCO stands horrified and unable to stop such destruction despite of repeated calls to stop the carnage. This is a regime that stands against all what humanity holds dear, including our shared heritage. Its head and enforcers find it necessary to destroy the cultural and historical heritage of the place that gave birth to our alphabet and that shaped our earliest attempts to domesticate wild grains. It has bombed people standing in breadlines, one should not be surprised if it bombed and looted museums and cultural icons in its custody. There is no redeeming qualities in them, and especially in the head of the regime, his thuggish clan, and his henchmen in the web of “security-agencies” horrific organizations that form the core of this genocidal regime.
What Peace Movement?!!!
From your window you can probably see a group of people who just decided to get their “anti-war” attire out of dusty closets, and summoned the long dormant depths of their “anti-imperialist” hearts to decry the potential death Syrian children, presumably to be killed by a Free World’s punishment of Assad and his gang of thugs. They will try to convince and lobby you; “their eternal imperialist enemy”, and “lobbyists slave”; to vote as they tell you. If I may be informal with you, I am going to ask you to please look closely and to tell me whether you can see them marching next to those carrying the photos of thug Bashar Al-Assad with his smug smile and shouting his name as the “leader for eternity” and the hero of “anti imperialism”. These are no fools, useful idiots, may be, traitors; definitely not, but lying hypocrites would be applicable but insufficient adjective to describe them. I am of course proud of friends who stood with the Syrian People from the first day of their ordeal, but now do not agree that a military action is useful or helpful not out of fear for or attempts to protect Assad, his control over the army and security agencies and his lasting rule, but out of genuine fear for the Syrian People. As for the others, especially those beholden to fascist ideologies of the Baath and its like-minded atrophied but destructive parties, I can only reiterate the question most free Syrians ask: Where were they when the barrels of death from Assad’s Russian made, Iranian supplied, and North Korean upgraded airplanes rained on the neighborhoods and villages of Syria? Where were they, when the best minds of Syria, and the hope of civil society emergence were tortured and murdered in Assad’s dungeons? And where were they when Assad thugs were forcing millions of Syrians into refuge, only to bombard them again in open air, or send thug-agents to poison the water supplies of their refugee camps erected like cities of misery in neighboring countries? I have not seen a single protest from these hypocrites for two and a half years of daily ongoing slaughter of Syrians and destruction of their country at the hand of Assad and his regime. As for Assad supporters, who are now protesting, i can only be disgusted at them because these pathetic characters continue to enjoy all the fruits of democracy and protection of law the free world offers. Yet, they continue to deny Syrians the least of these fruits, which is the right to say no to a thuggish, criminal and terrorist regime without being murdered, turned into refugees in their own country and beyond, and be traumatized by the continuous death, under most horrific torture of their best, most civilized, young men and women. Worst yet, these dictator’s loyalists have been constantly drumming the mantra of American conspiracy against the eternal leader and the dwindling list of like-minded tyrannical regimes. Whatever your decision is, their points of view is irrelevant, if not criminally culpable.
The killing of Syrians themselves as well as the vicious murder of their hopes of rejoining civilization after half a century of despotism is the punishment the Assad regime and its friends dealt and continue to deal to those who dared to say yes to civility and no to perpetual murderous despotism. For the pretentious hypocrites marching and writing in defense of tyranny, the act of defying a tyranny causes them grave concern, for as tyrannies disappear and the world’s opportunity to become a safer and better place increases, they lose fame, exposure, and chances for self-righteous sophistry.
Me or my Chaos
Some, even if well-meaning analysts will warn of impending chaos upon the fall of this tyrant and his regime. This, can also be disingenuous in the context of eliminating such a vicious hateful tyranny. Stability that comes at the expense of the human rights of citizenry was soundly rejected by our founding fathers who found it abhorring and unnatural. I do understand your grave concerns about the spread of terrorism, and In fact I share much of these concerns. I have a heightened sense of anxiety concerning terrorist gangs such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, Al-Nusra, and other Al-Qaida offshoots, which were brought in and nurtured by the Assad regime. I and most freedom yearning Syrians are very concerned should these terrorists be allowed to maintain a foothold in Syria, especially in economically viable areas in the north where they can continue to control both Syrian oil and the bread basket region of the country. This would not be in the interest of Syrians nor in the interest of the United States or the free world.
