BY JULIAN RÖPCKE AND BJÖRN STRITZEL
Publication Date: 2016-07-13
(Published according to a special arrangement with the authors)
In Syria, in the sixth year of the insurgence against dictator Assad, a new mass murder is imminent that could dwarf even all previous horrors in the country – and the world remains silent.
The dictator’s and his allies’ troops have surrounded the large city of Aleppo. From above, Putin’s air force continues its merciless bombing.
After Rwanda and Srebrenica, Aleppo is turning into a new and clear symbol of the failure of Western politics. The German Foreign Office also remains persistently silent concerning the continuously evolving catastrophe.
BILD presents 10 facts concerning the Aleppo siege. 10 reasons why it is a humane duty to finally respond to the countless requests for action that have up until now been ignored.
1. The ceasefire has failed
As of 27 February, an internationally agreed ceasefire holds in Syria. Only the terror organisations “Nusra Front” and “ISIS” are exempt from it. What started as negotiations in Munich on the eve of 12 February, was decided by the UN Security Council in New York on 26 February.
Since then, it has become obvious that Russia and the Assad regime, primarily, are once again fooling the world. A brief calming of the situation was followed by a renewed escalation by both parties’ forces. It culminated in thousands of civil victims and, now, the encirclement of Aleppo.
“From the very beginning, the regime and Russia have seen the ceasefire as an opportunity to continue where and when it suited them,” says Jeff White of the “Washington Institute” think tank to BILD.
“Fight where you want to or must, and let the weapons rest where you have to recover or regroup.” From a military perspective, the ceasefire is “highly irrelevant,” according to White. However, it is politically important, because it created the myth of an “achievement” that needs to be “maintained” and “defended”.
“This contradicts common sense concerning the actual situation, but the United States and Mr. Kerry in particular still cling to it.”
This assessment also applies to German Foreign Minister Steinmeier. On 9 May, he talked about “the situation having calmed significantly by now”. The Foreign Office in Berlin never saw or commented on – let alone condemned – the Assad regime’s and Russia’s three-month offensive , which led to the encirclement of 300,000 people.
Syrian human rights activist, Mohamed Al Neser, from Aleppo, told BILD that one should trust neither Assad nor Putin when they talk about ceasefires. “A few days ago, Assad announced another ceasefire for Aleppo. Two hours later, his troops completed the circumvallation around Aleppo. This should show the world that Assad knows no limits and steps over any red lines.”
2. A genocide threatens
The majority of the entrapped people are Sunnis, whereas Shiite militia are fighting on Assad’s side. The latter already committed serious crimes against the Sunni population in neighboring Iraq, most recently when conquering the city of Fallujah. The hatred between these groups is widespread.
In Syria, these Shiite militia also enforce the conflict along ethnic-religious lines. It is primarily these militia from neighboring countries who put a stranglehold on Aleppo.
According to FSA fighter Ward, there are a few regime soldiers, but most of the fighters besieging Aleppo belong to foreign militia. Among them are the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Iraqi Kataib Hezbollah, led by Iranian commanders of the Quds Force.
Moreover, when defending Aleppo, his Syrian rebel group encountered Afghan fighters of the Fetemiyoun Brigade – which is also commanded by Iran – and of the Al-Quds Brigade, a Palestinian unit that also fights on Assad’s side, says Ward.
This estimation by the FSA soldier is shared by Syria expert Michael Horowitz of the “Levantine Group” think tank. “Pro-regime forces, including militia supported by Iran, the Hezbollah, and a Palestinian militia, cut off the opposition’s only supply route into the city,” said the expert to BILD.
However, Assad and his foreign militia are not only dangerous for the Sunnis, activist Mohamed Al Neser tells BILD: “All civilians in areas outside of the zones held by Assad and his allies are enemies and are thereby fair game.”
3. Famine is unavoidable
According to Syrian activist Mohamed Al Neser, who is from Aleppo himself, approximately 300,000 people are still living in the city today. Until now, the eastern parts of town – which are held by the rebels – could only be reached via the “Castello Road” in the north. In all other directions, the city had already been cut off by Assad’s troops for years.
Since there is nowhere to grow food in Aleppo, any food and the essential diesel was delivered via this last access road. “Also humanitarian organizations stored most food outside Aleppo for security reasons.“ Since the “Castello Road“ has been closed for four days now, there is already a lack of vegetables and other fresh food.
Middle East expert Jeff White of the “Washington Institute” thinks that people in the city have learned from the persistent crisis situation and have therefore stashed supplies. Nevertheless, he is also certain: “I expect the siege will last for a long time, and that its effects will grow over time.”
White also firmly believes that the humanitarian catastrophe will increase over the next few months to such a degree that “a few relief supplies will be allowed in that will mitigate the situation”. However, at this point it could already be too late for many people.
