Category Archives: Syria

The Expert’s Lense

The Expert’s Lens

Many “Syria Experts” in the US academia portray the Syrian Revolution through what Elias Muhanna recently termed as the “sectarian lens”. In a guest comment on Elias Muhanna blog about Lebanon (Qifa Nabki) Joshua Landis, President of the Syrian Studies Association and the publisher of Syria Comment blog, presented a “theory” which makes analogy between the events in Syria and surrounding countries and the events associated with recent Ethnic Cleansing in Europe, which have taken place subsequent to world wars and resulted in more “ethnically pure” composition supporting the post WWI framework of nation states.  Landis argument is best summarized by his concluding words:

In sum, we are witnessing the rearrangement of populations in the region to better fit the nation states that were fixed after WWI. Some new borders are being drawn, such as those around the Kurdish regions of Iraq and perhaps Syria, but mostly, what we are seeing is the ethnic cleansing of much of the region to fit the borders.

The validity of a theory depends on its ability to explain as much as possible of the facts on the ground. While outliers may eventually come up and result in refining theories, the fundamental structure should still be able to connect actions to forces and motivation. The simpler the connection, the more elegant is the theory and the more likely it is to receive recognition and acceptance.  The process is easier in physical sciences than in social and political science. But at the fundamental level, it remains the same.

The situation in Syria is very fluid and highly complex. But we can try to test the “ethnic cleansing” by wearing the “sectarian lens”, through which the primary motive for each actor would then become the creating of the largest possible “sectarian” homogeneous region that would provide the sect/ethnicity with security, safety, and increase its chances of survival. This of course assumes also that these sects/ethnic groups are acting as coherent units with well-defined criteria for survival, even if such assumption is furthest from the truth, which is the case especially for the Sunni Arab population of Syria.

Please note that much of the discussion below relies on news, interacting with activists who have been to Syria as well as with activists who have strong connections to internal opposition groups in Syria. I remain appalled by sectarianism, but I am finding it increasingly hard to discuss Syrian affairs without addressing sectarian issues after the “Syria Experts” have successfully forced the regime’s narrative as the only salient analysis framework.

Assad regime, backed by Iran has inflicted more than 500 civilian casualties in its recent campaign of terror by crude explosive barrels against Aleppo.

Assad regime, backed by Iran has inflicted more than 500 civilian casualties in its recent campaign of terror by crude explosive barrels against Aleppo.

This is very important in the way it serves the regime’s propaganda campaign. For most in the west, especially those who take the “Syria Experts” seriously, thinking of ethnic cleansing brings a flood of false images of Syria’s minorities being massacred and/or expelled from their homeland on massive scale.  The Assad regime and its backers welcome such narrative because it assists the regime in presenting the Syrian Revolution as nothing less than a crime against the minorities of Syria. In that framework, the Entire Sunni Arab population of Syria would become the aggressors, who deserve international condemnation. The regime and its backers would then be eligible for international support to prevent those “Sunni Terrorist’s” from accomplishing their horrific goal even at the cost of raising to dust cities large and small and causing the worst humanitarian crisis we have known in decades.

I will try, from within this distorted framework, to investigate how fraudulent it is. This is in hope of returning the discussion to to its appropriate framework and that is the historical crime against humanity being contemplated by actively supporting the prolonging of the Assad regime’s miserable and misery causing despicable life. I will start by highlighting that when talking about ethnic cleansing, one should look at both sides as potential agents and not only by the real victims of the regime, who are being fraudulently portrayed as the aggressors. 

An Irrational Regime?

For the Assad regime, the most rational and cost-effective choices would have been to solidify its gains after its sectarian-motivated destruction of large parts of Homs and promptly move to establish said state by transferring manpower and weapons for the protection of the “homogeneous proto-statelet” in the Alawite heartlands in the Coastal mountains. As rational decision makers, acting in fear of being expelled,  the regime and its backers should have embarked on a wide scale cleansing, not only through horrific localized massacres as it happens in Banyas and Baida, but through large-scale forcible removal of Sunnis from the entire coastal zone. This would also mean that the regime and its allies in Iran, Russia and the plethora of sectarian gangs of thugs in Iraq and Lebanon would have had to recognize that: (a) there is no realistic condition under which they could entertain the possibility of sectarian cleansing of the entirety Syria of its Sunnis, or (b) the error of endlessly maintaining their forces in a bleeding war-zone.

Assad-forces-in-homs aftert destruction

Assad regime forces enter Al-Khaldyya district in Homs after destroying it through arial bombardment and artillery shelling. Many analysts argued then that the Assad regime was trying to increase the size of its potential Alawite statelet . Similar images of brutality emerged later during Hizbulla thugs assault on Qasir.

The Assad regime and its supporters have been successful, through a sustained terror campaign to cause a massive and horrific humanitarian disaster as manifested by the scale of the refugee crisis in much of the country side of Syria and in rebellious areas in cities like Homs and Aleppo. With unmatched brutality and criminality, they have emptied many villages, fully destroyed entire neighborhoods and small towns and villages, and flooded both the countryside and neighboring countries with refugees. However, carrying out these series of war crimes to their ultimate conclusions requires committing  an additional war crime, which is the colonizing of these areas by regime’s sect and/or its allied groups on a massive scale required to establish permanent “absolute sectarian majority”.

No sane person would argue that the regime and its Russian, Iranian, Lebanese and Iraqi backers are above such depravity. But it is highly improbable, and they know it, that those allies can execute such undertaking. Ethics have nothing to do with this but logistical and political reasons beyond their control that remain insurmountable. First, rebel groups remain active in these areas, and second none of the neighboring countries including Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, would tolerate permanent Syrian Refugee communities, with the latter two being least likely to allow a second community of refugees to establish a permanent presence.

Short of annihilation, a massive scale conversion of Syria’s Sunni Arabs into Shia faith, remains the other theoretical option to establish Syria as a more pure and homogeneous Alawite-Shia state, but Iran’s very active decades long campaign to convert Syria’s Sunni and Alawite population into Shia faith has miserably failed. One must not ignore also the ultimate devastation of the Alawite community itself being viewed by hardline Shias as an apostate، if they continue to play into Iran’s hand.

The regime and its Iran controlled backers know well that they cannot establish a homogeneous or even a minority-soup state over the entire land mass of Syria.  But they are still executing a policy of atrocious and murderous genocide against the largely Sunni population in Syria’s countryside and in rebellious cities. The genocide against Sunni Arabs in these areas would therefore seem a pointless crime with only hateful punitive “Assad or we burn the country” campaign being a much more likely and far simpler explanation.

Unable to establish a homogeneous sectarian state through sectarian-cleansing of predominantly Sunni Arab areas, the only option left for the regime and its Iran controlled backers under the “ethnic cleansing” theory would have been to cut their losses and retreat into areas they can defend over the long-term.  The current situation, despite of the much hyped “military success” of the regime and its Iran controlled sectarian militias backers, has proven catastrophic not only to the Alawite community of Syria, but increasingly so to Hizbulla and to the sectarian gangs of Iraq. Both allies have received substantial beatings in many parts of Syria with Hizbullah risking weakening both the cohesion of its own base and its political clout in the Lebanon.  Any further erosion of that clout would mean that Nasrallah (in reality Iran) would need to use brute militia force to sustain a veto over Lebanese sovereignty at the least opportune time.

It would have appeared more rational, once more assuming one is wearing “sectarian lens”, for the regime’s allies to halt their bleeding, and to force the regime to retreat to its base without additional losses. Yet they persist in their indulgence in Syrian blood, and continue to risk the highly probable of horrific consequences including the potential expansion of the war into their own bases in Iraq and Lebanon.

Ethnic cleansing usually requires rapid waves of forcible “disengagement” of warring ethnic groups through expulsion, which would subsequently allow for more stable conditions in cleansed areas. This has not been the case so far in Syria, despite of the massive refugee crisis and it seems that even as the regime and its backers continue to suffer losses, they continue to appear as irrational actors when primacy is given to the “sectarian lens”

It is hard to argue against “ethnic cleansing” when 7 million Syrians are now refugees. But to use this tragedy to present a justification for the real criminal whose barrels of death, missiles, and hoards of imported terrorists backed by Iran have caused this tragedy appears to many, including this writer as sinister. The main consequence of accepting this theory, in its presentation context, is to rationalize the actions of this brutal gang as being defensive, by presenting the Syrian Revolution as an “ethnic cleansing” operation.