I share with some analysts and bloggers, including some of those who were against the US intervention in Iraq, the belief that ridding the world of the Assad regime should be one of our priorities because such is in our national interest. I will even go further to state that it was the Assad regime that funded and funneled terrorists, with their car bombs into Iraq killing our soldiers as well as innocent Iraqis. These terrorists are the same ones the regime has facilitated back in Syria to threaten the world with “me or chaos“. Let me assure you that even in their strongest of dens, these terrorists are facing daily challenges from normal Syrians in the liberated Areas. Syrians have rejected them, their weapons, their tactics as well as their ideological adventure into an era that never in reality existed in our history. The problem lies with the regime, which while claiming to fight terrorism, kept bombarding civilian areas with vengeance, but left its handmade terrorists unmolested. In many cases in the north of Syria, the regime even-handed the terrorists swaths of land to do the regime’s bidding. These regime-made terrorists are now focusing their terror campaigns of arrest, torture, murder, and intimidation against the same activists who were the primary targets of the regime. Members of these gangs are suspects of being regime informers and agents who simply grew a beard, changed to black attire, wore a mask, and imported terror-tourists from other countries for help. But they remain beholden to the regime as it is clear from their lack of interest in participating in real military activities against its forces that are shelling the cities and from their focus on replacing the regime hated security apparatus with their own draconian version of the “emirate of fears” serving by that the interests of the Assad regime and giving it, in the eyes of unknowing world an image of a regime fighting terrorism rather than the criminal terrorist regime it really is.
The Real War
Free Syrians, including both non-violent activists and members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are now fighting on two fronts. The first front is against the criminal Assad regime, and the other against the regime’s handmade branches of Al-Qaida. Both represent regressive societal and political traits. While it is nearly certain that the terrorists will be dealt a major blow with their benefactor regime gone, it is more than certain that things will not be easy when this regime collapses and its hand-made Al-Qaida branches are left without it. There will be car bombs (a trade mark of both the Assad regime and Al-Qaida terrorist operation), of assassination of their opponents, and plenty of counter-revolutionary anti-democratic violent groups. I believe that the Syrian people will find their way to kick these terrorists out and to reduce their threats to Syria, to the region and the World. They need help now, and they will need it in the future. But that help will not come from the liar regime, or its defenders who created these terrorist groups in the first place.
A terrorist regime can not be trusted with combating terrorism or with establishing stability. Thinking otherwise will be unwise, suicidal, and detrimental to our national interests. The battle in Syria is not between the regime and Islamist terrorists, it is between freedom seeking Syrians on the one hand, and the regime and its hand-made, customized Jihadi terrorist groups, on the other hand. Any other depiction, such as the one being perpetuated by some academics is misleading at best, and purposely so, at worst. These academics would go at great length in describing the origin of these terrorist groups, but they would not venture into exploring the similarities between the regime and these terrorists, the intersection of their tactics, and their mutual avoidance of confronting one another. All of these issues, ignored by such academics, are now rather obvious to all freedom seeking Syrians, who speak loudly and clearly about the obvious connection between these terrorists and the criminal regime. Today, I read the story of a Kurdish father whose defecting son was murdered by the masked thugs of the Islamic State or Iraq and the Levant on his way to safety. Syrian rebels, affiliated with any of the FSA multitude of groups would have welcomed the young man’s bravery and ensured that he reached safety. Likewise, only regime agents have an interest in the disappearance of the much revered and iconic figure of the revolution father Paolo dall’oglio.
The threat of these regime-made and/or facilitated terrorist organizations should not be considered independently of their founder. Its demise is the beginning of theirs. Fear from their actions should not inhibit our actions. If it does, Bashar Al-Asad, who expressed, in no uncertain terms in his interview in with the French LeFigaro magazine yesterday that the only way to deal with the opposition to his rule is to annihilate them, would have accomplished his goals. The fact that liar Assad claims that 80% to 90% of his enemies are Al-Qaida is sufficient for many Syrians to believe the opposite. Realities on the ground support the assertion that the terrorists are not his enemies, they are his agents, and their job is not merely to provide propaganda fodder and to tarnish the revolution, but to also exact his vengeful horrors on those who dared defy his sick rule.
Throughout its history of oppression, the Assad regime tried to appear as the mediator holding magic keys to many problems in the region. Whenever an American was kidnapped, the chief thugs of the regime tried to present themselves as “diplomats” resolving the issue. The reality has always been that they were behind these terrorist crimes. Many at time, our country had to pay dearly in precious blood and treasure to “cope” with the cheaply orchestrated terrorist acts of this regime and its appendages. It is a benefactor of terrorism, one of its principle planners and trainers. This regime is a threat to peace and stability and it will not reform, whether the next heir spends a year or a decade in the west. Annihilating all who protest their despotic rule is a family business as we have all witnessed in Hama, in 1982, in Lebanon, through 30 years of occupation, and over two and a half years of increasingly brutal crimes against humanity in Syria.
