Syria: Homs, city of humor – will it ever be joyful again?

29 February 2012
By Rula Asad, Syrian activist and journalist

"Violence" by Mohan Dehne

Homs is the trauma of Syria. In other words addressed to the international community: What is happening right now is Ruanda in Homs. We repeat and repeat again that the people there urgently need help, humanitarian intervention, but there is no echo and no reaction. So every free Syrian believes that there is no more conscience any more, anywhere in the world.
To people who argue: We do not know what happens there! I will advise them to put Homs in any internet browser they want and then chose a video and listen to what people say during any short film or just follow the pictures ….
The Syria of today is more open than ever. People are filming the daily life under shelling and are uploading everything in internet.

Unfortunately, Homs which once was the most humorous city in Syria now turned to be the saddest one. Today there is sectarian clash between Sunni Muslims against Alawit Muslims and Christians.
And at the same time the regime violently attacks Sunni Muslim areas.

Back to very beginning of the Syrian revolution: In his speech in March 2011, Bashar AlAssad told a story about two groups from different religious sects, living in close neighborhood. He argued that people from the one group will attack the other and vice versa. It was not real story at that time. It is one of the myths the regime uses to create sectarian tension and to convince people that only the regime can guarantee safety especially for religious minorities. It is a delusion.

Tote in Homs

In my opinion the regime uses this story to divide people deeply as they always did during forty years of rules of repression handed down from father to son. It is the reality but it is not totally true. There is a lot of activists from different minorities involved in freedom movement, for example: Samar Yazbek (writer, Alawit), Fadua Suliman (actor, Alawit), Basel Shehada (director, Christian) and hundreds of young people. Alawites as well as Christians are demonstrating, are being arrested and sometimes get killed. But the most of the people belonging to minorities believe that the regime lies. So they are either silent or support the regime in repressing opposition. Those ate the people who distort the image of minorities. The AlAssad regime exploits the sectarian clash to justify armed violence against rebellions areas in Homs.

A friend from Homs living in Damascus told me when I asked: How do you keep in touch with your relatives? She said: In general there is no communication. Moreover, we know if we get a connection, we will receive the news of someones death. So we do not call them even we can sometimes. (She is from a minority sect).

Another friend together with some activists founded an urgent intervention project to shelter families who fled from Homs, leaving behind them as they said: bombed and destroyed houses, dead bodies not buried, thousand of injured people and an unpredictable future.
This friend added: one of the families that fled from their home have three children who all suffer from cerebral palsy and they do not have anything just hope. Many other people suffer from chronic diseases. Pregnant women remain without any medical care.

According to the Documentation Violation Center, independence and unauthorized, in Syria there are more than one million internally displaced persons (IDPs), most of them are children and women. From Homs alone about 3000 family fled to the surrounding area of Damascus. Probably the number is much higher but at the moment no one can tell.

Two weeks ago, on my friend’s facebook page I read the following story: “From our house in Damascus there doesn’t seem to be much tension on streets. We are hosting my aunt with her daughter coming from Homs a few days before. We want to go out with them to a restaurant in the evening, but my aunt refused and hugged her daughter tightly. She cried out: No! No, we cannot go out, don’t you hear the shelling outside?! We were shocked and told her: This is not Homs, this is Damascus. But she did not believe us. The noise of the explosions was still in her mind.”
According to many activists in the field IDPs are suffering from severe traumas causing panic attacks, phobias and depression.

Certainly Homs is dived in areas where hell breaks loose and areas comparatively quiet.
In the first ones Muslim Sunni are living who demonstrate against the AlAssad regime, and in the second areas minorities such as Alawets and Christians are living.

In the zones of civil war in Homs (Bab Amor, Alinshaat, Bab Sbaa, … etc) there is a shortage of everything: it is very hard to get food or milk for the children. There are no sanitary products, no medicine. Communication, electricity and water are not available during the day because regime controls the supply. There is lack of heating and warm covering, clothes and household articles.

Most of civilian who get injured cannot receive medical treatment because the regime forces surround the district. Snipers are waiting for any movement to shoot, no matter if child, woman or man.

At present there is no intervention from the international community. The authoritarian dynastic regime continues and controls the military and security forces in Syria. But at the same time demonstrations in Homs and in many other cities will not stop. We know as Syrians no one will give us hand, no one will help us to survive. So we are seeking solidarity from civilians all over the world to feel our pain and to move for help. We ask for:
- NGOs entering Syria and helping all effected civilians
- announcing that AlAssad regime is illegal
- prosecuting all individuals involved in using armed against civilians as war criminals
- expelling Syrian ambassadors who associated with the regime
- stop selling high technology programs system to the regime

As many Syrians, I am against any kind of military intervention. It will help AlAssad more than the protesters because Russia and Iran are already providing the regime with weapons.
Finally I will challenge the regime in saying: I am Alawit women and the regime is killing civilians and not offer me any security as minority. So this lie from their side not valid anymore, and I am convinced that Bashar ALAssda is a war criminal and should be taken to court.