Rhetoric and Realities

On the rebels’ side, we also see no serious undertaking aiming to cleanse Syria of its minorities. I am sure that the old “secular-sectarian” group of Assad propagandists are by now howling in anger at me, but I would argue that the real anti Assad forces have not yet taken any concerted action in the direction of rearranging the populations to suite their vision. True, the presence of Islamists has amplified the sectarian aspects of the militant side of the conflict. But that is due to several reasons, among which are the simplicity of their mobilizing message (see Yassin Al-Haj Saleh, 27/12/2013), and its appeal in the marginalized rural areas, which have suffered significantly from the regime’s brutality. Yet, an earlier attempt in the summer of 2013 by the highly suspect ISIS to spread its actions into the coastal mountains, seems to have faded and ended with the murder by ISIS of one of the key FSA commanders in the region.

It is now obvious that the actions in the coastal mountains, even with the highly publicized instances of ugly sectarian murders, were primarily aimed at boosting ISIS and Al-Nusra sectarian credentials and secondly to decimate and/or absorb FSA forces, who were starting to build up their presence in the region in anticipation of future large-scale attack on regime forces and fortifications as well as to defend villages that may get out of the regime’s control.

In essence, and despite of their increasingly rabid sectarian rhetoric, sectarian actions by ISIS and similar groups have aimed primarily to boost the credibility of these groups as avengers for Sunni victims of regime massacres and as defenders of the Sunni population at large and not to cleanse Syria of its Christians or Alawites. These are both recruiting campaigns and campaigns to establish hegemony of sinister radical Islamists over the rebellion for their own agendas in the already “liberated” areas and not concerted campaign to “ethnically cleanse” Alawites or Christians.

Peddling regime's propaganda, Agnes de la Croix continue to spread lies about the victims of the chemical weapons massacre in Ghouta. She continues to argue that these are fake photos.  Notably, even some of the most fearsome antiwar activists are starting to recognize her for the propagandist she is. Several activists an politicians threatened to  pull out of a British Stop the War conference if she shows up next to them.

Peddling regime’s propaganda, Agnes de la Croix continue to spread lies about the victims of the chemical weapons massacre in Ghouta. She continues to argue that these are fake photos. Notably, even some of the most fearsome antiwar activists are starting to recognize her for the propagandist she is. Several activists an politicians threatened to pull out of a British Stop the War conference if she shows up next to them.

Even when some ”Syria Experts” give credence to regime’s spokespersons such as the despicable Agens de la Croix, they know well that Syrian Christians, well-known as conflict-averse communities, are leaving their homes in Syria more because of the conflict in the areas they reside in, which is destroying all of Syria (largely through regime actions) and  causing a massive scale deterioration of personal security to everyone, than because of specific actions targeting them directly. Many members of the Christian community of Homs, for example, who now reside in Christian and mixed villages in the mountains, such as Mashta El Heleu, fled their homes as a direct result of the regime’s vengeful bombardment of their district including historical churches in the city. It is noteworthy that the bleeding of Syria’s Christian community has continued to occur with acceleration under the forty years of the Assad brutal regime.

Furthermore, also based on actions and results to-date, targeting few predominantly Christian towns by various units of rebels has mostly been a response to abusive regime forces and Shabeeha militia in the area. These were tactical operations aiming to demonstrate force and weaken the regime and its forces. On the other hand,  One could argue that the recent kidnapping of nuns by rebels is part and parcel of an ethnic cleansing operation, but from the chatter going around concerning attempts to release the nearly 60 thousand female detainees in regime torture dungeons, the kidnapping seems to be a part of a “prisoners’ swap” game with the rebels having been given the impression, by the west and by regime allies such as Russia, that a dozen Syrian Christians would be far more valuable to the west than the hundreds of thousands of other Syrians, including women and children, who are threatened by eminent death in regime torture dungeons every day. The chatter indicates that the rebels hope that a higher level of pressure would be exerted on the Assad regime to free the thousands of female hostages it holds under the threat of torture, rape, and death when they hold a few valuable hostages.

Agnes de la Croix continues to peddle regime's propaganda arguing, like Iran controlled press TV , Manar, and Mayadin that photos of the victims of the chemical massacre in Ghouta are fake.

Agnes de la Croix continues to peddle regime’s propaganda arguing, like Iran controlled press TV , Manar, and Mayadin that photos of the victims of the chemical massacre in Ghouta are fake.

In summary, there is yet to emerge the outlines of large scale concerted “ethnic cleansing” campaign by the rebels on the scale seen in central European countries Joshua Landis cites as examples bolstering his hypothesis. These are facts, no matter what Agnes de la Croix  and her followers in Canada, France, UK, and the US try to spin it otherwise.

Serving the Regime’s Narrative

In no way should the above be taken as an attempt to whitewash the sectarian context of the message of the regime and its Iran controlled allies, or of ISIS, Al-Nusra and/or other rising groups with constantly shifting alliances and names. As indicated above, these groups do need the sectarian message for recruitment and mobilization. But the context of “cleansing” remains less applicable in the rebels’ case than in the light of the numerous “massacres” conducted by the regime and recently by its Iran controlled backers.

After withdrawal frin Tal Hasel, activists accused ISIS (Da'esh) of collusion with the regime to hand back the city to Assad and Hizbulla militias. Activist showed photos of ISIS headquarters in Tal Hasel, unscathed by what the regime claimed as major battle with Terrorists.

After withdrawal from Tal Hasel, activists accused ISIS (Da’esh) of collusion with the regime to hand back the city to Assad and Hizbulla militias. Activist showed photos of ISIS headquarters in Tal Hasel, unscathed by what the regime claimed as major battle with Terrorists.

To serve their main purpose of deceptively framing a victory of the Syrian Revolution as a victory of Sunni terrorism, ISIS and similar groups are mainly concerned about establishing bases for training and recruitment. These will also serve in launching regime-narrative supporting media coverage through specific “horrific” actions such as decapitation and torture.  To do so, they do not need full control of Syria, but only a small part, which seems to be what ISIS is actively doing by solidifying its presence in Northern Syria. The “Syria Experts” never mentioned that ISIS is doing so unmolested by a regime, who has thrown its most recent campaign of terror bombardment through barrels of death against civilians and not against the well-known headquarters and camps of ISIS and its cronies. The meticulous and seemingly deliberate avoidance of real confrontations between the regime’s Iran funded and backed alliance with ISIS is beyond suspicious. None of the esteemed “Syria Experts” have tried to analyze this ominous fact. To the contrary, they seem to jump on the regime’s bandwagon and preach its deceptive slogan (me or terrorism). When confronted with the reality of collusion of interest and actions between regime and ISIS and by the clearly regime-favorable outcomes of ISIS’s actions, these experts try very hard to dismiss that by insinuating that ISIS is merely preparing to launch attacks on “Alawites” at later point. These detached and aloof “intellectuals” seem to have blinders on when reading the infamous threat “Assad or we burn the country”. A phrase that rarely, if ever, shows up on their radar or prophesies.

Despite of the evidence implicating the regime and its Iran controlled backers in numerous massacres, proponents of the “Ethnic Cleansing” theory have repeatedly failed to highlight the regime “sectarian” actions and its cleansing, for whatever reason, of 7 million Syrians from their homes. Their assertions, as seen from their obsessive focus only on “Islamists” rebel groups and figures, apply only to the revolution’s side (although most supporters of the revolution do not consider ISIS as part of the revolution) as the only side motivated by their theory. There is no coincidence in this, and it is consistent with the context of presenting, as the ultimate prediction of the theory, the current situation in Syria in a bipolar mode consisting of two, they claim, mutually exclusive options: that is Assad (the so called secular regime) or Terrorism (all who are against this  abominable regime). However, to Syrians, who are suffering the brutality of the Assad regime and the iran controlled militias, and perhaps to many in the region, who recognize Assad’s and Iran’s hand in their own national tragedies, the mere distinction between Assad and terrorism is a historical dishonesty. Characterizing such regime as a “secular-regime”, notwithstanding anemic attempts to sound “objective” by attaching to it the characteristics of being “brutal, but tolerant and protective of minorities”, is fraudulent,  deceptive, deluding, and to the families of the countless victims of nearly half a century of brutal and criminal regime, is outright sinister.

Vindictive and Delusional

The slogan Assad or we burn the country provides a simple, yet clear explanation of the regime and its Iran controlled militia backers crimes against humanity in Syria, It remains the single most operative phrase in their campaign of murder against Syrians.

The slogan Assad or we burn the country provides a simple, yet clear explanation of the regime and its Iran controlled militia backers crimes against humanity in Syria, It remains the single most operative phrase in their campaign of murder against Syrians.

