[Marxism] The regime tore apart the author's hometown in 2012
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Mar 26 08:25:32 MDT 2018
Wall Street Journal, March 26, 2918
The regime tore apart the author's hometown in 2012. Now he reports on
Syrians experiencing the same fate
by Nour Alakraa
I spend my days trying to reach Syrians hiding from the war that is
still raining down on them -- even as I try to forget my own experience
of that war six years ago.
In recent weeks, I have been able to connect by phone and text with
people in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta. They are taking cover
in basements and tunnels, scavenging for food to feed their hungry
children. They utter brave sentiments even as I hear the fear quivering
in their voices.
I am ashamed at some of the questions I must ask: How are you feeling?
What is it like underground? What happens when the rockets hit nearby?
Sometimes they reply sharply: Are you serious with these questions?
It is only then that I tell them I'm from the city of Homs, from the
neighborhood of Baba Amr -- the first place that the regime of Bashar
al-Assad surrounded and bombed into submission, back in 2012. The
government wanted to force rebels to withdraw but also to make an
example of the city.
This revelation establishes an immediate bond between me, a Syrian
journalist exiled in Germany, and them, Syrians being bombed by their
own government. Eastern Ghouta is one of the last rebel-held pockets
that the regime wants to capture as it consolidates control.
Before Eastern Ghouta there was Wadi Barada. And before that, Aleppo.
And before that too many towns and neighborhoods to list. All of them
subjected to the same playbook of siege and bombardment: Starve or
Baba Amr, a low-income area on the edge of Homs, was the setting for
many of my happiest childhood memories, as the spoiled youngest child of
five. I would go every morning to buy fresh baked pita bread and a piece
of cake or pastry at the neighborhood bakery. The owner, Abu Hasan,
never called me by my name. He referred to me as ibn al aanseh -- son of
the teacher -- a show of respect to my mother, who was the principal of
the elementary school.
At the age of 16, I took my first date to a small clearing in Baba Amr
that could barely be called a park. I didn't have any money to buy her a
soda or bag of chips. We just sat on a bench and talked for hours.
My parents made education our priority and encouraged us to focus on
learning English. My dad would always say, "English will help you in
your future." In 2010 I began my first year at the university in Homs,
studying civil engineering.
In 2011, as the effort of Syrians to participate in the "Arab Spring"
turned into a civil war, Baba Amr was one of the first areas taken by
antigovernment rebels, and it soon became a target of the regime. When I
saw people I knew being shot, I became an activist and used my knowledge
of English to reach out to human rights organizations.
What we experienced in Baba Amr pales in comparison to what residents of
Ghouta are living through, but I can relate. I know the answer to my own
journalistic question about the sound of an approaching rocket: The
terrifying whoosh makes you wonder if this will be the moment that your
soul leaves your body.
After some 20 days of incessant siege and shelling, I fled Baba Amr with
others who had been in hiding with me. We waited until nightfall and
sneaked toward the edge of the neighborhood, which had been bombed so
much that most landmarks were unrecognizable. We finally reached an
unfinished water pipe, measuring about five feet high by three feet wide.
For two hours we walked, bent over, through the dank pipe. The smell of
mold was suffocating, and there was no light visible at the end of it to
guide us. When we finally reached the opening, we had to stay quiet and
couldn't even light a cigarette because an army checkpoint was nearby.
In the six years since I left Baba Amr, I have tried to leave behind
these painful memories and to draw attention to the suffering of the
Syrian people. I was inspired by the brave American journalist Marie
Colvin, who worked for the U.K.'s Sunday Times.
Marie and I lived in the same large house in Baba Amr -- a group of
activists had rented it, and when journalists later moved in, I became a
"fixer" helping some of them to navigate dangerous areas and meet
sources. When Marie and I both managed to escape, I was just relieved
and happy to be safe, but she couldn't stop thinking about the people
still trapped inside, and she went back.
She called CNN, the BBC and other television outlets to tell viewers,
"The Syrian army is simply shelling a city of cold, starving civilians."
The next day she was killed when shells struck her building.
The idea that Marie sacrificed her life to help my people lighted a way
forward for me. I became a journalist myself to try to tell these hard
truths about what was happening in Syria and, maybe, to prompt foreign
leaders to do something to stop the bloodshed.
In 2012, Syria wasn't as complicated as many Western leaders say that it
is now. I hoped that the United Nations and the civilized powers of the
world would quickly intervene to force a political solution. That didn't
I continued to report on those who didn't make it out of Syria. That
meant I was never far from my own war memories, and sometimes the
feelings they provoked were as raw as the day I first experienced them.
In 2015, when a resident of the town of Moadamia, under siege for two
years, told me about the crippling hunger they were experiencing, I
understood. I remembered not having eaten for two days and feeling as if
I were drunk, no longer able to think properly or make a decision.
In 2016, when I saw images from Aleppo of 5-year-old Omran -- the
bloodied, bruised child pulled from rubble who briefly caught the
world's attention -- I remembered seeing my neighbors and their children
running through the streets barefoot to escape from the shells landing
around them. I recalled seeing the mangled bodies of children in the
field hospital and wondering, "Why did they deserve this? Why were they
being attacked so far away from the front lines?"
Now, as the Assad regime captures more and more of Eastern Ghouta, I
have found it harder to connect with my sources on the ground. Are they
still alive? Did the regime arrest them?
My anxiety for them brings back memories of the days when regime forces
were advancing into Baba Amr, taking the neighborhood street by street,
pushing us into a shrinking pocket. I can still feel that panic, like a
hand gripping my stomach from the inside. We feared being caught and
arrested, not knowing what the soldiers would do to us. One of my
friends suggested that we hide in a small water tank on the roof of his
house. In the end, we fled. I've not been back since.
When Assad's forces stormed Baba Amr, my childhood home was ransacked,
and my bike, TV and even my teddy bear were stolen. My family is now
scattered among Homs, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Germany.
Ghouta will end up under Assad's control, like all the previously
besieged areas. Some of its people will flee from their homes, as I did,
hoping perhaps that their children will be able to return one day.
Others will stay and suffer more, which seems to be the Syrian people's
punishment for daring to rise up and resist their brutal government.
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