4. Russian troops support the siege
The West and the German Foreign Office have repeatedly emphasized how important Russia’s role is in settling the conflict. German Foreign Minister Steinmeier has repeatedly said that Russia must “influence Assad”.
The reality looks different. It was Russian warplanes and, presumably, Russian ground forces that enabled Assad and his troops to encircle hundreds of thousands of people. According to local activists, they played a key role in maintaining the siege of Aleppo.
Video recordings clearly show Russian warplanes of the type Suchoi Su-35 bombing the city and its last remaining access point. Only the Russian air force uses these planes in Syria. Russia does not aim to moderate the situation, but has rather become the guarantor for the Assad regime’s military success.
A spokesperson for the US-supported Syrian rebel group Fastaqem (part of the “Free Syrian Army”) emphasized how important the Russian army is in besieging the city: “Castello Street has been cut off for four days now. It is the only connecting line to Aleppo.” The street is now also being fired at with Russian BM-30 multiple rocket launchers, said the FSA man. “They use heavy mortar shells and rockets to fire at anything that moves on the street.”
5. The use of cluster ammunition and fire bombs against civilians
Banned weapons are used increasingly often in the air strikes against Aleppo and its suburbs: bombs that are banned by many states and that must never be used against civilians.
These include cluster bombs that release many small bombs before their impact, and incendiary ammunition that cannot be extinguished with water and that burns everything it hits.
Many Syrian activists primarily blame the Russian air force for these attacks. Syria expert Jeff White, however, finds it difficult to say with certainty whether Putin and Assad are responsible for a specific attack. However: “The attacks of both air forces with all kinds of ammunition are part of a long-term, population-centered operation.”
This operation is aimed at ending the population’s support for the rebels by force. However, it is unclear whether this strategy – with its thousands of civilian victims – has been successful so far.
6. Complete shutdown of medical supplies
The supply in Aleppo has been catastrophic for years, but the medical provision in particular is close to a complete shut-down. The Reason: medical institutions and staff members are the preferred target of dictator Assad and his allies.
Consistently, hospitals are getting attacked and physicians and other medical staff are being killed.
“It is absurd: you live safely in Aleppo, as long as you stay far away from the hospitals,” doctor Abdulaziz told BILD some time ago. He is one of the last remaining doctors in Aleppo. To protect themselves, the remaining doctors are all operating under different names.
The underground hospitals of the city gave themselves codenames as well.
BILD was able to contact doctor Samer, who was still working in Aleppo until three days ago and is now operating outside of the city: “Only a few hours after I left, they closed down Castello Street,” says the doctor. “The last couple of days, I’ve been mostly treating people who were heavily injured from the air strikes. There has been a shrapnel wound that opened a patient’s stomach. Heavy injuries in the chest area, open fractures, and cranial traumas have been our daily business. We also have to amputate a lot.”
Doctor Samer, returned voluntarily to Aleppo, despite holding an American passport, to help the people.
One case in particular shocked him: “It was a five-year-old girl. She was hit and heavily injured by an air strike at the marketplace. The emergency workers saved the girl – a dangerous act, since Assad likes to bomb the same targets twice to kill first-aiders. A piece of shrapnel had perforated her body; we brought her to the operating theater immediately. A huge blood vessel was severed, she kept bleeding and we couldn’t give her enough blood-transfusions to save her. She died right on the operating table.”
Doctor Samer wishes to continue his crucial work, but he doesn’t know when and how he will be able to return to the city. “Nobody else is helping. Innocent people literally bleed to death right in front of your eyes and there is nothing you can do about it. But we won’t stop trying to save as many people as possible.”
7. More and more children die
The local coordination committee tries to record all the victims in Syria. The numbers show that 36 children were killed within the last couple of days, most of them in Aleppo.
On 8 July, nine children died; five children were killed on 9 July and 22 children did not survive 10 and 11 July.
70 out of the 98 victims on 10 and 11 July died in Aleppo.
Given the total siege of Aleppo, conditions are becoming closer and closer to the situation in the Syrian town of Madaya. In Madaya, children have died due to the food blockade imposed by the Syrian army and fighters of the terror group Hezbollah. At first, those trapped started to eat cats and dogs. Later, they tried to cook grass and leaves, which led to symptoms of poisoning. While 40,000 people are being starved in Madaya, Aleppo has a population of 300,000. Thus, the number of civilian victims could be even greater there.
8. Air forces kill journalist witnesses
Over the past days and weeks, journalists have increasingly become the target of bomb attacks and air strikes. On Monday, a presumably Russian air strike with cluster ammunition killed 20 civilians near the city of Termanen, west of Aleppo. Among them was Al-Jazeera journalist Omar Ibrahim.
