Syrian citizens share their experiences
In August 2012 Syrian government forces invaded the city of Daraya and brought about the worst single massacre the country had ever seen. The body count exceeded 400 in the town alone and Syria has since then accumulated a death toll of an estimated 130,000. Bringing stories of these horrors to Saint Louis University, survivors of the massacre shared their experiences on Feb. 5 during their North American tour “Voices from Syria.”
The cosponsored event consisted of three panel speakers, each with a different story to tell about the Syrian tragedies and crimes of the Assad regime. An Arabic translator helped the men to account their experiences while photos from the massacre were displayed.
“In Syria, we got used to death,” the first speaker, Mohamad Khir Alwazir, summarized of the terrors he saw in Syria. Alwazir was imprisoned for his involvement in the revolution against the Assad regime. He reported experiencing beatings, electric shock and whippings while in prison, and he commented that international pressure ultimately led to his release. Afterwards, however, Alwazir lost his wife when his city was bombed in March of 2012.
The second speaker, Anas al-Dabas, recounted similar tragedies as he spoke of the massacre in Daraya.
“I could have just as easily been one of the people massacred,” said al-Dabas. His building was one of the first raided in Daraya and he described how soldiers forced residents to strip their upper-body clothing before being interrogated. If soldiers declared anyone suspicious, or simply disliked their eye color, the citizens were immediately executed. Neighboring buildings were subjected to heavy gunfire and bodies were found within each home.
Al-Dabas recounted that all protests at the beginning of the revolution were peaceful but Assad’s army met them with violent retaliation.
Not having experienced these current violent encounters first-hand, the last speaker was an older prisoner of the Syrian regime. Oussama Chourbagi was part of a group wanting to help the city of Daraya, and after fearing he would be captured wrote to his family saying, “Today I choose my freedom and your freedom.” His family didn’t receive the letter, however, as a chemical bomb was later dropped near his home.
In October of 2012 Chourbagi helped establish the Local Council of Daraya, an organization based on the unification of revolutionary forces. The council aims to provide services to the besieged city and to work towards the removal of Assad’s regime. They continue to demand the release of detainees, including children, and serve as a reminder of the continued suffering of the people of Daraya.
Chourbagi left the audience with a wish: “May God help those who have actually seen the massacres.”
The panelists asked the audience to serve as “ambassadors of truth” and to carry their messages of the tragedies in Syria on with them. They acknowledged the dark times still ahead but said they remain hopeful for the future.
“These revolutions don’t happen overnight,” said Chourbagi.