Syria, After Five Years the People Still Scream, "Freedom"
[Moadamiyeh is 6 miles southwest of Damascus in an area called Western Ghouta. It has been under siege on and off
for years and was gassed with chemicals several times, most horribly in 2013. Ten years ago the city had a population of 90,000
and was known for its olive orchards. Dani Qappani lives in the city and has been interviewed by international media, most recently
by Richard Engel of NBC TV news.]
By Dani Qappani
On the 5th anniversary of the Syrian Revolution (March 15, 2016), I wrote this about the last five years in ?#?Moadamiyeh? and what we've been through.
I was not sure whether to begin at the beginning or the end, but here we go.
On the 21th of March 2011 we in Moadamiyeh thought that the day had finally come to end the horrible era of the Assad regime, that we would be heard by the entire world, and, like the Egyptians, we would be able to overthrow our dictator.
We woke from our age of nightmares. We held signs having with one word, Freedom, raised our voices with only one word: Freedom. Thousands of us gathered in the square calling for Freedom.
The Assad regime responded with their worst; hundreds of security men and shabeeha [thugs] ran towards us carrying sticks and machine guns. We stood still and raised our voices higher saying: "We all are brothers in Syria. We want freedom. Come and join us in a free Syria ".
They joined us, only to shoot and beat us.
Most of us were detained, the rest fled the area.
The same scenario happened every single week. We didn't stop protesting, even though we lost someone every time we protested and Assad militias sent their bullets towards peaceful civilians.
After a year, the world hadn't been ready to hear us, to stand by us or to stick to its so-called principles. And that's why Assad felt able to do whatever it took to oppress Syrians.
Assad decided to call for the help of Iran when he couldn't stop the wheels of the revolution after it expanded and reached every part of Syria, even Qirdaha - Assad's home village.
They used car bombs as a way of killing and scaring people who broke the chains of fear and tyranny.
At this time, 2012, the first steps of the siege was imposed on the city. Electricity was cut off, Assad's forces surrounded us, with Al Mazza airforce base from the east, the Fourth Division of the army on Moadamiyeh's mountains from the north, the chemical base from the west and a branch of the Palestine Liberation Front from the south.
We didn't know what "seige" meant. We didn't know what hunger, malnutrition, missiles, barrel bombs and chemical weapons mean.
People started to run out of food and the only field hospital had little medicine. There was shelling with mortars, artillery and airstrikes every single day, causing many injuries and dead. The FSA fighters were around the city defending their families' lives while the Assad regime was trying to kill us with shelling.
We felt like there were no air to breathe, no light to see but fire in smoke, no smell to be recognized but the smell of blood and death, and no sounds but the sounds of cries and explosions.
Everything began to change its shape, buildings, trees, faces and even morals.
The international community changed its mind slightly regarding the situation. They acted like they meant it when they said, " Assad has to leave power". Assad militias and Hezbollah had committed hundreds of crimes and massacres against Syrians.
We thought it was a matter of time that they would force him to leave, but we were wrong.
Conferences began, conferences ended, Friends of Syria came, Friends of Syria went and no one kept their promises.
Assad found a great opportunity to break the patience and resistance of people.
He decided to step on Obama's Red Line and took a great step towards an unprecedented crime. A crime that would punish children for being born in an opposition-held area and punish birds for singing to an FSA fighter.
At 5.30 a.m, August 21, 2013, three rockets carrying chemicals were launched towards residential neighborhoods in Moadamiyeh.
Can you imagine a child dying without any scratch or sound? Can you imagine a mother suffocating holding her baby?
I can now remember some of many sentences I heard that day - a mother was crying and screaming at her child who suffocated. She said: "May Allah take your soul, Assad. You killed my boy. He was hungry. He slept without having any food. Damn you Bashar."
Eighty-three civilians died at that day while hundreds were injured, even the doctors and media activists.
"It's either now or never," said one of the people said referring to the international community; they would force the Assad regime to leave power or to put him on trial for this unforgivable sin and crime.
US moved its warships. We were happy that we were about to saved at last and the bloodbath was about to be over.
We were prepared mentally and psychologically to witness the strikes that would target the canons and tanks that took our children's lives; for Assad to be forced to finally step down.
Unfortunately, we were as wrong as much as we were devastated.
The play was uncovered. The so called international community decided to destroy the chemical arsenal of Syria - the one and only deterrent weapon Syria had. It was the Syrians' not the Assad regime's. Also, that wasn't the appropriate punishment for killing thousands of innocent civilians with gas.
We lost faith in all who pretended to be by our side; the right side.
Three months later, we had lost 15 innocent souls of children and women due to malnutrition and lack of medicine.
The medical definitions of malnutrition meant little to use. For us, it meant pain in the bones, head, stomach, eyes and every part of the body, until nothing could stop the agony but death.
When a child died of hunger, the entire city mourned and turned to black.
We lost hope after more than 1,500 civilians were killed by Assad's bombings and shelling, 1,500 detainees, more than 70,000 displaced and half of the city collapsed and destroyed.
On Dec, 25th, 2013, We decided to stop at this point and to save lives by accepting a truce with Assad - a ceasefire during which we would get food, medicine and peace. We were the first city in Syria to accept such a truce.
During this time, the Assad regime secretly aimed to force the people of Moadamiyeh to surrender and to take back control over the city; to achieve what its militias couldn't after three years.
They promised those who had been displaced from the city that they could return. Assad regime said they would rebuild houses and return services and no one would be detained for being from Moadamiyeh.