Behavior on the ground, especially by the Assad regime and its imported thugs clearly indicate a highly vindictive motive against anyone daring to oppose it, despite of the increasingly evident sectarian tone of Iran’s clients. Actions, including political statements, also indicate a delusional conviction of the regime’s long-term survival and return to the pre 2011 conditions, intact, to rule over all of Syria.  Brutal vindictiveness are well-known and documented characteristic of more than four decades of thuggish ruling mafia clan and their goons. The delusional conviction is a necessity for a regime, which, despite of its reliance on a particular sect, knows well that it cannot rule a homogeneous (sectarian/ethnic pure) society for reasons intrinsic to its thuggish and conspiratorial nature and to the formative and normative structure of its deployment of sectarianism. The political utility of the regime’s deep rooted sectarianism disappears in such societies, which endangers the primary core value of the regime’s strength as argued rather flawlessly by Hani El Sayed a year ago in a well thought and highly informed study. It also robs Iran, the main culprit in prolonging the suffering of Syrians of its primary medium of regional malfeasance, which is exercised by taking countries in the region as hostages to groups of well-armed terrorist gangs acting on directly on its behalf, or indirectly for its benefit, towards the realization of a Persian, religiously-masked empire of hegemony.

On the Kidnapping of Razan Zeitouneh, Samira Khalil, Wael Hamada, and Nazim Hamadi

A statement by the Violation Documentation Center (VDC) and the Local Development and Small Projects Support Office (LDSPS) regarding the kidnapping of activists Razan Zeitouneh, Samira Khalil, Wael Hamada and Nazim Hamadi




An unknown armed group kidnapped last night 9/10/2013, human rights lawyer and activist Razan Zeitouneh, activist and ex-political prisoner Samira Khalil, activist and Razan’s spouse Wael Hamada, and the lawyer and poet Nazim Hamadi from the office of the VDC and LDSPS in Douma, Damascus suburbs.

Besides being an icon of the Syrian revolution, Razan cofounded the Local Coordination Committees in Syria (LCC) and the Violation Documentation Center (VDC), which documents all human rights violations in Syria. She co-founded the local development and small projects support office (LDSPS) as well which aims to help the people in Syria generally, and in Eastern Ghouta more specifically, to provide basic needs and essential services and support to medical and development centers. Her and her colleagues work is very well recognized by the inhabitants in Ghouta.

Her kidnapping and the kidnapping of her colleagues indicates yet again the endeavor of some to undermine any form of civil action to help Syrians in the liberated areas to rule and provide for themselves.

We, at the VDC and LDSPS, condemn with the strongest words this kidnapping and ask for the immediate release of Razan, Samira, Wael and Nazim without any conditions.

We also hold all armed groups operating in the area accountable for the safety and safeguard of the Ghouta inhabitants and Razan and her colleagues. We hold them accountable as well for the safe release of Razan and her colleagues and their safe return to their homes. Such armed groups should ensure that such kidnapping in never repeated again in the future in the area they control.

The Dignity and Freedom revolution is undergoing one of its most critical moments now and we hope that it will be able to avoid this trap set from its enemies to undermine its credibility and stray its path.

Farewell to Syria, for a while: في وداع سورية… مؤقتا

Farewell to Syria, for a while: في وداع سورية… مؤقتا.

I don’t usually re-blog. But my friend Alisar Iram’s translation of the latest farewell letter from Yassin Haj Saleh, is worthy or repeating here. It is of course important to remember that Yassin’s temporary exile from Syria is safety related decision (as referred to by another friend) and not much political position should be read into it. It remains however heart breaking that Yassin had to remain in hiding in his “liberated” city of Raqqa and that he could not find safety in the liberated areas of Syria.

Thanks to Alisar for her translation and for allowing 7ee6an to republish the translation. I strongly encourage friends to visit Alisar Iram’s blog

Farewell to Syria, for a while

By Yassin Al Haj Saleh

October 12, 2013

I have tried hard for the last two and a half years to stay in Syria. It was important for me as a writer to stay in the country  and live the events I was writing about, and it was doubly important for me as a man of culture to live among the people I belong to, like they live, trying to understand their concerns. I wanted to stay not because I was doing something invaluable, but because that was my place which I could not replace. I wished to see Syria change after spending half a century of my age watching it immune to change.

 To stay in the country demanded great efforts from me in order to avoid falling in the sinister hands of the Assadi regime. After two and a half years of the Revolution I was compelled to also leave Damascus where I had lived for twelve years, the last two years of them in hiding. I was smuggled out of Damascus to the suburbs (gouta), then after 100 days I set out to Raqaa, the city where I had spent my childhood and teen age years and where my brothers live or those left of them. The journey to Raqqa was extremely hard, not because it took 19 days of travelling in the sweltering heat of the summer amid considerable dangers, but because even before  the journey had ended and during the several stages it took, I was becoming aware that my destination and the last expanse of my journey were falling gradually under the influence of the State of Iraq and the Levant ( Daesh داعش ), this name which invokes the specters of the figures of horror, the ghouls, of our childhood.  A few days before leaving Ghouta, it came to my knowledge that the ghoul captured and imprisoned my brother Ahmad.  Then at Ruhaiba in Qalamoun, while I was trying to get news of my brother Ahamad, I also knew that my second younger brother Firas was captured by them too.

 The journey lost its meaning for me, never the less, I had to proceed with it. I needed to come to the end of a hard journey which was only made bearable by the company of some defecting young men and a cameraman friend who was recording some stages of our journey.  As the trip neared its completion, my interest in it waned and the prospect of the journey’s end lost its thrill.

 In Raqqa, I spent two months and a half in hiding without succeeding in getting one piece of information about my brother Firas. Nothing could be worse than this. Therefore, instead of celebrating my arrival at Raqqa, I had to keep in hiding in my own liberated city, watching strangers oppress it and rule the fates of its people, confiscating public property,  destroying a statue of Haroun Al-Rasheed or desecrating a church; taking people into custody where they disappeared in their prisons. All the prisoners were rebel political activists while none of them was chosen from the regime’s previous loyalists or shabiha. With the exception of this flagrant oppression of the people, their property and symbols, the new rulers have shown no sign of the spirit of public responsibility which is supposed to be the duty of those who are in power.

 I wished to stay in Raqqa for the longest possible time to understand why events had taken this turn and to form an idea about the new leaders. I was able to collect some useful information but not as much as I had wished because I was not able to explore the city’s streets and listen to the people tell me their stories, not to mention holding interviews with the Emirs of the State of Iraq and the Levant and their mujahideen.

Not to walk in the streets of Raqqa in autumn? This is not an adequate reason for leaving, yet it is quite important on its own for me. At the onset of the Revolution, I used to say jokingly to my friends: I wish to topple the regime so as to get a passport. I wanted a passport to feel free and to travel where I wished. Today I leave behind comrades who will carry the struggle on. Our presence together inside the country used to give us courage and the strength to continue. I do not feel bitter, but I am a little angry. I realize how impossible our situation has become, yet notwithstanding,  I feel that whenever I am able to understand something or shed light on another, I believe I am taming the brutal multi- headed monster which wants to keep us in darkness, without the right to speak up, and not desiring but what it desires.

What frightens me most now is not to be able to understand the world outside Syria and for things to lose their clarity for me. I used to understand things Syrian. Syria was my country. I do not know exactly what I am going to do in exile. I always felt ill at ease with this word. It seems to me to be making a mockery of the people still inside the country. Perhaps its meaning will change and expand to include the whole of our terrible experience: the experience of uprootedness, seeking asylum, dispersion then eventually the hope of return. I do not know exactly what I am going to do, but I am now part of this massive Syrian exodus and the dream of return, although it feels right now as an amputation.

This is our country which is all that we have. I know that there is no other country that can be as merciful to us as this terrible country.

Translated by Alisar Iram

في وداع سورية… مؤقتا

ياسين الحاج صاح
October 12, 2013

 بذلت ما أستطيع من جهد طوال عامين ونصف للبقاء في البلد. كان هذا مهماً لي ككاتب يريد أن يعيش الأوضاع التي يكتب عنها، ومهما لي كمثقف يريد أن يعيش بين الناس ومثل الناس الذين هو منهم، ويحاول فهم أحوالهم. أردت أن أبقى ليس لأني أقوم بعمل لا غنى عنه، ولكن لأن هذا مكاني الذي لا غنى لي عنه. أريد أن أرى سورية وهي تتغير، بعد أن قضيت نصف قرن من عمري وهي لا تتغير.

