Tag: killing

Another Damascan Friday

Friday started with the same ominous silence, from my balcony I looked down upon the empty eerie street, I thought to myself ‘what would this day hold?’… 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.

Blood and Kisses

Blood and kisses was how I signed-off my last email to a friend enquiring who had been about life in Syria..

I sit with Ali watching videos he and his friends had uploaded to the internet (who needs state controlled news any more?), video from mobile phones and small cameras recording their demonstrations and the Syrian governments violent reactions to them… “How long will the world stand for this?” I ask Ali, “I mean how many more need to die before they take some action?” “What action?” he asked, “We don’t want an invasion, we want concerted pressure from the international community on our government to stop killing the people.” The people here don’t trust or believe the West and why should they?

Last Friday passed relatively peacefully, only 6 died on that day, an order has apparently been passed down to the military not to shoot at unarmed demonstrators.

I awoke in my room on the top floor of the hotel where I am staying – I have the whole floor and the floor below to myself, such can be the pleasures for tourists in ‘wartime’. From my balcony I could see baton wielding gangs congregating on the first floor of the empty unfinished building opposite, they were hiding, waiting for the demonstrations to begin, these guys are dressed and armed for business it was obvious to see… Maybe they will beat the protesters to death instead of shooting them.

The normally bustling market street was ghost-like, lines of empty buses, their engines running, wait to be filled with protesters to whisk them off to prison, or maybe to a football stadium (such as the football ground in Homs which is currently full), who knows… these are strange days where even the secret police don’t look so secret any more, they stand deliberately visible on every street corner, it feels like there are more police than people – a society made entirely out of security officers.

The rain hammers down again, maybe this will save some lives today I think to myself as I walk nervously past a group of large men with threatening looks in their eyes (jeez this place is making me paranoid). A friend tells me later that, “When they smash head’s open they really think they are doing good you know, they are not just here for the money… they believe the bullshit put out by the media, you know, they’re not just paid thugs”.

I watched some Syrian TV this week, it really is beyond a joke and reminded me how powerful television really can be – kids of 16 and younger making confessions about how they became caught up in this protest, how they were brainwashed by Islamists, the confessions are followed by an endless stream of images of apparently gunned-down soldiers supposedly killed by demonstrators, there is nothing on the news of the 100 or so soldiers found with gunshot wounds to the back of the head, executed (on the direct order of the presidents brother it is believed) by fellow soldiers for refusing to open fire on protesters, just a constant wall to wall stream of fear mongering reports about terrorists and Islamists trying to take over the country.

My dentist, a Ba’athist at heart, says Syrians don’t know who to believe any more, an educated woman she knows bullshit when she sees it, but equally she thinks the ‘free west’ is using wild propaganda against Syria.

An ongoing debate about the future of Syria erupted a couple of nights ago between Ali and his best friend from the Shia Ismaili sect who hates the current regime but fears, as many do, a future in the hands of the unknown, “We could be less free after your revolution” he accuses Ali in the fiery discussion, we must let Bashar try and implement his reforms.

The other day I saw a British journalist on TV he’d been caught in Homs and kicked out of the country; in an interview he repeated some interesting facts he’d heard – that Syria is a place where 15% of the population really hate the president and 20% really love him and in the middle is an undecided not so bothered middle class, and until the ‘undecided’ are mobilised there will be no revolution, but that 15% of the economy relies on tourism and people are really feeling the pain from its collapse and this could swing those middle classes to join the protests.

To add to this my own experience from talking to people is that since the killings of the demonstrators many of Bashar’s supporters have started to view their benign dictator as not so benign anymore and more like the sort of hard line dictator that this region has become known for; whatever happened to Bashar the reformer? 850 dead in just a few weeks, is it now too late to reform? The death toll in Syria far outweighs Yemen where the number stands at a mere 180 killed in a revolution that has been under way for far longer, can Syria survive the constant killing?

Last night I met a friend who says she cannot meet me again during the current crisis, she lives in one of the ‘hot areas’ where the army tanks have moved in in full force. I’d visited her home on my last trip before the unrest started, her father then seemed to be fully behind the president, now you can’t mention his name in the house, “My brother was beaten badly by the secret police and my neighbour was shot by the army but survived 2 bullets to the head” she whispered before heading off quickly into the night.