They are the Syrians and they are Counting their Massacres
“Jdaidet Artouz”.. All the Bodies were in Pajamas
Damascus – Rosa Yassin Hassan
In spite of the dark smoke and the smell of fire that filled the air around us, my cousin said to me: “let us go down and find out what happened”.
Hours had passed while we were hiding in our houses, like frightened mice who did not dare to go out. It was said that they were killing everyone who gets out of the old neighborhood in “Jdaidet Artouz” (1). Many houses had been burning around us since Friday morning. I saw the columns of smoke and inhaled its smell.
We followed groups of women and children, who were with a small number of men, jogging towards the olives orchards. They were out of breath; heading to a pre-determined destination, near the orchards. Suzuki pickup trucks were parked near each other, full of bodies that were covered with colored blankets and sheets; there were tens of dormant colored blankets.
One woman of those who were running got on the truck; she lifted her long black gown, indulged herself among the corpses, and started removing the covers off the faces of the dead. One blanket after another, she was returning one to uncover another. The fifth corpse, whose eyes were fully open towards the sky, seemed to belonged to her husband.
I did not recognize the woman. I was told that she is from the “Marbeya” family. But she embraced the pale face, and started swearing and shouting without tears.. her face’s color was almost identical to his.
A young man from the “Bilal” family was running between the Suzuki trucks. I saw him coming from a distance, wearing a pajama. Then, he started picking up the blankets one after another; his face was pale as a ghost without any expression. I wanted to call him and salute him, although it was not an appropriate time for any salutation when he lifted another blanket, and then sat down on ground, and started weeping loudly, holding his head with his hands.
When I got closer to him, “Abdulqader Bilal” was laying there. He was not anything like the “Abdulqader” I knew. He looked like a doll with knife cuts on its neck, shocked and frightened.
Feet under the blankets looked pale and dry! I saw our neighbor’s son, that brown young man, I forgot his name; his eyes were steadily looking up. Next to him laid “Farouq Al Boukaei”; his head was opened up and his brain was out on the floor of the Suzuki [pickup truck]. It seemed he had been severely tortured since he was arrested on Wednesday, a couple of days ago. His feet were bare and swollen under the white sheet that covered him; the pajama he wore was stained with blood.
There was a red blanket wrapped around a young man from “Al Samawi” family, who was wearing a pajama as well.
Another blanket, decorated with floral patterns, was full of coal fragments. When it was pulled away, I saw the shoulders of a young man with a ball of shrunk coal, which was supposed to be his head! His brain was charred, and the smell of grill filled the air around.
It was said that he was perhaps “Tareq Bilal” or “Khaled Al Bukaei” since it was rumored the two were burned. From “Al Bukaei” family alone, 17 young men were killed during the past two days. A while later, a man that I did not know came and recognized the burned corpse from its slippers and pajama; it was his son, he was raving with his name and lamenting next to him.
“What is his family name, sir?” they asked him, but he did not answer.
“What is his family name, uncle?” They cried again, but again he did not answer.
All the bodies were in pajamas. They were at their homes when they were arrested or killed.
I was wearing a pajama as well, and so was my cousin. We were still in pajamas when we stood stunned beside the mass grave, that long hole which was newly excavated among the olive trees to contain all the victims that “Jdaidet Artouz” lost over the past two days.
“We didn’t bury them in the village’s graveyard so that they wouldn’t ambush us and kill more of us…we’ll bury them here without a funeral, we are fed-up with death…enough… we’ve had enough” An old man said answering a question from someone.
While we were there, witnessing the burial of the bodies, a man shouted from a distance:
“Another body is thrown beside the water tank.. let us bring it here guys”..
A Suzuki truck rushed there along with two young men.
The massacre is quite an easy thing…this is what I learned. It is so easy to commit a massacre in our country. Just besiege the area and enter it to kill the people. Bullet by bullet, shot by shot, and it is all over. There would be no consolation, no funeral ceremony, no one on the streets…this is how the massacres are, and all what is left
This was part of (N)’s narrative about what happened in “Jdaidet Artouz” wherein he lives.