 اقتضى البقاء في البلد جهدا كبيرا أيضا لتجنب الوقوع في القبضة الإجرامية للنظام الأسدي. وبعد نحو عامين من الثورة اقتضى أيضا أن أترك دمشق التي عشت فيها أكثر بقليل من 12 عاما، متواريا في العامين الأخيرين. قصدت الغوطة تهريبا، ثم بعد نحو 100 يوم اتجهت نحو الرقة، المدينة التي عشت فيها سنوات من الطفولة والمراهقة، ويقيم فيها إخوتي، أو من بقي منهم.  كانت الرحلة نحو الرقة شاقة جدا. ليس لأنها استغرقت 19 يوما في عز الصيف، وكانت محفوفة بالمخاطر، ولكن لأني قبل بداية الرحلة، ثم وأنا على الطريق المتعدد المراحل، كنت أتابع ابتعاد محطتي الأخيرة، الرقة، التي وقعت تحت احتلال قوة أجنبية عدائي، “الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام”، أو “داعش”، الاسم الذي يبدو مناسبا جدا لغول في إحدى الخرافات التي كنا نسمعها صغارا. قبل مغادرة الغوطة بأيام قليلة علمت أن الغول اعتقل أخي أحمد. وفي الرحيبة في منطقة القلمون علمت، وأنا أتصل للاطمئنان على أحمد، أن الغول اختطف فراس أيضا. هذا زائد على الحد. لم يعد للرحلة معنى، لكني ما كان بوسعي إلا المضي فيها. كنت راغبا في انتهاء رحلة شاقة، كان يخفف من مشقتها رفقة مقاتلين شبان منشقين، وصديق شاب مصور، كان يوثق جوانب من رحلتنا بكاميرته.

لكن لم تعد نهاية الرحلة غاية شخصية، ولم يعد لانتهاء المشقة بهجة خاصة. قضيت في الرقة شهرين ونصف متواريا. ولا معلومة واحدة عن فراس خلالها.

لا شيء يمكن أن يكون أسوأ. بدل أن أصلها محتفلا، أعيش متواريا في مدينتي “المحررة” بعد عامين ونصف من الثورة. هذا بينما يتحكم أغراب فيه وبحياة سكانها، فيحطمون تمثالا متواضعا لهرون الرشيد، ويعتدون على كنيسة، ويستولون على أملاك عامة، ويعتقلون بشرا ويغيبونهم في سجونهم، ومن الناشطين السياسيين حصرا، وليس أبدا من خدم النظام السابقين وشبيحته. وعدا هذا العدوان على البشر والرموز والأشياء، لا يبدو أن القوم يعرضون شيئا من روح المسؤولية العمومية التي يفترض أن تقع على عاتق من يشغل موقع السلطة.

أردت أن أبقى في الرقة أطول وقت ممكن لأفهم كيف جرت الأمور على هذا النحو، ولأكون فكرة عن المتحكمين الجدد. عرفت أشياء مفيدة، لكن ليس بقدر ما ينبغي لأني لم أستطع التجول ماشيا في شوارع المدينة، وسماع القصص من الناس، دع عنك مقابلة أمراء “الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام” وعموم “مجاهد”ـيها.

ألا أمشي في شوارع الرقة في الخريف… ليس هذا سببي للرحيل، لكنه كبير وحده. في مطلع الثورة كنت أقول مازحا لأصدقائي: أريد إسقاط النظام كي أحصل على جواز سفر! كنت أريد جواز سفر كي أشعر أني حر، أسافر حين أريد.

 اليوم أترك ورائي أصدقاء مستمرون في الكفاح، كان وجودنا في الداخل يؤنس ويشد أزر كل واحد منا.

لست مريرا، غاضب بعض الشيء. أدرك كم حالنا مستحيلة، لكن كلما ظننت أني فهمت شيئا أو استطعت إضاءة شيء أشعر بانتصار صغير على الوحش البهيم متعدد الرؤوس الذي يريد أن نبقى في الظلام، ألا نملك الكلام، وألا نريد غير ما يريد.

أكثر ما أخشاه الآن هو ألا أفهم خارج سورية. أن تستبهم علي الأمور. كنت أفهمُ في سورية. كانت وطني.

لا أعرف بالضبط ماذا سأفعل في “المنفى”. طالما شعرت بالضيق في السابق من هذه الكلمة. كانت تبدو أشبه بسخرية من الباقين في البلد. اليوم ربما يتغير معناها، لتتضمن تجربتنا المهولة، تجربة الاقتلاع واللجوء والتشتت، وأمل العودة.

لا أعرف ما سأفعل، لكني جزء من هذا الخروج السوري الكبير، ومن العودة السورية المأمولة.   وإن يكن أشبه بمسلخ اليوم، وطننا هذا ليس لنا غيره، وأعرف أنه ليس ثمة بلد أرأف بنا من هذا البلد الرهيب.

Yassin Al Haj Saleh *

About Yassin Haj Saleh (note from Alisar)

Yassin Al Haj Saleh is a well known Syrian dissident and activist . He was imprisoned at the age of 21 by the Syrian authorities in 1980 without trial and remained in prison until 1996. When the Revolution started he went into hiding. He became a fugitive travelling for safety in Syria, but when he became wanted too by the by the Qaeda affiliates, in addition to the Syrian authorities, he had to flee his beloved country. The above note is his farewell to his Syria, even if for a while.

Yassin al-Haj Saleh (born in Ar-Raqqah in 1961)[1] is a Syrian writer and political dissident. He writes on political, social and cultural subjects relating to Syria and the Arab world.[1]

From 1980 until 1996 he spent time in prison in Syria for his membership in what he now calls a “communist pro-democracy group”.[2][3] He was arrested while he was studying medicine in Aleppo and spent sixteen years in prison, the last in Tadmur Prison. He took his final examination as a general medical practitioner in 2000, but never practiced.[1]

He has been granted a Prince Claus Award for 2012 as “actually a tribute to the Syrian people and the Syrian revolution. He was not able to collect the award as he is living hiding in the underground in Syria.[4]  Wikipedia

Alisar Iram

To the Honorable………

Our Silence Kills them

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.

Within hours of the Massacre, and before the regime's official denial. Facebook pages of the loyalists and members of the cyber-terrorist Assad Electronic Army were boasting that "finally the Syrian Chemical has been launched". Calls on regime to use chemical weapons were mounting including from some of the regime loyal singers and popular figures. Such is a standard operation procedure to emotionally charge loyalists and prepare them to go-with-the-flow.

A loyalist Facebook page boasts: “finally the Syrian chemical has been launched”. Calls on regime to use chemical weapons were mounting in weeks prior to the attack even from loyal singers and popular figures. Such is a standard operation procedure to emotionally charge loyalists and prepare them to go-with-the-flow.


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.

The Debate

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.

The Minaret of the Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo before and after regime's shelling.

The Minaret of the Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo before and after regime’s shelling.

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

Me or my chaos. The artist depicts what many Syrians know for a fact. The  Assad regime is the creator,  and nurturer of terrorist organizations he claims to fight against. The systematic targetting of non-violent protesters in the early days of the Syrian Revolution was intended to promote violent elements and to both depict the revolution as being dominated by terrorists as well as to exact revenge on those who dared to defy Assad.

Me or my chaos. The artist depicts what many Syrians know for a fact. The Assad regime is the creator, and nurturer of terrorist organizations he claims to fight against. The systematic targeting of non-violent protesters in the early days of the Syrian Revolution was intended to promote violent elements and to both depict the revolution as being dominated by terrorists as well as to exact revenge on those who dared to defy Assad.

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.

Intellectuals, Help Syrians! (By Yassin Al Haj Saleh)

Introduction by OTW


Syrian Opposition Intellectual Yassin Al Haj Saleh, who spent 16 years in the Assad dynasty regime jails as political prisoner.

A few weeks back, I posted a medical report from Yassin Al Haj Saleh, the Syrian intellectual and winner of  Prince Claus Award for 2012, in which he described the chemical weapon attack by the forces of war criminal Bashar al-Assad in the Eastern Ghouta region of Damascus country side. For a few months, Yassin lived there among the people of the Eastern Ghouta, and he recently summed up his experiences there to cast light on what is happening, and at the same time to issue a last call, or better yet, a plea for decency and humanity to western intellectuals and public opinion makers admonishing them to actively take the only humane and progressive act, which is to support the overthrow of the Assad criminal clan and crime partners and to force the stoppage of importing killers from the regime’s allies in Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere. Yesterday, Yassin’s letter was published in the French newspaper Le Monde under the title “Intellectuels, aidez les Syriens !” after being translated from Arabic to French by the Lebanese intellectual and supporter of the Syrian Revolution, Professor Ziad Majed and his colleague Nadia Aissaoui. The letter, written on June, 28, 2013,  appeared earlier today in its Arabic  original in the Republic for Syrian Revolution Studies as well as in the Lebanese newspaper النهار . I tried to find English translation and failed, so I translated the letter from Arabic to English. I do apologize for the rough edges of the translation, and would be more than happy to replace the text with better translation if someone is kind enough to edit it.

