Assad

Tag: Assad

Freedom and a normal life

“Sean they are shooting people in the streets of Beirut” said Adad’s message, written to me from the cramped flat I’d visited him in just a couple of days before. The gunfight that had killed 8 in Tripoli had spread ominously to the streets of Beirut just as he had predicted / feared it would.

After being forced to flee from Syria and Assad’s onslaught he thought he had found some sort of safety in the Lebanon, though he always knew it was a relative, delicate safety which could end any-time. His and his family’s situation is made more all the more precarious because he doesn’t have a passport or any papers – if he were to be caught living there he we probably be sent back to Syria and to an end I don’t wish to think about.

But for now Asad keeps to the shadows as he looks for work and money to help feed the family. He locks the gate to his flat keeping Asu inside, the sound of gun crackle seeps in from the distance as Sargon arrives home late from work again. Adad finally settles Asu into his bed but he cannot sleep, disturbed by the rocket propelled grenades exploding in the distance. As if this family (like many other’s all over the region) hadn’t already seen enough danger and death in their desire for freedom and a normal life. “Some days we don’t even have enough money for bread” his message continues… “And now this is happening, where will it all end?”

Another Damascan Friday

23 May 2011

Friday started with the same ominous silence, from my balcony I looked down upon the empty eerie street, what would this day hold I thought to myself… I couldn’t help wondering if Obama’s recent comments condemning Assad for the killing of unarmed demonstrators and demanding that he either ‘reform or get out of the way’ would spur them on.

From my balcony I could see the 50 or so guys given a days work by the government to ‘look out’ for protesters, some sat around smoking, others walked up and down twirling their ‘government issue’ wooden batons. The empty building where they are stationed is away from the public eye but close enough to be on hand if needed.

Across the street a man sits with his legs swinging out of his window, he is also looking down onto the empty market street below, “Good morning” he shouts, I look over stunned for a moment, he is perched between two huge pictures of the President, I smile at him thinking it may not be such a good morning for many of the thousands taking to the streets across Syria today. Though once again as usual, here in central Damascus, we hear and see nothing.

I am now the only guest staying in this 3 storey hotel – so I eat my breakfast alone accompanied only by a couple of goldfish and the cleaner who smokes as she serves breakfast. The news blasts out from the foyer, Friday payers finish and everyone braces themselves for another day of protest, in what has become known as the Arab spring.

Yesterday I met a taxi-driver who was convinced it was well-organised well-funded ‘outsiders’ who were taking to the streets to protest against the government, he told me that the television images of people dying in the Syrian streets were from Iraq not Syria; such is the power of Syria’s state run media.

Later I meet a European lady who is married to a local here in Damascus, she asks if I have seen any ‘action’ since arriving, “No” i reply, “Nothing”, “See” she proclaims “It is being blown all out of proportion by the Western media, they are pushing for change here more than the people themselves”.

But it seems my dentist has finally seen through the smoke and mirrors as she confides in me that she is frustrated and disappointed with the once treasured leader, “We didn’t expect him to behave like this… all this killing” she says sadly.

The awful images of protesters laid out on the floor and being jumped on by soldiers screaming “We’ll give you freedom” shocked the world. When the authorities tried to say it wasn’t filmed in Syria, that it was from Iraq, and that the soldiers seen abusing the protesters were American Special Forces, a 22 year old protester, Ahmad Bayassi, one of those who had been filmed being trampled on and kicked whilst laying on the floor, bravely went back to the spot where it happened and recorded himself there again stating that it was true and showing his identity card to prove that he was from Syria.

A couple of days ago after recording himself the young man was back in the hands of the security services, human rights organisations believed he had been electrocuted and that he had lost consciousness from the torture, there were also reports that he had died – rumour spreads fast in Syria these days. Then, a few days later the man appeared on Syrian state television and announced that “When they said I was tortured and killed I was surprised, no-one has imprisoned me, and I am leading a normal life.”

News starts to filter through via Al Jazeera of 10 or 20 deaths, but Damascus is as peaceful as it was last Friday. The empty streets, the 10 or more empty buses waiting, engines running, the army of baton carrying men sitting, smoking, in the security compound just round the corner, all waiting to see if the protesters dare to show their faces.

The streets feel nervous – people are afraid of being out in case they are wrongly (or rightly) picked-up by the secret police. But, again, no demonstration comes my way, it seems that the protests are happening away from the capital, in the smaller poorer rural towns which have been crippled by poverty, unemployment, and corruption, the parts of Syria that are generally hidden away from tourists.

And soon life returns to normal here in Damascus, the people finally feel safe enough to come out of their homes, and I’m heading out for a pint – My taxi driver is already drunk, sipping away on his 10% alcoholic beer as he speeds along, the car, the driver, and me, swing from side to side to the Arabic music blaring out of his radio as we enter the glitzy old city.

