Chapter One: The beginning
The Syrian revolution started on March 15th 2011, but that isn’t the beginning I want to start with. I shall start at the very beginning, back when I was a child.
I was born in 1984, a couple of years after the massacre that took place in Hama. Syria changed after that massacre, people got scared, and the secret intelligence were widely active all over the country. I remember hearing the phrase “Walls have ears” when I was a very young boy.
I was raised in the city of Homs, and I was a happy child. My parents were very good to me and my brothers and sister, and school was great as well, or so I thought at the time.
I was a part of Al Baath Scouts “Talae3 Al Baath” when I was in elementary school, just like everybody else in my generation, and I had absolutely no idea what does “Talae3 Al Baath” mean, again, like everybody else. We were taught many things at a very young age, and those things were stuck in my head even though I didn’t completely understand them. There were songs and mottos to repeat on daily bases, and I will share some of them with you.
" يحيا يحيا مين حبيب الملايين
بطل تشرين الصامد أبو سليمان القائد"
Translation:” Long live, the one who’s loved by the millions, the hero of October, Abu Suliman the leader” Abu Suliman is what we used to call Hafez Assad, it changed to Abu Basel a while after.
The first commandment of Al Baath Scouts is: "نحن نحب وطننا العربي الكبير و قطرنا السوري و حزب البعث العربي الاشتراكي"
Translation: “We love our big Arab world, our country Syria, and Al Baath party.”
"طلائع طلائع يحيا الوطن
طلائع طلائع لرفع العلم
طلائع طلائع لبعث العرب
سيروا سيروا بعزم الأسد
صيحوا صيحوا عاش الأسد عاش الأسد عاش الأسد"
“ Scouts Scouts Long live the homeland
Scouts Scouts To raise the flag
Scouts Scouts For Al Baath of Arabs
March March With Assad’s strength
Shout Shout Long live Assad, Long live Assad, Long live Assad”
وحدة وحدة وحدة”
حافظ يا حرية حافظ يا اشتراكية يا روح الأمة العربية
حافظ يا حافظ حافظ يا حافظ"
Unity Unity Unity
Hafez you’re freedom, Hafez you’re socialism, you’re the soul of the Arab nation
Hafez oh Hafez Hafez oh Hafez
الى الأبد الى الأبد يا حافظ الأسد"”
Translation: Forever and ever Hafez Assad
There is a ton more of this stuff, and I don’t have them all in mind but I still have my brother’s Scouts’ notebook with all of that and more handwritten and dated 1988. These all were being taught in elementary schools since before I was in and long after. I remember pieces of many other songs and mottos, all praise the leader Hafez Assad and the Baath party.
At home, things weren’t much different. My parents used to tell me how great our leader is, and how much we all should love and respect him, and I believed them.
Elementary school went fast, and I got into a new chapter of my life, I was a seventh grader in an all male school now, and that’s when things started to change dramatically.
The year is 1990, we were now forced to wear a military dark green uniforms to school, and big black military boots to go with them. Checking our uniforms was the first thing the teachers do in the morning, right after we salute the flag, sing the Syrian national anthem, and repeat three new mottos.
"أمة عربية واحدة ذات رسالة خالدة"
"أهدافنا: وحدة حرية اشتراكية"
"عهدنا: أن نتصدى للامبريالية والصهيونية والرجعية وأن نسحق أداتهم المجرمة عصابة الأخوان المسلمين العميلة"
One Arab Nation with an immortal mission (Or message)
Our Goals: Unity, Freedom, Socialism.
Our Oath: To confront the Zionist and imperialist and reactionary forces and smash their criminal instument the Muslim Brotherhood"
These three mottos and the same uniform stayed with us till college.
When I first went to the seventh grade I was a child being taught how to become a man, and a part of being a man in Syria was to adore the leader and start to be a serious part of something called The Revolution Youth "Al Shabiba”.