Rabi Tawil (AKA Abu Kareem) has kindly offered to edit the translation. The version posted on (8 July, 2013) is the result of his kind and generous help.  It definitely reads much better.

Update: on 10, July, 2013, an official Spanish version of the letter appeared under the title “Carta sobre Siria a los intelectuales y líderes de opinión en Occidente” in the Spanish newspaper ELMUNDO.

Intellectuals, Help Syrians! 

By Yassin Al Haj Saleh

A letter from Syrian writer Yassin Al Haj Saleh to Western Intellectuals and Opinion Makers.

Dear friends

About three months ago, I headed to the “liberated” Eastern Ghouta region, leaving behind the capital city of Damascus where life has become suffocating. My clandestine departure necessitated weeks of prior-arrangements in a city , which had been dismembered by hundreds of security barricades, and which Bashar al-Assad is determined to keep as the center of the rule he inherited from his father thirteen years ago.

The Eastern Ghouta region is now inhabited by nearly half of  out of the two million who lived there before the revolution. It has been transformed during the past three months from a bastion  where the armed revolution was first launched in the capital  into an area besieged from all sides. This reversal is largely due to the military and logistical support of  the regime has received from Russia and Iran and from Lebanese and Iraqi Militia that are connected to the latter state. During that time, I myself witnessed the cruel lack of weapons, ammunition and even adequate food supply on the side of the rebel fighters. Many of the fighters on the fronts barely receive two meals a day. If they weren’t mostly local residents defending their towns and their families and living off what also sustains their families, the situation would have been immeasurably worse


Destruction of lives and livelihood are the hallmarks of the Assad clan response to the Syrian uprising., The photo was uploaded today (7, July, 2013) showing the aftermath of one of Assad’s bombing raids earlier today in the Eastern Ghouta.

The towns and villages which I visited and lived in during the past months are subjected to daily random shelling from airplanes, artillery and rocket launchers. Every day, victims, a majority of whom are civilians, succumb to the violence.  I spent a month at a civil defense authority site, and there, I saw all of those who were killed. Some of them, including children, were blown into unrecognizable pieces. Among the victims was a fetus of six months whose mother suffered a miscarriage from the the terror she suffered during the shelling near her house. Not a day went during that month without civilians getting killed. Usually it is two or three, but on one day it was 9, 28 on another, and 11 on a third. The numbers killed continue to rise and they are rarely less than half a dozen a day, again including a small fully formed fetus. It was said that he was also six month old, also miscarried by yet another terrorized mother.

In addition to civilians, many young fighters die every day to the weapons of a brutal and more powerful military force that receives  far superior support than they do.

The whole region has been without electricity for 8 months. This has caused a reliance on frequently malfunctioning generators with excessive consumption of fuel, which in itself is becoming increasingly scarce commodity due to the tight blockade. Consequently, cooling and storage of food, vitally necessary in the scorching summers of the region, must be dispensed with. Cellular and landline connections are cut-off;and in recent weeks, flour has become scarce. Two weeks have now passed during which we had barely ate any bread,getting by with crushed wheat or rice instead, or by purchasing our meals from the few restaurants that remain.

For my part, I was content with two meals a day, at least temporarily, as it helped reduce my weight by around 10 Kilos (nearly 21 pounds)

We manage communications via Satellite Internet equipment, smuggled in with great difficulty. We use the equipment to deliver news and information to other Syrians and to the world. Such communication equipment is, however, available to only a small percentage of the population. A shell landed nearby few days ago and disrupted the internet connection for some time. It could have been much worse had the shell  landed on our roof and destroyed two month worth of efforts to secure the equipment. But the ultimate tragedy happens every day to an increasing number of inhabitants. Hastily buried, their funeral processions are joined by few hasty mourners, terrorized by the prospect of another shell falling upon their heads. Such has happened more than once; and in one case, which I witnessed, the martyr was buried within less than an hour of his death without his wife and children taking a final look at him. His body was mutilated and some of his limbs were missing, prompting the elders to decide that this should not be the last sight of him to remain in his  wife’s and childrens’ memory.

We, I and a number of friends, both men and women, are still alive. In Damascus we were threatened with arrest and horrific torture which we may not survive. Here we are safe from that, but not from a shell falling on our heads at any time.

Here, we are partners with nearly a million people having lost complete control of our own destiny, and constantly at the edge of the  abyss of the worst possibilities. Each time I reach the threshold of the house returning from the outside, I feel that I have barely survived death by a shell or a  shrapnel.  And yet  death remains a probability entering randomly through the window or the door.

Today, Friday, June 28, three mortars fell between twelve noon and twelve thirty  on a place not far from where we are staying. The timing is too close to the Friday prayer time observed by faithful Muslims, to be a coincidence. I was most struck in my early days here that calls for Friday prayers in one mosque started about nine thirty in the morning, three hours earlier than the usual time, and this were followed by calls from other mosques each within a half an hour of the next. When I inquired about it, I received a surprising explanation: “The purpose is to avoid gathering large numbers of worshipers in the city’s mosques at any specific time to deprive the regime of the opportunity to kill maximum number of people as it usually desires”. The regime has done this before, in the city where I stayed, there are five destroyed mosques.

More painful is that more than two-thirds of the children here do not attend school, their parents fearing for their safety or  because of the the lack of schools nearby. The few functioning schools operate in underground cellars to avoid bombardment.  But this also prevents the children from playing and running in the open air.

All of the hospitals are also underground.

People engage in this struggle with a sense of desperation because of they realize that a terrible massacre awaits them if the regime succeeds in regaining control. Those not murdered immediately will face arrest and torture that is extreme in its brutality. Their choices are limited to death while resisting the fascist aggression of the criminal regime or death, in the ugliest of manners, at the hands of this same regime if they stop resisting.  The  souls of people shiver, as my own soul shivers from its depth at the mere thought of being ruled by the same regime once again, should the people stop their resistance.

During this long stretch in the life of the Syrian revolution, which has gone through a peaceful phase lasting for more than six months, the outcome of the policies of the influential powers of the world were to let Syrians be murdered at an escalating rate, and to reassure the regime that it can do anything with complete impunity. This is reminiscent of the Western Democracies’ behavior regarding Hitler before the Second World War. The current situation is a direct consequence of the failure of those influential powers to support the Syrian rebels, whilst failing to stop the support for the regime from the powers that provide it with  weapons, money and men, even as they continue to step up their support by intervening more openly and directly. Finally, after it became known to the whole world that the Assad clan regime used chemical weapons, which I myself documented two months ago,  as did other friends on the basis of personal experience, and after the regime was assured that its use of air power and long-range missiles against cities and neighborhoods will result in  nothing but faint and timid protest; after all of this,  Western powers decided to support the Syrian rebels with weapons. However, the objective of this support is to restore balance, a balance that they helped tip in the regime’s favor  in the first place.  Restoring balance means prolonging the Syrian conflict so that both sides lose in ways that have known  precedents in the history of Western Democracies, while what is needed is support that guarantees the overthrow of the regime, or at least force its allies to back-off from supporting its openly criminal war.

Restoring balance is not just a short-sighted policy leading not only to prolonging the conflict, but it is utterly inhumane  as well. There are no two equal evils in Syria, as it is unfortunately portrayed in the Western media, and contrary to what United Nations and international organizations reports, notwithstanding that the Syrian conflict is not one between demons and angels.  There is a tyrannical fascist regime, which has murdered approximately 100,000 of its subjects, and there is a varying spectrum of those rebelling against it. The prolonging and increasing cruelty of the conflict has radicalized some of the rebel groups, whilst weakening the resilience of the Syrian society to extremism. The longer the Syrians are left to their fate, the more likely extremists gain strength and  the moderating logic and rationality among Syrians weakens. From both field and personal experience, this is what is actually happening. At the Civil Defense Authority, and whenever new martyrs fell, especially children, I am met with reproachful looks. These looks are from people  who are skeptical about the value of the calm and “rational” words I usually utter and about their utility in such circumstances.