Needless to say, over decades of obstructionism, this regime has played its cards well. Hiding behind sovereignty that itself violated countless time, not the least of which during the theater of the absurd that led to the coronation of a spoiled, unethical child of privilege. That child of privilege is now known as Syria’s mass murderer and the head of the corrupt despotic clan. Attempts by the free world to “contain’ the “western educated doctor” failed miserably. The experience of the thirteen years of his reign shows that criminal thugs like Bashar Al-Assad can’t be rehabilitated and that they will turn out to be worse than their fathers.
Before I conclude this long letter, I must highlight that the Free Syrian Army is not a terrorist group and it does not belong to the same category of regime-made branches of Al-Qaida. Rather it has fought against those on many occasions. FSA is composed of Syrians from every walk of life. Some of whom believe in a plural democratic Syria, others hope to see a Syria with an emphasized Islamic identity that has nothing to do with the brutal image of an Islamic state nurtured by Al-Qaida and its affiliates. Syrians, much like most Americans do have faith. As Senator McCain stated earlier, like an American soldier does, an FSA fighter is likely to thank god, to pray, and to say “Allahu Akbar”, which means God is Great. Watch some of the You-Tube clips of real FSA fighters and you will find them doing that when they shoot, or when they succeed in capturing a regime point. In this case It is a sign of gratitude as well as an affirmation of the righteousness of their cause (which should be true in the case of those fighting tyranny) . Watch another clip of people gathering around the wreckage of a building just demolished by one of Assad’s scuds or barrels of death, and you will hear the same phrase, it is in this case an appeal to God to exact punishment on those who intentionally ordered and executed such a cowardly act against civilians.
Leaderless, and in much need of honest and appropriate representation, the grass-root Syrian revolution is nonetheless alive and well and is creating its own leaders at local levels. It is not led nor dominated by terrorists as some academics and “regime-made” opposition have been trying desperately to hype it. Nor it is all armed. Non-violent and civil groups continue to emerge despite of the constant threats, assassination, kidnapping, and murder by the Assad regime and by its clients in the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant and their offshoots. A much longed for cadre of honest and effective civil servants is emerging in some liberated areas despite of the bullies. The Free Syrian Army is making progress, despite of the regime’s use of chemical weapons, and the regime is losing ground every day, again despite of the continuous supplies of weapons from Russia and the non-stoppable supplies of men and arms from Iran, Hezbollah and Iran’s agents in Iraq. I don’t want to paint a rosy picture, but the regime and its chaos can and should go to hell for Syria to have any chance of reconciliation and for the blood-letting to end. The administration of president Obama is right in stating that there should be no place for the Assads in future Syria. The longer they last in its present, the darker Syria’s future will be.
Vote your conscious, not mine. I trust that you will try your best to do the right thing.
Lest we forget-31 years (Introduction by OTW)
Nearly a year ago, I posted my translation of several segments of the memoir of Khaled Al-Khani, a Syrian painter who lived as a six-year old child the horrors of Hama. Then, I hoped to post all of Khaled’s memoirs, which were originally written by him as eight letters sent to his friends in the early days of the Syrian Revolution, on three installments on 7ee6ab. Until today, i could not finish translating the third installment because pain, sorrow, and grief, always struck me hard in nearly every sentence. Khaled and I have become good friends, and every time I started working on the last four letters of his, I could not stop weeping as I thought of my friend, living the massacre as a child and hearing the horror stories from his neighbors as he grew up, so I stopped.
Today, we enter the thirty-first anniversary of the Assads’ massacre of Hama. It was on this day, thirty-one years, when an abominable group of barbarians invaded a beautiful city on the Orontes river. What happened next became suppressed in the memory of millions. It was suppressed in the memories of those who knew of the massacre, but remained silent for fear that the Assads may do to them what they have done to the city of Hama, to Khaled’s friends, to his larger than life father, and to our identity as Syrians. Others were merely ashamed of our own complicity in the crimes, whether that was in believing the lies and distortions of Hafez Al-Assad, or in failing to rise up in aid of our sister city, raped as she was.
In less than two months from now, we mark the beginning of the third year of the Syrian Revolution. Much has happened since I posted the second part of Khaled’s memoir. The horrors khaled describes are now common place, for what was done in 1983 in the secrecy of siege has been happening in the open, by the son of the murderous hafez, a foolish entity, that proved to many the existence of filthy genes.
Bashar’s barbarians are not far from his fathers’ and uncle’s. Their crimes are no less horrific as they have demonstrated through countless “leaked tapes”. Residents of the Baroudeyeh district of Hama, who fled to the undulation room in a destroyed mosque, are now joined by their children and relatives from countless Syrian cities and villages. Photos of murdered detainees, tortured to death, starved, burned, mutilated, are now part of our daily lives.
