Protest at a funeral in Aleppo on Monday
We have been noting the rise in protest and clashes in Aleppo, Syria's largest city, especially on and around the University and in suburbs such as Anadan. Today we post two snapshots --- the first by Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International and the second by Amal Hanano in The National:
Dispatch from Aleppo: Victims of Syria’s Brutal Crackdown
Every protest I observed during three days in Aleppo ended the same way: with the army, security forces and shabiha – the infamous militias who do some of the government’s dirty work – opening fire on non-violent demonstrators who posed no threats to them (or to anybody else).
On Friday May 25, at least seven people were killed, at least two of them were children, and dozens more were injured at demonstrations and funerals in the city.
Among those killed was Amir Barakat, a 13-year old schoolboy, who was fatally shot in the abdomen. Eyewitnesses told me that he was walking near his home as demonstrators were running away from the security forces who were shooting towards them.
Another victim was Mo’az Lababidi, a 16-year-old schoolboy who worked nights in a supermarket to support his mother and sisters.
After his father died three years ago he had become his family’s bread winner.
He was shot in the chest in front of the police station in the Bustan al-Qasr district, just south of the city center, during the funeral procession for one of four demonstrators shot dead at a protest in the same area earlier that day.
A mourner who was next to him told me he died on the spot.
I observed the funeral procession from the beginning. The crowd was mostly made up of young men, but also included many women and children.
They clapped with their hands raised, as they did in all the demonstrations I watched, to show that they were unarmed, shouting “silmiya, silmiya” (“peaceful, peaceful”), chanting slogans in homage to the victims shot dead a few hours earlier and calling on President Bashar al-Assad to go.
Soldiers and plain-clothes shabiha appeared after about 20 minutes, carrying Kalashnikovs and rifles which fire deadly metal pellets, and started to close in on the demonstrators.
It did not take long before they started to shoot and people had to run for cover. Some were killed or injured; among them Mo’az Lababidi.
Syria's largest city finally lifts its voice to embrace the revolution
It is March 28, 2012. A group of young men are crouching behind parked cars on a wide street lined with stone buildings. The YouTube video on which they appear is as choppy as the filmmaker's breath. You can hear the adrenaline, the defiance and the fear. You can also hear the sound of gunfire. A bullet hits one of the group and a man's body is now in the frame, blood pooling on the asphalt behind his head. The sounds are chaotic. A few seconds ago, they were just a group of students chanting behind cars. Now, one of them is dead.
The dead man's name was Anas Samo. He was, according to his friends, a "polite and kind-hearted" 21-year-old. He was also the first of the many University of Aleppo students who would soon meet their death.
What the viewer can't see in these powerful frames are the long, ugly residential blocks that form the dormitory complex in what is known as al-Madineh al-Jam'iyeh, or the University City. In a city famed for its ornate buildings clad with limestone, these poorly-designed government structures have always been architectural eyesores.
The dormitories were built in the late 1960s to house students from all over Syria, notably those of modest means who could not afford to rent an apartment. For a few dollars a month, any student from any town or village could have access to the same education as the offspring of the most affluent local families. The concept was a Baathist dream: Syrian universities as classless utopias, cutting across social and economic divisions, where young Syrian citizens were supposed to be
equal. Of course, unspoken strings --- including unconditional loyalty to the regime --- are attached to every tenancy agreement. As the students have watched their hometowns burn as the uprisings in Syria have turned increasingly violent, this unquestionable obedience began to shatter.
In April 2011, during the regime's siege of Daraa, Aleppo's students began to stage peaceful protests. They held nightly indoor demonstrations, chanting anti-government messages from the windows of their dormitories. The government responded by expelling 300 students. This year's students would not be as lucky.
Of all Syria's cities, Aleppo has the most complex and changing relationship with the revolution.
Lawlessness envelops the city. Kidnappings are common. Car bombs and explosions are everyday occurrences. Refugees crowd its streets, while the local economy creaks towards a standstill. Businesses and factories dependent on easy access routes to Turkey face closed roads, dangerous checkpoints and highway robberies. The business elite, religious leaders and tribes who gambled on the side of loyalty to the regime have come to realise they are neither immune to Assad's brutality nor the opposition's wrath.
George, an Aleppian activist, told me that "everyday life in Aleppo is different from other cities ... Life is carrying on, but at a very slow pace, because people are afraid."
He also says that while there are still many regime loyalists - especially within the so-called "silent" minority and elite communities - they claim to be "against the killing and against the destruction of the country". It's a familiar sentiment, one that expresses the desire to keep the revolution outside the city's walls.
Indeed, when Aleppo suffered its first loss on May 29, 2011, the city brushed it off as if nothing had happened.
Dr Sakher Hallak, a well-known physician, was found dead on the side of the road, 20km from Aleppo. His mutilated body was barely recognisable. His head was riddled with holes that his family learnt later were the marks of a power drill. His eyes had been gouged, his bones were broken, and yet his leather shoes were still shining.
Two nights before he was found, he had been taken from his clinic for interrogation by the mukhabarat (secret police). When he was released a few hours later, he paid his bills and wrote his will. They came back for him the next night. Hallak's family have never discovered the reason for his murder. They were told by security officials to blame "Israel or the opposition" and they were told his case was criminal not political. But in Syria, the boundary between the political and the criminal was slowly dissolving.
Perhaps the most painful epilogue to Hallak's story is how this once-loved doctor's reputation was tarnished by the city's society itself. His death was explained away with fabricated stories of a revenge killing or a crime committed by the "armed gangs".
Every description was used except the obvious: the one that explained the marks of torture that many Syrians have known to have existed for decades. Clear evidence was now exposed like a map on his mutilated body. His death was an early warning - an example to Aleppo of the price one paid for dissent or even the suggestion of opposition.