There is only one correct approach that is in the general interest of Syria and from a humanitarian point of view, and that is to help Syrians get rid of the rule of the Assad dynasty that is acting as if it owns the country and as if Syrians are merely its serfs.  Everything will be difficult in post-Assad Syria, but ridding the country of the public criminal incites more moderate interactions within the Syrian society, and allows Syrians to stand in the face of the extremists among them. It is immeasurably worse to prolong the conflict and extend its human and material costs. Even worse is to watch Syrians being murdered with Russia’s weapons, at the hands of local thugs, as well as Lebanese and Iranian militias. Worse also is to impose a settlement that does not punish the criminals, and that doesn’t seriously address any of Syria’s problems.

I hear American and Western politicians sometimes say that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria. But where is the political solution? And when did Bashar al-Assad , after about 28 months of the revolution, and after the murder of about 100,000 people, state that he was actually ready for serious negotiations with the opposition and to share power? When did he refrain, even for a single day, from committing murder  in the past 850 days? The truth is that there is no political solution without forcing the slaughterer to step down, now and immediately, and along with the leaders of the slaughter in his regime. While this may give rebellious Syrians something important, which is what they have demanded from the outset by peaceful means, it strengthens the position of moderates in their ranks, making it possible to isolate the extremists, leading to a fair Syrian settlement, something that is badly needed in the region, the world, and by Syrians  before anyone else.

Dear friends

We would not have called upon you if it wasn’t for the fact that the Syrian issue is one of the major and most dangerous issues of the world in recent decades. It has caused the uprooting and internal and external displacement of about a third of the population. There are hundreds of thousands of wounded and disabled, and up to quarter of a million prisoners are subjected to horrific torture, including the raping of women and children as documented in the reports of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and by the more reliable of Syrian organizations. The Assad forces have committed numerous massacres, some of which were documented in United Nations reports. All of this so that a ruler, who inherited power without right and without merit from a father who seized power by force and ruled the country with blood,can remain.

Today, we look to you as leaders of public opinion in your countries to pressure your governments to take a strong stand against the killer, a stand that supports the overthrowing the regime of the Assad dynasty. This is the only humanitarian and progressive thing to do. There is nothing more reactionary and fascist in today’s world than a regime that kills its own people, brings in killers from its allied countries and organizations, and incites a sectarian war, which while easy to incite, may be impossible to halt before it it leads to the death of hundreds of thousands of people.

We look forward to your support today. Tomorrow may be too late.

Yassin Al Haj Saleh
June 28, 2013
Eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria

translation by OTW and Rabi Tawil (Abu Kareem)

On Egypt


Egyptian Poet Amal Donqol (1940-1983)

It is true that there can be no comparison between the Egyptian Army and the Assad regime armed mafia and security apparatus, but in the end, the army in Egypt did a great harm. To begin with, the political crisis that was brewing in Egypt, deep as it is,  remains a classical political crisis for a developing country just about to join the free world. It is not uncommon  for a political party in such situation to believe that its ballot box victory, even with a slim margin, gives it license to launch major social and political engineering and starts to exclude everyone else, in the absence of firmly established democratic practices and institutions.

This of course is not to belittle the gravity of the MBs failure in Egypt.  And there are many Egyptians and perhaps Syrian refugees living in Egypt who can far better describe the failure and political suicide of the MBs over the past year than I could ever do. Yet, what the army has done is no less than an anti-democratic military coup despite of the fire-works, and the millions of cheering  people in the streets, on TV talk shows, or in living  rooms and coffee shops where trendy people tend to discuss the “islamists” threat and their inability to govern.

I always believed that islamists can not govern in a truly democratic and plural manner, and recent events be it in Turkey or Egypt, along with the abysmal despotic record of Hamas in Gaza, and topped with the  criminal, prehistoric, and stupid practices and decrees of self imposed illegal sharia courts in some  liberated areas of Syria did not reinforce my belief, but only gave me more illustrations of different flavors and degrees of bitterness.

Yet, in Egypt, there was a unique opportunity to solve a  brewing major political crisis through political process. The masses, gathering again in Tahrir square, and with no threat of regime use of military and security forces to squash their movement, had within reach many  peaceful and democratic political tools and actions that could have been taken to force the government and president to resign. This includes but not limited to continued protest, boycotts, and even wide scale nationwide extended civil disobedience.   The army’s rapid, and premeditated interference preempted a political process that would have given the people power even over the army itself. Perhaps that is exactly what the Generals feared.

Some may argue that the political leadership in Egypt failed miserably in establishing the political dialogue required to solve the crisis. But in my opinion, as a Syrian witnessing the catastrophic failure of political leadership within the traditional opposition, or better yet, the complete absence of such leadership, such failure is  the hidden silver lining of the tragedy for it gives the opportunity for the young generation to assume its natural leading role in politics especially in societies as young as those in the Arab region. I know that for fact, for I have met some of the real political leaders of future Syria. Those who are working on the inside, and are tuned to the pulse of their people with no slogans or long poisonous speeches. The military coup has just preempted the rise of the political youth in Egypt in no lesser way than the first military council did by turning a national conscious forming action and movement into a mere election campaign, which is merely a tool.

Then, there is the risk of turning the islamists, once more into the eternal martyrs and victims  and the demonstration, once again, that for Arab secularists, democracy is a relative term since this is the third time in the very recent memory when the islamists favorable ballot box results are thrown away in an Arab country. Echos from Algeria are humming, and knowing what we know today about the dirty role of the Algerian army in that civil war, and the many war crimes  committed by both sides of that conflict, the gravity of the military coup in Egypt begins to sink.

A sad song, a song sung in 1970 by a great poet called Amal Donqol seems very appropriate on this occasion. It is an Arabic warning shout about armies and soldiers. I could not find an appropriate translation, but I hope one day soon to translate this great poem. I hope I am wrong regarding the intention of the Egyptian national army, but nevertheless, damage to democracy has been done. I could not let the Fourth of July, such a great day of my beloved adoptive country; pass without shouting  a warning to the land where civilization was born.

قلت لكم مرارا
إن الطوابير التي تمر ..
في استعراض عيد الفطر والجلاءْ .
(فتهتف النساء في النوافذ انبهارا)
لا تصنع انتصارا.
إن المدافع التي تصطف على الحدود , في الصحاري
لا تطلق النيران .. إلا حين تستدير للوراء .
إن الرصاصة التي ندفع فيها .. ثمن الكسرة والدواء :
لا تقتل الأعداء
لكنها تقتلنا .. إذا ما رفعنا صوتنا جهارا
تقتلنا , وتقتل الصغارا

قلت لكم في السنة البعيدة
عن خطر الجنديّ
عن قلبه الأعمى , وعن همته القعيدة
يحرس من يمنحه راتبه الشهريّ
وزيه الرسميّ
ليٌرْهبَ الخصومُ بالجعجعة الجوفاء
والقعقعة الشديدة
لكنه .. إن يحن الموت ..
فداء الوطن المقهور والعقيدة :
فرَّ من الميدانْ
وحاصر السلطانْ
واغتصب الكرسيّ
وأعلن (( الثورة )) في المذياع والجريدة !

قلت لكم كثيرا
إن كان لابد من هذه الذريّة اللعينة
فليسكنوا الخنادقَ الحصينةْ
(متخذين من مخافر الحدود .. دورا )
لو دخل الواحدُ منهم هذه المدينة :
يدخلها .. حسيرا
يلقي سلاحه .. على أبوابها الأمينة
لأنه .. لا يستقيم مَرَحُ الطفل ..
وحكمة الأب الرزينة
مع المُسدّس المدلّى من حزام الخصر ..
في السوق
وفي مجالس الشورى


قلت لكم ..
لكنكم ..
لم تسمعوا هذا العبثْ
ففاضت النارُ على المخّيماتْ
وفاضت .. الجثثْ !
وفاضت الخُوذاتُ والمدرَّعات

أمل دنقل 1970

Just as I finished writing this post, i received the note of Amal Hanano’s first piece on her recent trip to Turkey and to Liberated Syria. As usual, my wonderful and inspiring friend Amal, thank you once more.

Chemical weapons used by Assad Gangs in Eastern Ghouta

Dear Friends

I know I have not been writing for a while.  This is very important and it is from Yasin Haj Saleh, please spread it. It is important to note that Yassin Haj Saleh is an MD. After his lengthy incarceration by the Assad regime, he went on to finish his medical studies, interrupted by the Assad goons in the eighties. He graduated from the faculty of medicine  at the University of Aleppo.