My personal background

In 2009, I started working on the civil society in my country. It was especially after my working experience at the press office of the Syrian Parliament (2007-2008) which was not a blessed one, that I realized the constitutional rights in Syria exist only on paper. The president of the Syrian parliament violated the rights of employees and fired me with other employment. As I have the same name of Bashar AlAssad but not the same family, the president of the parliament thought there is relative between me and AlAssad family. So he waited for a thank-you call from the Presidents’ office or any high reperentative but that call did not come. Moreover I did not send him an amount of money as many of employs did to have job there so he simply fired me. I tried to sue him but in vain. I was deeply disillusioned at that time because of the corruption of the government institutions, especially the judiciary.
After tow month, I published an article on the incident and openly criticized the behavior of the parliamentary president as an employer. My former colleagues at the parliament’s press office informed me that I was not allowed to enter parliament anymore and that they had been told to stop meeting me in public.

Anyway, as I am a positive person, I tried to work on civil society in Syria, an idea which had not yet been widespread very much at that time.
Together with a friend of mine, also a journalist, I established a project “Support of drought victims” in Syria. There are more than 1.5 million persons displaced from north east Syria to outskirts of big cities in the south and west of the country. Most of them are farmers who lost their land and cattle because of bad water management from the state and because of drought. Our project We provided camps for schooling of the children, food, clothes campaigns, documentation exhibition and awareness activities.
At times, there were more obstacles than you can imagine: no money, not many supporters, difficulties to go to the refugee camps, annoyances from the side of the secret serves, no cooperation from the side of the state etc.
My friend and I kept working and did everything by ourselves because we did not yet have a team committed to long periods of work. All our work was voluntary and required a lot of time.

During the recent unrest situation in Syria, the secret serves started arresting people who work in the field of human rights as well as anti-regime activists. And that is exactly what happened to many members of our project team just before and after my traveling to Germany on September 2011.

Five of our activists were arrested in August and September 2011: My project co-founder, a male journalist from Damascus, was arrested in September at the day of my traveling to Germany. We met in the morning to say good-bye; in the evening, I received the message that secret service agents had arrested him on his way. It was a very sad day for me. Our last conversation turned up in my dreams for a long time until he got release in January 2012. Two other male teachers from our camp schools have been arrested in August. They were released later on.
Two women, one of them a teacher in the camp school, the other an artist who started an art project in and about the camp, were arrested in September as well. Both have been released again, but interrogated more than once after their release to put continuous pressure on them. They had been kept in an overcrowded room, with no light, standing, with very poor food; political prisoners together with criminals.
All of them are very close friends to me. I spent nights awake thinking about them, dreaming of all of them. It was a very hard time.

Before I came to Germany, I made interviews with many Alawite people as part of a documentary film. (Alawi is the religious sect which Bashar AlAssad comes from. Most members of the Syrian secret serves are Alawi.) The majority of the Alawis support the regime because the regime guarantees for their safety as a religious minority. Some Alawi persons also benefit very much economically and are very close to the AlAssad clan.
Other Alawis are with the opposition movement, but the regime uses the fear of the religious minority to trigger religious clashes.

I tried to make a film to raise awareness among the people from this sect that there should be nothing to fear if the regime fell and that they should take part in the Syrian revolution. I think if someone had admitted that I shot these interviews, the secret police would have come to take my material and to arrest me to give them the names of the people I cooperated with to arrest them and so on.

Before all that, since my graduation in 2006 from the Media College of the University of Damascus, I worked as journalist for different newspapers and websites covering cultural events. In 2011, I worked as press coordinator for Oriental landscapes Festival which is a music festival.

Since March 2011, my memory is full of sounds, images and stories as it is with many Syrians of the opposition. We simply stopped our normal live to get involved in the Syrian revolution.
We simply had enough of police rule, of corruption, of repression.
On my personal level I participated in different secret action before I left Damascus, distributing brochures to raise awareness about the revolution, to encourage people to join the free movement and to hide those who were persecuted .
Here in Germany I continue to support my country by giving presentations about the political situation and by broadcasting a special radio program about Syria both politically and culturally on radio Dreyeckland/ Freiburg, Germany.

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