We all were forced to join this youth movement and to attend the weekly meetings where we were taught new mottos of course. Then we were forced to go out in mass marches every now and then to support the leader Hafez Assad and Al Baath party. They used to take us out of the classes, organize us, give us photos of Hafez Assad, or big banners to hold. We used to like these marches for two reasons: 1- No school. 2- We see girls from the all school girls. They take us on long walks while we’re holding those pictures and banners, and they make us sing and repeat the mottos that we all know by heart to support the leader and of course to praise the occasion. Those occasions were 1- The birth of Al Baath party. 2- The October war. 3- March 8th: Where Al Baath Party took over the presidency. 4- The day that Hafez Assad took over the presidency (الحركة التصحيحة). There are more but those were the most memorable ones. Of course many of those occasions were made into a national holiday so we used to go a day before it, unless it wasn’t made into a holiday like April 7th (The “birth” of Al Baath Party).
Anyway, things started to change, and I started to hear things every now and then, things like “This kid’s father has been in jail since 3 months before he was born” and “That kid’s father died in Hama in the 80’s”. No one talked about these things loudly. No one. That’s when I started asking questions.
One of the mottos we started repeating daily when we started the 7th grade was talking about us promising to eliminate the “traitorous” Muslim Brotherhood movement. I never knew what Muslim Brotherhood was, and I had no idea why we must hate them so much. In fact, most of us had no idea what the motto says word by word, we used to move our lips and make funny noises until it ends since it’s a big motto. And by the time I got to the 9th grade, I started learning things. I was introduced to the nicest kid, he was such a nerd, and I liked him. His father was in jail, and when I asked him about the reason his dad was locked up, he said that the government thinks he’s in the Muslim Brotherhood. That kid never met his father. He never talked about him, and he said that his mother told him never to talk about him to anyone.
I went home that day and asked my parents about the Muslim Brotherhood, and about that kid’s father, about what he did to deserve being locked up for years in a secret place that nobody knew, no one even knew if he’s still alive. My father told me that the Muslim Brotherhood was an armed Islamic extremists group who killed many good men in Syria in the 80’s and that Hafez Assad killed them all.
He also told me never to say their name again and never to talk about them or ask about them ever again. I knew that he was hiding something but I didn’t ask about it.
Satellite dishes were banned at the time is Syria, and there were only two channels on TV, both government channels, there was no internet, and political books and magazines were banned as well, and that’s why I couldn’t get an answer. I had to ask again a while after that, but still no answer.
I finished the 9th grade and moved into a new school, I was 14, and I had too many questions. My brother was 19, so I sat with him and I asked him. He was scared. He took me into our bedroom and started telling me the truth. The truth about everything.
He said that Hafez Assad is a bad man, and that he and his brother are murderers. He told me about the secret intelligence and how they’re everywhere and hear everything. He said that some of his friends know more about the Muslim Brotherhood since they’re older and they remember what happened in Hama.
I obviously was shocked, but at that point, it all made perfect sense to me. My parents lied because they wanted to protect me. All parents lied for that reason. They were scared. Everyone is scared. They all know people who were killed in the massacre of the 80’s. It didn’t only happen in Hama, many were killed in Homs and Aleppo as well, and many more disappeared. Talking about this was like signing a death sentence.
After that, I started listening to what they say in Al Baath party and Al Shabiba meetings. I started reading what they write on the banners that we must hold many times a year. I started paying attention to the world around me. That’s when I started hating everything about them.
They made me hold things I didn’t believe in. They made me repeat things I don’t understand. They made me cheer for a murderer and a dictator. Everything I knew was a lie. They’ve ruined me.
That’s when I started running away from their marches. I didn’t care about going out for the girls anymore. It all seems so ridiculous now. I know the truth. I know what’s going on and I can’t be a part of it. Plus, no one cares since every student in every school and every employee at every government department or service is out and in the street cheering for the leader, the killer. Men, women, and children, all gathered from all around the city, holding his photos, singing his name, thanking him for all the great things he did, for killing their fathers, and putting their kids in jail. My eyes were finally open, but there’s nothing to do but to act like everything’s okay, that I still believe.
At least, now, I know.