All of this does not belittle the pain that is Hama. And while we mourn her sisters joining her in tragedy at the hand of the murderous sons and nephews of the senior assad thugs, we must also continue to remember Hama. As I wrote in the previous post, what we see today was foretold thirty-one years ago. It is also a warning that this clan must not remain in Syria, should have no future or connection to Syria, and that its heads, its bullies, their partners, and loyalists a swell as their propagandists and publicity prostitutes must face up for their crimes.
Today, while Syrians die or become refugees on hourly basis, many of the perpetrator of Hama’s massacre remain free. Rifaat Al-Assad enjoys his billions all over Europe, Abdel-Halim Khaddam lives safely in the most expensive area of Paris, and many of the junior thugs, are now generals in the barbarian army, not counting the soldiers and petty-officers who have since them retired. For Hama, then, and for what is happening now in Syria to pass without just punishment is a dishonor not only to Syria, but to humanity as well.
Again, I could not finish translating all of Khaled’s Memoir. It is still very hard to do. There will be one more. But that is OK, for in having a task like this going incomplete, i continue to remember our dept to Hama, and the fact that it can never be paid.
Stories from Hama: Memories of Painter Khaled Al-Khani. Part 3
When my father slapped me and sent me to join my mother and my brothers and the rest of the residents of the Baroudeyeh neighborhood, it was like he knew that I would never forget the details of the tragedy for as long as I lived. I tell you now, and I swear; I see him today in every martyr among the detainees. I beg your forgiveness. You may find some confusion to this part of my testimony, and you have to excuse me, he is my father.
O’ father, how could you send us to the unknown? What a pain. What went through your heart and mind then? when your sufferings began to grow.
He was captured in the shelter he went into with my aunt after the army, delayed by some brave young men, later arrived. I know one of these men very well, and he told me how much they suffered from bombardment, and how were they able to delay the savages’ invasion for few days.
My father was arrested with all of the men in the shelter and sent to the ceramic factory. Some of those who were with him told me later that after days of having been with no food and with only rain water to ease their thirst, a few soldiers would come once or twice and throw some bread around asking the people, at gunpoint, to race for the bread in order to amplify our disgrace. There were sheds and cellars in the factory, and as customary, the detainees shared the pain. The cellars were warmer than the sheds, which protected them from the wind, but in the factory yard, a place which became outside universe of humanity, laid killing, maiming, dragging, brutality, teeth pulling, ear and tongue cutting, eyes gouging, and breaking of limbs. Despite all of this, people shared the roles and the pain.
After days of existence in the detention camp, some people began calling my father “Doctor” as a sign of respect and to ease his pain having eased theirs many a time in the past. He repeatedly told them: ”Don’t call me Doctor” because as one of signatories to the city’s intellectuals’ statement sent to the regime calling for democracy and respect for freedom and other human rights, he knew that the regime would not allow any intellectual from our city to survive. Today, we are calling for our rights again, and we will get them, god willing. One witness told me that my father once chided him for toasting a piece of bread on a makeshift stove and told him to eat it as it is. To date, I could not understand why. Was he concerned about the loss of nutritional value with toasting? or was it the smell, in consideration for the hunger of all of the detainees.
The presence of a physician among the detainees, of whom there were five thousands in this particular detention camp, leaked to the officer. So, he gathered the detainees in the yard. Then, this senior officer said that they needed a physician, suggesting there was a medical emergency. My father and another doctor adhered to the Hippocratic Oath and answered the call of duty. Little they knew of the planned treachery. My father and the other doctor were both dragged alive and tortured. They gouged one of my father’s eyes in the midst of his suffering and one of those who were present told me that my father was on the ground writhing in pain when the soldiers were beating him with their weapons as if they were playing and before he died, the soldiers ganged up him as a pack of wolves. His tribulation and pain lasted for hours. Oh father, what did you feel…? After that, his body, which looked like mine, his face, resembling mine, and his soul, similar those of our today martyrs, was thrown in the yard and later handed to the national hospital, where he remained, with the other martyrs’ , laying at the hospital door. My father’s torture did not end then, for in there, they gouged his other eye, took his identity card and stapled it to his clothes.
One of our relatives was able to retrieve my father’s body. He was buried eyeless.
Today, I swear I never stopped asking for our full rights and for the murderers to receive just punishment. I never stopped, and will never stop until you return to me my father’s eyes to lay them to rest where he is.
