Cutting New Wounds While Healing Old Ones 08Feb12 | 0
While the violent crackdown on protesters cuts deep into the body of the Syrian people, ironically a healing of old wounds is simultaneously taking place. For the first time in history, Syrians have begun to publicly mourn the Hama massacre, surfacing thirty years of repressed anger and sorrow. While nearly everyone from Hama has a father, brother, uncle or neighbor who died or went missing during the massacre, speaking of this dark history, let alone mourning the losses has been taboo for thirty long years. Today, as all of Syria becomes the next Hama, Syrians stand up to their oppressors and demand their dignity and human rights. They demand the right to tell the story of the Hama massacre in all of its horrific details, to mourn those who died, and to bring those responsible to justice.
Bombs, Tanks and Hydrogen Cyanide
February 2, 1982, Hafez Alassad orders the scorched earth assault of the city of Hama. Rifaat, Hafez’s brother carries out the operation systematically demolishing the city. He orders the bombing of the city centre by air to facilitate the entry of tanks and infantry through Hama’s narrow streets. Tanks roll in to tear down whatever is still standing including mosques, churches and residential buildings. Government forces use hydrogen cyanide to kill inhabitants of entire buildings. They round up thousands of men into the military airport, military camps and stadiums and leave them there to starve. Government officials ransack and loot homes, torture and rape women and children, and then burn everything down to the ground.
There is no escape from the city. All exit points are blocked off. Rifaat suspects that people are hiding in tunnels under the old city. His men pump diesel fuel into the tunnels and set them ablaze. He stations tanks at the tunnel entrances to shell anyone who attempts escape. Finally, Rifaat dispatches the military to comb through the rubble for survivors suspected of association with the opposition. They are rounded up, tortured and mass executed.
The Tentacles of Oppression Clamp on Every Aspect of Life
The Syrian government’s oppression taints various aspects of Syrian life, instilling a culture of paranoia that even infiltrates everyday language. On the rare occasion that the ugliness of the 70’s and 80’s is even mentioned, Syrians refer to what happened as the “incident” or “event,” an alarming euphemism for torture, imprisonment and mass murder. One of the first Syrians to publically expose the Assad regime’s crimes and tell her story is Heba Dabbagh. In her heartrending memoir, Just Five Minutes: Nine Years in the Prisons of Syria, she unravels this perilous period in Syria’s modern history when Mukhabarat officers hunted down anyone even remotely associated with opposition. Heba explains how when a “wanted criminal” escapes from their clutches, the Mukhabarat hold hostages, like in Heba’s case.
In the end of her memoir, Heba describes the day she is released from prison and returns to her city Hama: “As we drove across Hama, I gazed out the window at the unfamiliar scenes. The destruction of the city cast a dark shadow. The empty streets reflected empty hearts. The hum of the waterwheel’s spinning arms had been silenced. Below the waterwheels, the Assey River had run dry and the trees and fields around its banks had withered and died… But one thing remained unchanged. Mukhabarat vehicles still lurked at every street corner, their headlights peeking out of narrow roads, observing, watching, maybe even over the dreams of those sound asleep.”
However, the sorrow of not recognizing her beloved city was nothing compared to the pain of finding out that her mother, father and five of her brothers and sisters had suffered horribly during the Hama siege before they were murdered in cold blood. Today Heba speaks at protests and tears every time she relays the murder of her family, the youngest of who was four years old.
A First Step Towards Healing
This year, for the first time, Syrians around the world will break the silence and gather to memorialize the Hama Massacre. They will recount Hafez Al Assad’s crimes against humanity and call for the end of his son’s equally criminal rule. Memorials and protests will take place in New York, Toronto, London and within Syria. The wounds of the Hama Massacre have been under wraps for thirty years. This year, as a first step towards healing, Syrians will no longer refer to the Assad regime’s crimes as “incidents;” details will no longer be hushed; stories will no longer be air brushed; and the sorrow of losing so many loved ones will no longer be confined to the realm of whispers and nightmares. Ironically, while these old wounds are starting to heal, new ones are cut open.