However, when you ask a regime supporter about why the massacre of “Jdaidet Artouz” happened, he would say it is because of what the “terrorists” did when they attacked the police station there, and how they dragged some policemen out of the station and killed them; then they entered the station and blew it up. Then on 29/07, those “terrorists” killed a brigadier and two of his guards. His body was left in the car for about two hours, and no one came to take it.
But the two massacres perpetrated in “Jdaidet Artouz” on Wednesday 1/8 and the following Friday, did not happen among the rebels, as they have had withdrawn from the entire area. The massacres killed the young men who were in their homes, and if they were armed, the two massacres would not have had happened that simply.
For instance, two weeks ago, on the first day of Ramadan, a raid was launched on “Jdaidet Artouz” by the 100th Regiment and armed members of “Al-Masakin” [an area that is loyal to the regime], supported by three tanks which had taken position at “Al Jala’a” Street, “Ghalep Marbeya” Street and the Orchards area. Clashes ensued and as a consequence the raid ended with 12 members of the regime forces killed and the rebels seizing two military vehicles and a DShK machinegun.
The regime security forces took their soldiers who were killed that day, stripped them of their military uniforms, leaving them only in their underwear. Within a few moments, a camera came out of a tank, and started filming the corpses piled up and then followed the tanks. Later, the film was presented in the official Syrian media, claiming it was footage of a group of terrorists that the Syrian army had eradicated.
After two hours of clashes, Dr. Ziad Al Bukaei was arrested, as well as Yousef Ghunaim, a 22 year old young man who worked a carpenter and lived in “Jdaidet Artouz”. After his death, Yousef Ghunaim, who had red hair and white skin, was presented in the official Syrian media as an Afghan Jihadist who came to Syria for Jihad!
On the morning of Wednesday, the 1st of August, the signs of the first massacre were looming
A deafening quietness prevailed in the area. On that day the power was not cut off as it normally does. One helicopter continued to hover in the sky over “Jdaidet Artouz” for more than five hours following five artillery shells that were fired by the 100th Regiment in the early morning hours targeting the outskirts of “Jdaidet Artouz” in the direction of the orchards.
At 03:00pm, they stormed “Jdaidet Artouz”:
Thousands of soldiers and tens of tanks, supported by soldiers from the Forth Brigade wearing white insignias on their arms and helmets.
The local people started to go from door to door to warn the young men, telling them that the army had stormed the area, and everyone who is under 40 old years must run away. But many of the young men stayed at their homes, as they thought they had done nothing, except a demonstration here or a minor activity there. This what I thought as well: “I had done nothing to be feared.. I will stay home”. But the people returned and told me that 75 young men were arrested from the neighboring streets although they did nothing and I must run away, and so I did.
Sounds of breaking the shops’ locks were deafening us: One shot to the lock, then breaking the glass facades and looting the shops. My friend convinced me to run away to the orchards. I saw young men running to the meadow, where we can hide among the olive trees.
There was a barricade set up by the regime forces at the end of “Al-Deir” [Church] street, and another barricade in the opposite direction. Apparently, they intended to besiege the young men in the meadow, but we had no other way. We sat in the meadow under the trees. Then a young man on a motorbike passed by, covering his face with a mottled Keffiyeh. He looked carefully at us, and was gone. Then minutes later, a shell hit us, causing the sand and stones to jump in our faces. Tens of us run away in the other direction although I could see nothing in my eyes, the dust was blinding me, and I heard sounds of shots being fired. It was increasingly getting more rapid and closer. I felt my friend grabbing my hand and pulling me to the right and then back towards the olive orchards, as there was another barricade in front of us shooting at us.
My eyes were burning so I closed them, and heard the sound of the tanks crackling on the asphalt, the sounds of artillery shells from far, and sounds of shots being fired from here and there. Although the armored vehicles and tanks had besieged the orchards, I managed to escape. I tried to convince my friend to run with me but he refused. I told him “if we are going to die then at least our parents will know about it”.