Injuries by Chemical Weapons in Eastern Ghuta

Yassin Haj Saleh*
Tuesday, April 30, 2013.

From   الجمهورية لدراسات الثورة السورية (The Republic for Syrian Revolution Studies)

Obama's red-lines

Obama’s red-lines

The thirty-year-old man was brought to “spot 200″ in Duma as being injured by chemical weapons. He seemed debile and his voice was barely audible. The fighter on the front of Jawbar, East of Damascus, had spent 9 hours in “spot 1″, which is a hospital where casualties receive first aid.

Out of the nine hours, he was unconscious for six hours, between 8 in the morning and 2.

Besides fatigue, the man looked physically fine and conscious when I met him at 6 in the evening of Sunday, April 14. He could stand up on his feet, but not firmly.

“What happened?” I asked him. He said that something that looks like a large stone was thrown nearby, but he didn’t pay much attention. But his companion asked a few moments later, “man, what’s this smell?”. The man did not smell or see smoke, but he had difficulty breathing, and his eyes were frozen wide. He thought himself dying, so he started to pray to God loudly.

He also said that after waking up in the hospital, he was spitting blood- he was still spitting blood at six in the evening, but in much smaller quantities.

He had no skin (dermatological?) symptoms. And when he woke up in the hospital, he knew that his friend had died, and possibly others had fallen martyrs. He did not know whether more bombs of the same kind were shelled on Jawbar front.

In his report, the doctor mentioned that the symptoms that the man, who comes from Qanawat neighborhood in Damascus, were pinpoint pupils and mental confusion, which seems to indicate a injury in the central nervous system. The report also says that the man was given 9 injections of atropine, 5 of hydrocortisone, and other 5 of a drug called Dexone (Dexamethasone).

The doctor recommended a normal diet and serums. There were two spots in the man’s left leg and left arm where two viens were opened to insert the serums, of which one was connected to a serum bag above the bed.

The man remained four days in “spot 200″ for follow-up.

Dr. Sakhr from the medical center in Eastern Ghuta said that he examined 20 cases of injury that day, and he personally suffered from the gas that was stuck to the clothes and hair of patients.

According to Dr. Sakhr, symptoms of injury include shortness of breath, red eyes, runny nose and eyes, hemoptysis, fainting and pinpoint pupils.

Two days later, symptoms of emotional instability manifested in form of agitation and anger or in form exhilaration and mania. These symptoms disappeared after two or three days, according to Dr. Sakhr.

Dr. Sakhr thought that the poison gas used was Sarin. He based his evaluation in the report on clinical assessment (symptoms and pathological development of cases). He had no decisive proofs, but he said that he took samples from infected hair, urine, blood and clothes and sent them to agencies that would supposedly be able to determine the type of toxic substance, and the most appropriate antidote for it.

Some of the people I have seen here think that tactical chemical weapons are the ones used by the regime until now. They target fighters and residents in limited areas.

* Translated by Jalal Imran

Original Report in Arabic

إصابات بسلاح كيميائي في الغوطة الشرقيّة

ياسين الحاج صالح

29 نيسان 2013

الرجل البالغ الثلاثين جلب إلى «النقطة 200» في دوما بوصفه مصابا بسلاح كيميائي. كان يبدو عليه الوهن، وصوته بالكاد يسمع. كان المقاتل على جبهة جوبر شرق دمشق قد قضىنحو 9 ساعات في «النقطة 1»، وهي مشفى يتلقى المصاب فيها الإسعافات الأولية.

ومن تلك الساعات التسعة كان المصاب غائبا عن الوعي طوال 6 ساعات، بين الثامنة صباحا والثانية.

غير الإعياء بدا الرجل سليما جسديا ووعيه جيدا حين قابلته في السادسة مساء من يوم الأحد 14/4. كان يستطيع الوقوف على قدميه أيضا، لكن بوضع غير ثابت.
ماذا جرى؟ سألته. قال إنه رمي صوبهم جسم أشبه بحجر كبير، ولم يهتم هو بالأمر. لكن رفيقه تساءل بعد لحظات: «يا زلمة، شو هالريحة؟». هو لم يشم رائحة أو ير دخانا. لكن نفسهضاق، ويتذكر أن عينيه «شكلتا» (تجمدتا في أقصى اتساعهما)، وظن نفسه سيموت، فأخذ يتشهد بصوت عال.

قال أيضا إنه بعد أن صحا في المشفى كان يبصق دما، كان لا يزال يبصق دما في السادسة مساء، لكن بكميات أقل. وليس لديه أعراض جلدية.
وفي المشفى، بعد أن صحا، علم أن رفيقه استشهد، ويحتمل أن يكون سقط شهداء آخرون. ليس متأكدا من ذلك. لا يعلم أيضا إن كانت أطلقت قنابل أخرى من النوع نفسه على جبهة جوبر.
في تقرير الطبيب من المستشفى ذكر أن الأعراض الظاهرة على الرجل الذي ينحدر من حي القنوات في دمشق هي حدقات دبوسية (ضيقة جدا) وتخليط ذهني، ما يبدو أنه يدل على إصابة عصبية مركزية. في التقرير أيضا أنه أعطي 9 أبر (حقن) من الأتروبين و5 من الهيدروكورتيزون و5 أخريات من عقار ديكسون. يوصي الطبيب بحمية عادية وسيرومات. كان مكانان في يد الرجل اليسرى وذراعه الأيسر قد فتح فيهما وريدان من أجل السيروم (المصل)، أحدهما كان موصولا فعلا بكيس السيروم فوق سريره.

بقي الرجل 4 أيام للمتابعة في «النقطة 200».

الدكتور صخر من المركز الطبي في الغوطة الشرقية يقول إنه تابع حالة نحو 20 مصابا في ذلك اليوم، وإنه شخصيا أصيب بالغاز «المتعشق» في ألبسة المصابين وشعرهم، ونقل إلى العناية المشددة. وبين المصابين العشرين استشهد واحد، وكانت إصابة اثنين خطيرة.

من أعراض الإصابة حسب الدكتور صخر ضيق التنفس واحمرار العينين وسيلان الأنف والعيون ونفث الدم وتغيُّم الوعي، والحدقات الدبوسية. ويبدو أن الأعراض تتفاوت بحسب شدة التعرض للغاز السام.

بعد يومين ظهرت على بعض المصابين أعراض عدم ثبات انفعالي، في شكل هياج وغضب أو في شكل ابتهاج وهوس، وزالت الأعراض الأخيرة بعد يومين أو ثلاثة، حسب الدكتور صخر.

الرجل يقدر أن الغاز السام المستخدم هو السارين، معتمدا في تقديره على السريريات (الأعراض وتطور الحالة المرضية)، وليس لديه أية براهين قطعية على ذلك. لكنه يقول إنه أخذت عينات من شعر المصابين وبولهم ودمهم وملابسهم وأرسلت إلى جهات يفترض أن تحدد نوع المادة السامة، والترياق الأنسب المضاد لها.

يقدر بعض من رأيتهم هنا أن أسلحة كيميائية تكتيكية هي التي استخدمها النظام حتى اليوم، تستهدف المقاتلين أو السكان في مساحات محددة.

Stories from Hama: Memories of Painter Khaled Al-Khani. Part 3

Lest we forget-31 years (Introduction by OTW)

HAMA-31-MemoriumNearly 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

Part 1,  Part 2

11. Life under shelling 150x150.acrylic on canvas

One of Khaled Al-Khani’s 2012 paintings titled: Life under shelling.

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.


Commemorating Hameedo’s pigeons. For 31 years, Hameedo and hi pigeons remained part of the artists’ memories of resisting the culture of death of the regime. Hameedo’s insistence on making sure that his pigeons never land in defiance of the soldiers’ bullets was one of the few inspiring things to a six-year old boy living the horrors of the massacre.

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.


The residents of Hama’s Baroudeyeh district adored their Arabian Horses. Bestowing their own names on their horses to signify the unique relationship with their Noble horses. The above painting by the artist illustrates the centrality of these horses in their lives.

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

Part 1

Part 2


Coherence of thoughts is illusive. It lies behind the scenery of death, now so common as to fade into the background of long-threatened destruction that has become us.  The hearts of our cities, those precious sculptures, carefully crafted over millenniums, with layers spanning centuries next to those that only lived less than a decade, now lie torn by the mad man and his minions.  And the madness just would not subside.