I wrote the first few parts of my testimonial while under fear and anxiety from everything and I sent them to you to expose the crimes of this corrupt regime. God knows, as I was writing, letters of the alphabet abandoned me, and my language did not save me. Sometimes I would search for a letter or a sentence and try to write it down but it would escape as a fugitive does from this tyrannical regime. You have no idea how many a prose I erased out of fear for the safety of people, and how many times I hesitated, stuttered, and cried until I fell down. I swear my crying never stops when I write, and what I write is always forcefully extracted from my memories, which constantly tries to escape into the far and deep corners of my brain.
My father’s corpse was dumped for days among other corpses at the door of the national hospital. Earlier, my father, a non-Baathist, was appointed as a director of the hospital and president of the city’s syndicate of physicians. This was an earlier attempt to signal the regime’s responsiveness to the intellectuals statement and to initiate a dialogue with members of the city’s civil society in the same treacherous tricks being used to out such people by the regime nowadays. We must exercise caution and read the regime’s movements well.
A nurse, who worked with my father when he was the director of the hospital told me that wounded people arrived to the hospital in an non-slowing acceleration. An incident occurred when a wounded man was brought in loudly crying out of pain. His cries were so loud to the point where everyone in the hospital heard. He was not the only one crying out of pain, but his voice was the loudest. People who brought him believed, as we all now do, that the cries of pain were the signal to the soldiers who camped at the hospital to finish off the wounded and to assure our complete annihilation. It was not the treatment to ease the pain that was proportional the the pain of the wounded but the severity of torture awaiting them. The nurse told that the soldiers, accompanied by another nurse who adopted murder with them, opened up the man’s chest while he was writhing and shouting with pain, took out his heart, his blood covering their faces and their military uniforms; until they finally silenced him, forever, as they had thought then. But by god, I am his voice, his pain, and his body, until we honor him as befitting a human. They killed in a celebration of victory over humanity. This is their eternal war. The teller swore that the nurse who identified with the soldiers took out the man’s liver and chewed and spat pieces of it as if god didn’t exist in that place. The woman who told the story remained silent for years about it. Till today, she remains frozen in that place, unable to leave it as she relives repeatedly in her memories the scene. She said that they never asked for the man’s name. They don’t track names. The barbarians don’t know the language of children and women; our language. They know only the language of killing.
Bodies were defaced and disfigured in that hospital. On the walls, they drew with blood and wrote phrases such as “no god but nation and no prophet but the ba’ath”. The decapitated heads to express their fear of our mind, or may be so that people remain uncertain about the death of their disappeared beloved, or whether they are among the detainees in the gang’s jails. This is merely a picture of our psychological torture, which they strove to make chronic up to the present. Until now, doubts remain, and people, heart broken, still yearn for the return of those who went to that place.
It was as if the barbarians were abstracting the Human on a painting dominated by red and adding from the darkness of their hearts to balance their inhuman art. This was their art of painting, sculpting, of cinema and theater, and perhaps of poetry and music, but the task for narrating was left to me. They excelled over all of those who made contemporary art then, but they forgot that they were killing the human because these are the arts of killing among barbarians. They even performed their own scientific experiments: intravenous introduction of water and alcohol into the blood of the wounded while they observed what happened. What scientists? They have surpassed the ages. They punctured eardrums, slashed veins and cut productive organs, fingers, and ears. They gouged eyes, and penetrated every orifice with their guns. They used Cyanide on us (I will tell more about it later). They desired god to create us with no ears and no hearts. They desired that god never created us to begin with.
A wounded woman meant more pleasure for them because they can practice more of their arts including the rape of a woman while she is dying or bleeding, or sometimes, being merciful, killing her and then raping her. If she had any jewelry on her, they would extract the jewelry in the most vicious way such as by cutting her hand, or slashing her ear, and more. As they are doing today, then and in that area of my city, they instructed all hospitals not to admit anyone but wounded soldiers, and when no one listened to them, the destroyed all private hospitals. No one escaped their savagery as they looted, ransacked, and destroyed all of the pharmacies in our area.
