Smashing the idols of the regime
My friend Adel recounted his memories with precision, joy, fear and anxiety at the same time. I have forgotten most of the details, blurred by the constant flow of martyrs, detainees and the endless daily pain. But Adel, from beautiful Dael, did not forget any detail, no matter how small.
“When the Tunisian president was brought down, I told my mother that I was about to join demonstrations in Syria; the regime will fall.
“My mother replied, ‘I grant you to God, just take care yourself.’
Adel, 20, was talking to me about his involvement in the revolution in his small town, about twenty kilometres from Daraa.
Adel, is a college student and his mantra is, “We are with you to death … Daraa, Homs, Banias, Syria.”
This statement reflects his courage as much it makes me sad. Young men like Adel were born to live, not to die because they love life.
Adel is proud that Dael was the first town that stood up for the city of Daraa on March 18. The young men went there to support their people, while the first demonstration in Dael itself took place on March 20.
The town has lost 13 martyrs since the beginning of the revolution. On May 8, it was attacked, immediately after the city of Daraa. Since then, like other towns and villages in Daraa, it is still trapped by the army and security forces and dismembered by barriers. Dael still also witness daily demonstrations.
In the beginning of the revolution, most of the demonstrations in Dael occurred at night because the day was devoted to Daraa. The young men walked about 60 per cent of the distance on foot and used public transport or cars to cover the rest. The crowd walked like a procession anticipating a solemn ceremony somewhere. They felt excited, longing, anxious and joyful at the same time.
“Sometimes it rained,” he recalled. “And each time the rain fell it turned out to be a bloody day. So we started to associate rain with images of martyrs.
“On March 20, I went with my friends to Daraa. When I arrived at the Omari mosque, people were gathering there,” he continued. “I asked a friend to carry me on his shoulders. He refused in the beginning, then he relented. I started cheering with all my energy all through Daraa, ‘Say oh my God, the Syrian people are great. Come on! You who love Syria.’
“That was the most beautiful moment of my life,” he recalled. “I will talk about it to all people, my children and my grandchildren. On the same day, you called me for the first time.”
I do not remember this first call. I made dozens of calls to areas which witnessed demonstrations and protests at the beginning of the revolution. However, I do remember how I was crying silently while watching what was happening in Daraa through Adel’s voice, underlined with gunfire sounds and cries from the mosques.
“After the security forces moved in and threw tear gas, many people suffocated, and the Omari mosque filled up with the wounded,” he reminded me. “Appeals for aid began. We helped in the aid operations at the time. That was the situation I was in when you called me. I was hesitant at first, because I knew the phone lines were tapped. But when I saw the wounded around me, I decided to speak and describe what I saw”
Adel’s most distinctive memories of revolution are his tales about the statues he witnessed taken down or how he participated in breaking them.
On March 16, the first statue of Hafez Assad was crushed in Dael. Those statues were deployed countrywide at town entrances and in the main squares.
“The statue was located on the new roundabout on the road to Daraa,” he said. “The night before, we had planned to destroy it. We prepared and distributed a leaflet inviting people to gather in the Airport square in order to perform this task. The next morning, we woke up to find out that the idol had already been destroyed by other young men at night. The security forces came and fully covered the roundabout before placing a new idol.
The new statue survived until March 20. Then it was destroyed again by the youth of Dael.
“We came back angry from the demonstration in the city of Daraa due to the violence practiced by the regime there,” he said. “We gathered near the Great Mosque and shouted, ‘Fazaa fazaa [help] Dael!’ We became about 2,000 people, and we cheered, ‘Freedom, freedom.’ We arrived at the old roundabout and blocked the road. The next morning, the new roundabout was decorated by the broken idol.”
Adel took part in destroying the third statue on March 25 in Daraa al-Mahatta.
“We gathered in the Airport Square in front of the governor’s house, more than 60,000 people,” he said. “We prayed for the souls of the martyrs and decided to start a sit-in at the place. Then we heard about the death of demonstrators and started shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’. Some young people tore up photos of Bashar and then started attacking the statue. I thought that it was made of bronze or lead, but it was fake statue made of cork. So we burned it instead of destroying it.”
“Four martyrs were shot by the security around the statue,” he said. “I called you and told you about the shooting and the fall of the martyrs. You began to cry. I told you, do not cry, we are victors, just pray for us. It was really the strangest scene I saw in my life. Great joy was accompanied by great fear while we were within the range of fire by the security forces and mercenaries.”
The harshest moments Adel experienced during the revolution so far were those of the massacres of Sidon and Alyadudah on April 29.
“More than 150,000 demonstrators gathered in the town of Alyadudah to lift the siege on Daraa,” he continued. “We took baby formula, water and bread with us. They opened the first barrier and some of us entered, but soon the security forces and mercenaries moved in from the surrounding wheat and olives fields and started shooting at the demonstrators. I saw people being carried on shoulders and in vegetable carts and on motorcycles, with blood streaming down, as ambulances were prevented from reaching us. Everyone was shouting, ‘Allah Akbar… No God but Allah … My life for Daraa.’
“I tried to call you, but communications were cut off,” he continued. “I felt I was choking.
“Shooting continued. There were two martyrs in Dael. I came back and went to the hospital of Tafas and got the names of the martyrs who were transferred there. The total outcome of the massacre was dozens of martyrs and wounded and hundreds of arrested.
“I arrived at my home in Dael,” Adel said. “My mother and my brothers were crying. They had heard about what happened and thought I had been killed. I was very sad and frustrated, especially that Damascus and Aleppo were asleep. However, I saw a good omen when the whole town went out for the funeral of the two martyrs from Dael.”
Adel’s disappointment about the apparent lethargy in Damascus was reinforced in one of his few visits to the capital later.
“In mid-May, I went to Damascus,” he said. “It was the first time for me since the beginning of the revolution. On the way I read a sign saying, ‘Block the sedition symbols!’ I felt that it was addressed to me. I am a symbol of sedition. I felt I was choking and this feeling increased when I found the life in Damascus normal, as if nothing is happening in other cities.”
I know how Adel feels, as Damascus is still in most parts held hostage to idols and images and the banners that refute the ‘sedition’ and incite against the ‘instigator.’
Nevertheless Adel, like other revolutionary youth, is sure that Syria will be free. He is planning for that moment right now.
“The first thing I’ll do when the regime falls is visit the Omari mosque, because I have not visited it since the army entered Daraa,” he said. “Also, I want to visit Banias and Al-Baida Square. I will invite all my friends to my home,” Adel added.
Perhaps he will invite all of us to his wedding when he finds, as he wishes, a bride from Banias whom he loves and which, he said, was one of the first cities that “supported” Daraa.