For more than forty years, the seeds of destruction were being planted with the zeal of the obsessed. It is a story of madness played one slap at a time, of insults compounded by the ignorance of the bullies, of thefts aggravated by the infinite depravity of the thieves  soul, of rapes, of torture, murders, disappearances, and of a foretold signs of the coming catastrophe, ignored as the beautiful and ancient city of Nourias was laid to waste by the barbarians. The silence was deafening even as the bleeding continued for as long as the madman lived.

The barbarians raped the souls of our cities with their demented cheap tasteless portraits. First, it was the madman, then he was joined by his vicious brother, only for the brother to be replaced by the sons, including the fake hero, who was killed by the characteristic recklessness of arrogance, but was nonetheless, declared a martyr and a demi-god. A worst fraud then replaced the fake martyr, it was a pretender to humanity, and the nightmare we now are fighting. The sons may have been legitimate to their unholy parents, but by all means, are illegitimate in time and place.

Fools were those among us who feigned knowledge. The wise ones said the devil is dead.  But its essence never died. The crowning of his successor should have been another sign of the impending catastrophe.  The essence of the devil never died. It remained active and never dormant, but vibrant in every military post, in torture dungeons around our land, in the secret mass graves scattered in our ancient desert.   And the barbarians became more vulgar and evermore greedy as they continued their insults for eleven more years on our civility, our senses, our culture, and our intellects, individually and collectively. Under the series of promises, never made to be kept, lied the constant hum of the catastrophe. Many among us heard it very clearly, but we pretended to believe, perhaps fearing the hum, that the vulgar music of the barbarians will one day become a bit more refined only if we listen longer.

We listened, and the vulgar music turned into blasts that destroyed our homes and killed many of us with deliberate malice when we asked that this half century assault be stopped. What they did to us from that point on will be told in the future for centuries to come. It will be a story of betrayal, of savagery, as well as of heroism that we never knew had existed in us. But the story of our heroic death will be worthy to hear only if told as the conclusion to the story of our cowardliness. Without that, there is no lesson learned, and our death, and the death of our children and grandchildren who are paying the price of our cowardliness will be pointless and in vain.

I stopped counting days. The post-massacre pain of anguish which started very acute ad sharp, then turned into a dull pain as our cities and villages turned into killing fields, had finally settled into a continuous throb of sharp, maddening pain as the massacres became daily and hourly happenstance. A short while ago, it was my University. The place which has more personal connection to my life than it does to most of its graduates.  The mayhem outraged us, but our outrage became  worst when the thugs tried to appropriate our martyrs. I don’t think they really cared to say that our side was the side who murdered our own children, but more to continue their assault and theft, even of our death at their hands.

Today, it was the river. Residents in  in the liberated Bustan Al-Qaser area of Aleppo, pulled more than sixty bodies from the  narrow, highly polluted River Quaiq .  All were males between the age of 20-40, with a few children, and all were tied and shot in the head execution style.  At first, as they did with the University, the thugs hyped that this is a liberated area and therefore, these are victims of the FSA. But early identification, in addition to the close-proximity of the area to regime territory point that at least some of the victims were reported to have been kidnapped by the notorious murderous  air-force intelligence.

Others are probably more able to describe the scene of death. But to me, every time I see the photograph of victim, tied and shot, all I can think of is the horrors the barbarians have inflicted on their victims before killing them.  You see, their smuggled tapes have finally paid off, but not in the way they thought for I am not horrified any longer, I am beyond that.

Like many Syrians, I am now beyond many other feelings. Nowadays, I no longer get angry at a relative or a former friend when they support the filth called Assad regime, I just accept the fact that they are part of the filth.  What I don’t tell them is that anger used to build up and then subside, hate was accumulating in a crescendo parallel to the atrocities of the barbarians, but now, we are beyond both anger and hate, we are even beyond vengeance. We are now obsessed with swearing “Never Again”.  Let the world know, Never again. I know it really threatens the barbarians, because it is even sweeter than revenge.

A Bread Prayer

Before the down of history, early Levantines domesticated wild cereal plants launching with that the Neolithic revolution and putting humanity on its long road to history itself and to civilization as we know it. The most important of these plants was the predecessor of our today’s wheat, the main ingredient of bread.


Map of the Near East indicating the Fertile Crescent [according to Breasted (1916)]. Shaded areas indicate the approximate areas of domestication of pig, cattle, sheep, and goats with dates of initial domestication in calibrated years b.p. [after Zeder (2008)]. Lines enclose the wild ranges of einkorn wheat, emmer wheat, and barley [after Smith, (1995)]. Shaded area in southern Levant indicates the region where all 3 grains were first domesticated 12,000 years B.P.
Source: The National Academies Press

Syrians have always revered bread. Anyone walking the streets of Syria would notice a peculiar habit. People would bend, pick up a hardened bread crumb from the sidewalk, kiss it, lift it to touch their forehead and then place it on the nearby wall. This places bread with the hands of parents, and the Holly Book of Quran, both are kissed and then touched by forehead as a sign of appreciation and reverence of these blessings of god. As the most important staple in the Levantine diet, reverence for the golden loaf, in one variety or another is deep in our social norms. It was a reverence for the gift of the goddesses of fertility, and as destined, later became the flesh of a god, also revered by all Syrians in both his divine and human manifestations.

Twelve millennium later, thousands years after the launching of history, an anti-historic force, brutal as no barbarians have ever been, malicious more than humanely possible appears intent on ending history as its own demise appears inevitable. This subhuman force wages a war on bread. The first bakery bombed was in Al-Sakhour neighborhood of Aleppo. This was followed by a string of bakeries being bombed during rush hours in the city and its countryside. The horror of hunger brought by the Assad caused shortage of bread, of water, fuel, and electricity are not enough to satisfy Assad’s lust for death and humiliation of Syrians. Yet, Syrians remain defiant of this criminal. Tremendous efforts are made every day by many to provide bread to their hunger stricken people. But these efforts are sometimes hindered by betrayal, manipulation, attempts at profiteering, and by plain carelessness of others. They are also efforts full of heroism from volunteers, bakers, and from ordinary people waiting in very long lines at bakeries for the day’s loaf. All betrayal and greed, however, do pale in comparison with the malice and vicious malevolence of the sub-human Bashar al-Assad, whose iron birds of death continued to wage a war on the livelihood of Syrians. Yesterday it was the massacre at Helfaya, with more than 140 confirmed dead children, women, and men, killed for no other reason than defying the murderer’s lust for their humiliation by standing in line for bread after three weeks of hunger. Today, this subhuman struck again and fourteen people, including ten children, are no longer among us for the same reason. They dared defy this sectarian bastard.

The carnage was real, as real as the slave minded supporters of the regime. A misguided fool wanted to stage a dramatic picture by dipping a loaf of bread in the blood of Assad victims, and with that, the fool murdered the humanity of assad’s victims once more a few minutes after assad’s pack of hyenas aimed  the barrel of death at the gathering bread line. The sub-human wanted to send message to the world before Syrians. A message nodding his understanding of the world’s cynical silence about his crime, and affirming his intention to murder all Syrians who dare defy him and to  benefit to the maximum possible extent from the treacherous deal making among regional and global powers.

It cost Syrians billions of dollars to acquire Russian military jets. It also cost them hundreds of millions to train pilots for these sub-standard jets. Now they are realizing the pay-back from the assadist ideological army built by Hafez Assad as a personal sectarian militia. Air force pilots, once respected and considered a symbol of Syrian pride have become not only complicit with the criminal bashar assad in his genocide against Syrians, but the most despised of executioners of this genocide.

Today is Christmas eve, I will follow the good example set by Syrians in the town of Saraqeb, who put up  a Christmas tree in defiance of all thugs who want sectarian war in my Syria. I will go with my family to meet some Syrian friends. We have become brothers and sisters through this long ordeal. We will eat bread with more reverence than ever. It will not be a jovial evening, there will be no bells, no Christmas Carroll, not even the Grinch. I will pray:

… dear lord, I have become one with you through your flesh, I have become one with you through your blood, and I pray to you,… don’t come back now, for the monster of Damascus lies awaiting you to crucify you again, while humanity looks, as it did before, with cynicism. A cynicism brought about by fear of monsters that aren’t there, which makes them turn their faces and blind themselves to the crimes of the most despicable monster and of his goons and dastardly loyalist.

Thy lord, forgive me for I will sin, forgive me for the monsters that are have left hate in my heart. Forgive me for I am asking you never to forgive them. Never to forgive anyone who still supports them, lie on their behalf, and use your name with sinful disregard for your beloved, the children, who are murdered daily by this monster and by the words of his defenders. May your curse befall them all as mine will, for eternity.

Eat your bread, cherish it as it gives you life, for it has become death where it was born.

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