Perhaps all of the survivors from the Boaroudeyeh neighborhood know Hameedo, a mentally disabled young man, who surpassed the murders in intelligence and humanity. Hameedo was there when the massacre of Hama started, and he would never hesitate to declare himself defender of his sacked city. Everyone in the neighborhood knew Hameedo because like a clock, he would release his flocks of pigeons to the sky at sunrise. His voice transcendent, Hameedo would wake everyone while sending his pigeons off. At sunset, he would sing the sun farewell with his loud voice calling on his flocks to return. A part of the homes and of the place, Hameedo would not stop doing that, even if everyone left. After the barbarians’ night attack on our city, and I don’t really know where he stayed at, but on that morning, while we were in our house, and when bullets flew from all direction, Hameedo went up to his roof and released his flock and his voice to the sky. His voice mixed with the sound of bullets and the sound of his pigeons was not the usual. It was more like our own sounds. Hameedo’s birds were scared of the bullets as they circled the sky desperately trying to land. Some of them got lost. But not Hameedo, who defied the bullets as his mother was calling him, with his voice being the only voice heard at that moment. We may never understand his feelings, and I think that he did not realize what he felt, but he stood with his sacked city and may have released his birds to make the barbarian understand his message. What a man? He grew grand in our eyes, freeing himself, and facing the murderers. Ever since that day, I have been trying to reach Hameedo’s heights and to tell you about his struggle, which is unlike any. The soldiers saw Hameedo’s birds and they started sniping them one after the other, but he kept shouting to tell us with his shouts that the barbarians would not refrain from any evil. He did not surrender, and would never allow his pigeons to land on the roof of his house. Some birds landed on other roofs, the rest were killed, but even then, Hameedo did not stop, he went looking for his birds from one roof to the other, enticing them to fly again. He faced the barbarians, and he didn’t hide or surrender to the sound of bullets for he kept that sound out until he was shot by the soldiers, who never understood what emotions are, and never knew what does humanity mean, and never favored it for other creatures.
Hameedo went silent on the roof of his house, but has never been silent in my memories. It is as if he is sending into my soul again what he felt in the wide skies. By god, today, we all feel like Hameedo, who released his weapon of simple humanity to stop the murder. Foretelling before anyone could that the barbarian were here to exterminate all birds, he departed with his birds to where he desired and left me to carry to your what he wanted for all of you. Where are you now Hameedo? To declare freedom in your own way, you are now eternal in the memories of those surviving residents of the Baroudeyeh. Everyone knew then that Hameedo was flying with his birds towards the sky. He was one of the first martyrs of our neighborhood.
In the Baroudeyeh, we had horse stables within arabian-styled our homes. All families in our neighborhood had horses and these horses were part of our pride and honor. We never classified our horses as animals, for they carried our names, and in that there was and remains an infinitely clear expression of the nature of the relationship we had with our horses. During our great escape from the neighborhood, some people remained, but most left. Those who remained told us later what happened to our horses. Before leaving, some men released their horses wanting for them exactly what Hameedo wanted his birds, and that was to stay away from the place, or to fight weapons with his beautiful birds. Many of the fine Arabian bloodstock horses were forced out, in manners we have never done in hundreds of year, a manner that does not at all represent our feelings towards our horses.
Yet, many horses remained, and the barley stores were left opened for them in hope that they can survive. Some believed that they will see their horses again upon their return, but these people did not know that barbarians don’t leave anything behind, and they would not leave our cultural heritage, the habits of our grandfathers, and they knew the symbolism of horses to us.
They did not kill the horses because they knew of their cultural values, and they knew that the loss of our horses will be forever painful to us, which is what they want. None of the survivors tell that they have seen horses among the corpses, because the barbarians have carried the horses to another place. I swear that after the end of the massacre, and the return of those who survived it to the city, the people of my city went looking for their horses as if they were looking for their own children. If any one mentioned that a beautiful horse or mare was seen in another governorate, they would go to investigate whether it was one of our beautiful horses. We never saw any, and did not found an answer until the golden horseman showed up, and then the people of Hama knew to where the horses disappeared. His father was never a horseman, nor was his grandfather. While he may have learned riding with our horses, not everyone understands the language of horses, because it teaches ethics, and it only befits us. Bassel al-assad, you never were a horseman, and this is not how horsemanship is.
To be continued
Introduction to Part 2.
We continue with the memories of renowned Syrian painter from Hama, Khaled Al-Khani. In this segment, Khaled mixes his memories of events he witnessed, as a six-year-old child, with those he heard during the great escape from the massacre of 1982 and in subsequent years.
Khaled tells horrific tales of images, feelings, sounds, smells that have remained with him and with most survivors of the Hama massacre until today. But above all, these are also stories of both those who perished in the bombardments and mass executions as well of those who survived to share the pain and the long-lasting scars that can only be left by excessive brutality and deliberate savagery. The material is not for the weak heart or sensitive reader.
Today, Thursday, 2 February, 2012, and at 9:00 PM Damascus time, Orient TV is airing a 30 minute film by Journalist Emma Sulieman “Why do I paint Um-Ibrahim” “لماذا ارسم أم ابراهيم”. The promo for the film can be viewed here. Orient TV has a direct online broadcast as well.(http://orient-tv.net/orient_live.php)
Stories from Hama: Memories of Painter Khaled Al-Khani. Part 2.