Another Friday is almost over, tomorrow is another day for this troubled country, a day when 60 more families will morn 60 loved ones killed simply for demanding freedom. My cab driver hands me his beer as I get out of the car, I take a swig, hand it back, and walk off into the Damascus night.

Bin Laden was killed on my birthday

02 May 2011

I awoke in sleepy old Damascus with nothing much on my mind, so I went downstairs and was greeted by the receptionist who told me that the American’s had killed Osama Bin Laden. I sat at a table, opened my laptop to learn from my Facebook friends that it was also my birthday… I celebrated silently alone, just me and a boiled egg at breakfast in Damascus, thinking to myself that maybe I’ll have a birthday drink later with (now that I have finally managed to track him down) the guy I’ve come all the way to Syria see.

After breakfast I made a visit to my religious dentist but I couldn’t give her the chocolates I had brought for her because I suddenly noticed that they contained whisky. What a shame I thought, and decided to keep them for myself seeing as I’d just learnt that it was my birthday.

She was surprised to see me, I told her I would travel a long way for my dentist… Then I had to admit that my flight here was cheaper than the quote I was given in London for root canal treatment and a new front tooth – A tooth I lost a couple of months ago in Yemen. My dentist smiled and said quietly “I hope you never mentioned my name to security at the airport when you entered”, I suddenly get the disturbing feeling that my sheer presence here means trouble for locals; only those active in the protests seem willing to see me.

My dentist talks about ‘the situation’ with mixed views saying it is difficult to know what is going on, on one-hand the Syrian news tells its side of the story, and on the other there are, she believed, ‘exaggerated’ reports from BBC / CNN etc. But whilst she needles away at the abscesses in my head releasing globs of horrible poisonous puss she says she believes that only the president can sort this mess out. I ask her if it is too late for reforms, that the protests are like snowballs rolling down a hill, that the momentum is building for a complete change. “But change to what?” she asks, “Why break everything, you should make change through slow reforms… these protesters have no plan or idea of what they want after this”.

Later that night I ventured deep into a Palestinian refugee camp past fading posters of Yasser Arafat on the walls to meet the guy I’d come to Syria to see, “Are we safe meeting here?” I ask as we embrace – it’s been 5 months since I last saw him, “Yes it is safe they cannot come in here” he replies. Once in his home on the 4th floor of an anonymous building I hug and kiss his kids and hand out sweets and chocolates to everyone but hold back the special gift I had brought for my friend, I figured that as a good old-school communist he would be bound to appreciate the lovely royal wedding mug that I suddenly waved in-front of his bemused face, “And….. we can drink whisky from it” I excitedly proclaim as I pull out a couple of sneaky bottles of scotch from deep inside my bag.

During the evening I noticed his attention switching between from our conversation about the demonstrations and the unfolding situation in Syria to his computer and the several Facebook group-chats he has simultaneously open, he tells me his local group decide at 4am whether or not a protest is planned for that day and where and what time they will meet. Facebook has revolutionised the revolution, as well as reminding me that it was my birthday.

We drink whisky together from the royal mug and my friend tells me that the protests are taking a step forward soon, to daily activity rather then just on Friday’s. The clear motive now for all on the streets is the removal of the president and the Ba’athist regime, such thoughts were unimaginable last year when I was sitting here with the same man, yet now, everything seems almost inevitable “Though it may take a year” he says, “They have great force and we have nothing”. This time last year there was no organised opposition in Syria to speak of, just small factions from across the political spectrum, now there is a united opposition with one united goal.

My friend tells me a very sad, but all too familiar, story of a close friend of his just 22 years old, shot in the head and killed just a few days ago. The ‘secret police’ have even called him recently to say that they know he is helping to organise the protests and that when they find him they will kill him. But, unshaken, he continues – after the first protest in Syria on the 6th march he and his 14 year old son were imprisoned for 2 days, now he doesn’t take his kids.

Can we meet tomorrow I ask, “Depends if we are protesting, I will know at 4am” he replies. “What about work?” I ask. “Work?”, he laughs, “There isn’t any work, that is why we’re protesting, and even if there was there wouldn’t be enough hours in the day to do the work, our whole time is taken up with the revolution and the removal of the president”. I kiss the kids as I leave, the youngest chants the slogan heard on every protest, “We need a new government, down with Bashar Assad!” It has been a good birthday.

In the dark night I pass through the former tourist hotspot of ‘Old Damascus’ where the once full bars and hotels are now completely emptied of foreigners, I notice new touched-up portraits of the president, though I’m not sure if the new ‘photo-shopped’ revamped image can save him or his regime now.

The old billboards selling washing powder have gone, the new ones show the Syrian flag on one half and a chaotic image on the other with words written in Arabic script pronouncing that ‘It is your destiny choose between reform or ruin’.