Becoming tired of living outside their houses and not being able to pay expensive rents, they believed the regime and returned to the destroyed city. The population grew to 40,000 civilians again, where there were 8,500 before the truce.
Then Assad militias blocked off the only passage, which was authorized to be the only way to get to and out of the city and it links Moadamiyeh to Damascus. They blocked it with no clear reason.
People were scared and confused, "Are we going to be besieged again? ", but we understood when we heard that tomorrow would be the day of Presidential Election. We didn't take notice of the election as for us, Assad was a thug.
They spread news inside the city that if you want to get food, you have to elect Bashar Assad as a president.
What would hungry people do? What would mothers who couldn't feed their children do?
Believe me, a few people were forced to elect him just to get food, but most of the people didn't. "I wouldn't elect the criminal even if me and my children die" one of the women said.
Nothing changed for them until July 2014 when UN made it to the city bringing food and medicine after a Security Council's resolution which forced the Assad regime to allow UN to deliver aids to besieged areas.
Our bodies were weak already. We all needed food and medical care and were happy to get food, which we forgot its smell and taste, and live some days in peace without shelling and seeing blood and death.
On Feb, 16th, 2015, all of our hopes and promising days were just fantasies and gone with the wind when the Assad militias blocked off the passage again and cut off water after Assad's media crew came to the city and left angry because people raised the revolution flags and protested against Assad in front of their cameras.
This block-off lasted for months. People started to suffer more and more with no food, medicine, water and even safety because Assad militias would target the city with mortars every day. There was a curfew. And many preferred putting their lives in danger by collecting herbs from dangerous areas than seeing their kids dying without being able to feed them.
Three children died due to severe malnutrition and 40 other civilians because of bombing, not to mention hundreds of injuries.
The world was busy with their puppet, ISIL, while turning an eye to Assad crimes against Syrians.
We were fed up with all the news, the nonsense of UN's Statements and craziness of NATO which all didn't feed a starving child or treat an injured woman not to mention that they still acknowledge the criminal Assad by keeping his representative in UN.
We felt like we were their game, their play when they were bored.
During this time, and after negotiations with the regime, the passage was 25% unblocked. They allowed civilians to leave and return to the city but not to bring anything with them, even a biscuit or a bit of medicine.
And the one who rescued his life to bring a loaf of bread to his/her hungry children, he/she was humiliated and beaten from the militias of Assad. Civilians used to go through three check-points of Assad while going out or returning and, for them, it was like a journey to hell because they were forced to take off all clothes, even children, then the militias search for any food or medicine in their pockets and bodies.
As Gogo of "Waiting for Godot" says, there is "nothing to be done"; we were helpless and hopeless. Nobody cared or minded what we've been through and not just that- Russia decided to empower Assad after he lost control over more than 80% of Syria. It was a scandal when were stabbed in the heart and then someone else stabbed you in the back at the same time. That was our condition.
In late September 2015, with Russian and Iranian support, Assad moved its militias to the south and east of the city in an attempt to invade the whole area in a Russian plan to separate between Moadamiyeh and Daraya, the neighboring opposition-held city, with the help of airstrikes, barrel bombs, missiles, mortars, tanks, minesweepers and thousands of Assad and Hizballah militias.
People lived in complete fear but FSA fighters managed to halt them for ninety days although their weapons were only AK-47 and mines. It was, as usual, an unfair war, but the right cause always triumphs.
The Assad regime was shamed in front of the entire world because its militias, even with the help Russian commanders and unprecedented bombings, not to mention massacres committed against civilians and a toxic gas massacre in Dec, 22, 2015 killing 5 people and injuring dozens, couldn't control a two kilometers area for ninety days and three months.
So, on December 25 they sent a message through our negotiate committee. The message said: "Either you surrender and put down your arms, leave the city or you all are going to be annihilated ". We all took a decision not to surrender or to leave our houses, then Assad had the excuse and blocked off the passage completely to revenge his dignity in front of his supporters.
They've prevented all people to go out or return, even students and employees. They also have prevented the urgent humanitarian cases who needed urgent medical care, from being taken out to Damascus, because the only field hospital was unable to provide anything to the suffering people because of the crippling siege.
While the military war continued, so did the battle of starvation.
45,000 civilians were being starved and bombed to death. We were also freezing to death because there was no fuel or gas to get heating and even wood was dangerous to be brought from our olive groves due to bombing and snipers.
In just one month, 9 civilians died due to severe malnutrition and lack of medicine, 5 of them were children. 40 civilians were killed in bombings.
At this point in time, the superpowers were having meetings to stop the bloodbath which was running in Syria, in general, and especially in Moadamiyeh when they were sitting on one table
They agreed on a ceasefire truce for 15 days and to deliver aid to the besieged cities.
Actually, it's something indescribable to get food, even when it wouldn't be enough for more than a month, and not to be frightened by explosions or even a sound of a bullet.
Still, we never forget we're imprisoned in 2 kms area and that the passage is still blocked for the 78th consecutive day.
The Assad militias and tanks are still making it hard for us to breathe.
If you ask anyone in Moadamiyeh about their needs nowadays, he /she would demand for the sieges to be broken, to lift the checkpoints, unblocking of the passages, releasing detainees and of course the fall of the Assad regime
Last but not least, after five years of Assad's killing, bombings, destruction and imprisonments, the Syrian people are still protesting against Assad, never caring about their abandonment by the international community, even by Arabs. They raise the same flags and signs with the same word painted them, screaming of the same word: "Freedom."
#Moadamiyeh, #?Damascus?, #?Syria?
March, 15th, 2016
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