But he insisted to stay in the orchards.
All those who stayed there were killed, many of them were slaughtered by knives.
“Mohamed Al Khateeb” and “Abdulrazaq Bilal” were hanged using telephone cables on one of the olives trees. Meanwhile, and while I was jogging pass the public square, the regime forces were arresting the young men from their houses and gathering them at the square. Most of them were in pajamas. I estimated that there were about 150 young men.
The soldiers piled them up, with their hand tied to their backs, and started trampling on them, shouting out loud: “Do you want freedom?” and swearing and insulting them … their shrieking shouts and the surrounding silence staying with me while I was running away to the unknown.
Later, I was informed that seventeen young men were selected to go to the “Ghalib Marbeya Al-Jadidah” school with the soldiers and tanks. When the regime soldiers could not open the school door, they stormed it with a tank and opening a hole in one of its walls which is still there today, a witness to what had happened.
There, they aligned the young men to the internal wall of the school, with their shirts up to their heads so that they were handcuffed and blindfolded. A photographer came out with a portable camera; he filmed them hastily and upon his withdraw the machinegun fire started penetrating the bodies of the seventeen young men. They all were killed.
The people of ” Jdaidet Artouz” did not discover the school massacre until the army retreated from the area, and did not know the story until the official media presented the photos of their children alive and aligned to the school wall, claiming them as terrorist gunmen captured by the efforts of the “valiant” soldiers of the army.
I returned to my home and sat waiting for death. But they [regime soldiers] did not come. Long hours passed, longer than ages. I started hearing voices from the street calling people from in their houses:
“Come out people, come out to identify your young men, it is a massacre.. come out people”.
The locals came out to the orchards, searching for their children. I was about to go with them to check if my friends were ok, but the piercing shooting came again from the army barricades which were still set there, shooting us directly. A number of us were killed.
At a few meters away from me, there was a man with half a head, his dark brain came out on the asphalt. I felt like that my body was out of my control, and when I was about to fall from seeing similar images, my body moved hastily using its feet that were jogging but not under my command. Now, as I remember what I saw, I feel as if I had not lived through it! It is more like a terrible nightmare.
Next to “Al-Omari” old mosque, there was a soldier that could not shoot the people in such cold blood. They [regime forces] killed him; his body was thrown in a basement of a nearby building, and the bodies of four civilians that were killed were thrown above him. The five bodies were set on fire.
The smell of fire filled the whole area, and the bodies were not discovered until the sunset, when we started hearing the news of the massacre.
After we made sure that the army and the security forces retreated we got out of our houses…and I was among those who went out.
On that night, the locals found tens of young men killed in the abandoned basements. “Jdaidet Artouz” was filled with the smells of fire, gunpowder, death and fear dominating the faces and souls.
By the end of Wednesday, 45 bodies were found before the evening. Bodies were lined up next to each other at Khadija Mosque. My friend was there, lying with his head next to him. I did not know if he was beheaded by a shrapnel or a knife or.. I do not know. What I know is that I spotted him from a distance and run away.
Before the night was over, eight other bodies were found, increasing the death toll to 52 young men. Loudspeakers were calling the people to go and identify their children at the mosque, as many of the bodies were either unknown or deformed. People were recognizing their children by their clothes or shoes.
Today, I do not know whether I should be happy because I survived and the others were killed, or to be sad because the others were killed and I survived to witness all what happened! I do not know if I should be happy or sad because I survived the death which came to us in a blink of an eye.
During the past few days, most of the people of Jdaidet Artouz have left their houses, the old town became vacant of its inhabitants. Fear has dwelled in our places, the fear of everything, even of talk about the massacre… as if the young men of Jdaidet Artouz killed by the tyrants are being killed once again by our silence.
This was he narrative of (A), who choked with his words, became silent, moving his face away from us.
The article was written by Rosa Yassin Hassan, a well-known Syrian writer and dissident. Link to the article in Arabic.