After our great escape from the massacre of Hama; a human history event resembling no other massacre but itself, and after fleeing from the images, the sounds, the smell of blood, the taste of stale bread, and the voices of women being raped and men and children grappling with death having been shot, and after the destruction of our city as if an earthquake had befallen it, we reached the point of no return, and we headed to the countryside, barefoot and half naked. They displaced us from our homes, killed whomever they wanted killed, and launched us on a journey even more painful than what has preceded it.
In the village, we were received with the utmost hospitality and honor, which goes to show the fact that all of the Syrian people knew of the corrupt regime’s lies. We remained as refugees in that village, where we finished the second school semester. My father was martyred. His properties were either stolen or destroyed. We stayed there until the start of the following school year when we returned to Hama and lived with one of my maternal aunts through an act of nurturing and pain sharing. Later, one of our relatives managed to find my lost paternal aunt, about whom we had no information whatsoever, in the countryside. I remember that I did not expect to ever see her like that. She was a queen, but all had changed. I hugged her for hours, while my siblings and our mother (all of us) sobbed hysterically. My aunt later told of the arrest of my father in the shelter we passed by and that she never saw him alive after that but had learned of his death from some people. We sobbed and sobbed. Sobbing first, before even greeting each others, became the norm in Hama when people met face to face as they exchanged visits. For years, the house we stayed at was a home for many displaced because of the complete destruction of several neighborhoods such as Al-Baroudyyeh, Al-Kilanyyia, Al-Zanbaqa and Shimali, (الباروديه، الكيلانية، الزنبقة، شمالي ) and many more. There was barely a house in Hama which did not have martyrs and detainees, and this at the least.
We went back to our schools after tremendous suffering, humiliation, oppression, and hunger. I swear to you that in my grade (second grade), there were only two kids who were not orphaned. So, just imagine how much we suffered in order to overcome our internal crisis, and we still have not done that to date.
Then the regime (and it does not even deserve being called a regime), inflicted new torments. It never stopped arresting people. Many of the generation slightly older than mine were arrested and many remain disappeared until now. Their names are well-known to the people of Hama. To further torment the people of Hama, and to prove that we were humiliated, broken, and stepped all over, the ruling gang started releasing some of the prisoners who were not liquidated in Tadmor only on their self-proclaimed national holidays that had no connection whatsoever to their actual deeds; days like the “corrective movement” and the “birth of the party” and so on.
Over the years, the people of Hama became used to that. On each of these occasions, they flocked to the southern entrance of the city (i.e., Homs highway، طريق حمص) and the scene would go as follows:
Women, children and men, or for that matter, all of the people of the city , stop buses and cars coming from Homs’s direction and search while shouting, each, the name of their own disappeared with nonstop crying. The scene lasts throughout the day in a chaotic and crushed state with the search for the disappeared continuing in mind-boggling and logic defying ways. Sometimes the people may find their disappeared; may be three or four only, and the entire city would return demoralized with their voices too subdued to even express their inner pain. Those who find their prisoners are not more fortunate than those who do not, for most of the surviving prisoners are very weak and powerless, and I swear that they brake the heart more than those who perished.
We know a man who was released from prison and we went to greet him. Praise to God, he was in a good mental state because they had taken him out of Tadmor prison into Sydnaya prison for recuperation six months before his release. I swear that his skeleton was clearly visible and his color was inhumanly white because he had not seen the sun for years. He told me everything about their imprisonment in Tadmor, and one of strangest stories was about a prisoner in his cell who started displaying symptoms of ruptured appendix and suffered great pain for days. They knew that they could not ask for help from the warden who used to monitor them from a hole in the ceiling because if they asked for help and informed the warden of their friend’s pain, the jailers’ solution would have been to liquidate him with the utmost expediency. The prisoners therefore decided to operate on their friend in the dormitory in complete silence. Imagine that! the prisoner’s abdomen was cut open using a piece of tin while some prisoners held him to prevent him from moving and others closed his mouth with a piece of cloth. The surgery was carried out by a doctor who made the surgical needle from the same tin, and I am not sure what kind of threads he used to sew the wound. The operation was performed without making a single sound. This was a reality of fear and repression and a clarity of fate inside the prisons of the corrupt regime.
I will tell some harrowing images that can only reflect the logic of the barbarians who violated my city in 1982.
While inside the washing room in Omar Ibn-Alkhattab mosque, the door opened and five adolescent girls were let in, and what a scene….. The lower halves of their clothes were full of blood, and while we the children did not pay attention to this sign, which was beyond our comprehension, some of the women, seeing this, fell down in seizures. We did not understand the rising crescendo of Surat-Yassin (سورة يسين), the Takbeer (تكبير), and the increasingly louder crying, but we joined everyone crying in a way I have never encountered again in my life because nothing like this could have happened any where else, and god willing, never will such happen anywhere else again.
The adolescent girls were taken to a small back part of the washing room after the scene of their blood filled our hearts. The older women tried to help the bleeding that was staining the place (how indecent are you as you demonstrated and confirmed your savagery, O’ barbarians). Then, and in a scene that causes the soul a great disturbance and horribly breaches serenity with pain shared until today, some women began to take off their underwear and hand them to the girls. Us children were shell-shocked, as we could not understand what was happening in front of our eyes, why were women taking off their underwear to cover our violated virtues? The women, who joined forces even managed to stop the horrible bleeding. At first, some women asked for assistance from the soldiers, but the soldiers refused, laughed, and mocked us with excessive vulgarity as if they were not born to mothers but sprang out of cold stones and as if they have never known God, but only bullying coercion. The women tried to embrace the wounded girls to ease their panic, and only after long hours, our minds achieved the contentment of the restless and tired soul, mainly as one form of survival instinct. We, the children, began to playfully approach the wounded girls to alleviate their pain. I still remember their faces, they looked horrified as if they came out of a barn full of rabid wolves
The girls told the women what happened to them. They refused to respond to the wolves’ demand, and the wolves hit them with brutality far beneath human imagination. Beating them, verbally assaulting and stripping them by tearing their clothes, they violated the young girls’ hymens with most inhuman barbaric means. Sex was not their only motive, they were sick with infinite sadism that violated the girls’ souls before their bodies, these were the monstrous beasts who yoked our necks.
In the same place, one woman told about her elderly handicapped grandmother, who had sent them off in hope that they will survive this dark blood bath and stayed behind with her wheel-less walker.
They were in the Al’aseeda (العصيدة) neighborhood right after the army had bombed it with artillery and had entered it as killers immediately executing many men and horribly mutilating their bodies in the worst possible means. Never hesitant to murder even children, the soldiers arrested those left alive. I swear, I know a man who was a child then, and I saw and spoke with him s few weeks ago, and he told me of the state of the bodies of his maternal uncles, and that when they fled, they had to step over the bodies of their loved ones to get out. What a way to say good-by, and what a horrible death. He has been carrying his pain with him to the day, and he told me “I’m afraid of their might, and I can’t resist my fear. Forever they raped my peace of mind”. He naively asked me, “we will be victorious over them, won’t we?” I laughed, me who hasn’t laughed in months and confirmed our victory while hesitantly smiling. But I know that we will be celebrating our victory.
Grandmother (um Ibrahim) decided to get everyone from the neighborhood out, and herein, everyone means only children and women. She walked with them supported by her walker under snipers’ bullets and artillery shells, climbing uphill until they reached the beginning of the “Hadher, حاضر” neighborhood. Um Ibrahim became tired and she could not walk anymore so she stayed in the house of one of my paternal aunts and her husband after she sent them to their unknown destiny like a flock of swallows among beasts. Grandmother Um Ibrahim had no other choice, and she was well aware that these killers are not human and that everyone must escape the blood bath that threatened them every moment. In the wash room, when the women talked about Um Ibrahim and how she shouted at them sending them off to their escape, every one read Al-Fatiha, “الفاتحة” for her soul thinking that she was wiped by the barbarism she decided to confront. But Um Ibrahim was stronger than the canon, and as my aunt and her husband decided to escape from the ever rising death, she released them and stayed in their home decidedly defiant.
For a week, Um-Ibrahim remained in my aunt’s house with all doors wide open. The soldiers entered the house, went out, stole and demolished its contents, all the while Um-Ibrahim screamed in their faces scaring them and shaking their fake sense of bravery. She did not bow to the killers. Instead, she defended the house with her courage as a symbol of righteous defense of the entire violated city. Her steadfastness humiliated them and their leaders, and they started obeying her dictates and discovered that she was the victor with her walker. They decided to blow up the houses of the entire neighborhood intending for her to witness the level of their inhumanity. So they took her out of the house to the middle of the street, and she sat on a chair in the middle of the bloodied street for three days throughout which, Um Ibrahim, in this wilderness, never negotiated or even maneuvered. She announced her presence like a palm tree, a flagpole and a flag, never asking for help from anyone. Some soldiers, taken by her glory, started to help her in her physical needs. Um Ibrahim swore that she never feared them because they were too small for her vision to a point where they became invisible to her. She insisted that God sent her all what she needed while she stayed to tell the killers that we will return, exact justice, honor our martyrs with individual headstones refusing to leave them to a mass grave, and that “contrary to your belief, you will never be victorious”. In the end, it was by God’s mercy that some people, also on their own escape journey, found her and carried her; she who refused to be carried, to the villages with the other dispossessed.
…. to be continued
Introduction by Off the Wall
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
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