BILD was able to contact Hadi Abdullah, who became the victim of an air strike and, soon after, of a bomb attack himself. His friend and colleague Khaled al-Issa died in the bomb attack. Abdullah told BILD that Assad and the Russian air force allied with him “attack journalists in order to disguise their war crimes. This is why Omar Ibrahim was killed.”
The Syrian journalist Louay Barakat was also killed on Monday in an air strike in the center of Aleppo. He worked for “Buraq Media Foundation”, a Syrian media organization with reporters in the areas of the country held by the opposition.
9. Radicalization and popularity of ISIS
If the last rebel groups in Aleppo are defeated and the population is defenselessly at the mercy of the Assad regime and the Shiite militia, a further radicalization of the population threatens. The latter could come to believe that only the jihadists can protect them. This is also confirmed by Abu al-Majed, commander of the rebel group Faylaq al-Sham in Aleppo. He told BILD: “The situation is unbearable. Due to the bombing of Castello Street, the civilians and the wounded can no longer be provided for.” The street is being attacked 24 hours a day by snipers and warplanes.
“We are sick of the lies of the international community and the great states who claim to care about protecting the civilians,” said the commander to BILD. “We do not need financial support or medical supplies – we need anti-aircraft weapons against the planes that bomb this street. This is the only thing that will help us.” So far the international community has been hesitant to supply rebels with so-called MANPADS (anti aircraft missiles) for the fear of these weapons could reach extremist groups.
If the dying continues, people will try to escape to the area controlled by ISIS, predicts Abu al-Majed. “It will be safer for them there.” This spring, Syrian rebel fighters and their families already had to surrender, because they were fighting on two fronts, against ISIS and the Assad regime.
The Assad regime’s and its Shiite allies’ advance thus drives the Sunnis who are able to flee, directly into the terror militia’s arms. This makes ISIS grow in numbers.
10. Aggravation of the refugee crisis
A further consequence of the Aleppo siege could be an aggravation of the refugee crisis. Tens of thousands of Aleppians already fled from the Assad regime’s henchmen and the Russian bombs to Syria’s north and its border with Turkey. Turkey, however, keeps its border closed and points out that it has already taken in between 2.5 and three million Syrian refugees. The refugees from Aleppo are now being cared for in makeshift camps near the border between Syria and Turkey.
If Aleppo were to completely fall into the hands of the Assad regime and its allied militia, the refugee camps in the north would also be threatened even more. The tens of thousands of refugees would be under even more pressure to flee further north into Turkey and even further into the EU.
The fall of Aleppo would also have a psychological component: if the most important city held by the Syrian opposition were conquered by the Assad regime, this would be a disastrous signal for the millions of Syrians in the refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Their hopes of returning to a Syria without the dictator Assad would be crushed for a long time being. There would be little reason for them to stay in the refugee camps, waiting for improvement. Many of them would then begin the dangerous trek to Europe via the Mediterranean.
The world has to act NOW
The siege of Aleppo only became complete on Saturday evening (9 July 2016). However, the signs for this development could be seen for months without the governments of Europe, North America, or the Middle East doing anything against the evolving catastrophe.
The world allowed the mass murders and the unspeakable suffering of Srebrenica and Rwanda, and it swore to itself: never again. Yet now a further humanitarian catastrophe is taking place that could dwarf anything that happened previously.
However, it is not too late to now show determination. The signal to Assad and Putin, who are responsible for maintaining the ceasefire, has to be: this far and not further!
– The humanitarian access to the 300,000 people trapped in Aleppo has to be immediately granted again.
– Aid convoys for the suffering population must no longer be attacked by both presidents’ air forces.
– The daily, targeted bombing of men, women, and children in and around Aleppo has to stop – immediately.
These minimal humane demands – to which all involved parties agreed at the United Nations – have to be fulfilled by the conflicting parties.
If they are not, the world has to show that it is willing to defend basic human rights – with all available and necessary means.
Julian Röpcke is a newspaper editor and political commentator, based in the German capital, Berlin. With a degree in Political Geography and Sociology, Mr. Röpcke started analyzing geopolitical conflicts after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. He covered the “Arab Spring” as well as the evolving conflicts in Syria and Ukraine from their very beginning. Julian Röpcke works for BILD, the largest newspaper and leading online news portal in Germany (@JulianRoepcke).
Björn Stritzel is a political editor at BILD with a focus on the Middle East, jihadism and terrorism. He covers the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, with a special emphasis on working with activists in ISIS-occupied territory and reports about German jihadis in the Middle East (@BjoernStritzel)
Unfortunately, not all of the revolutionaries who have ended up in Assad’s prisons have lived to tell their stories, but many of them have. The tales they tell of physical and psychological torture have often left scars that will take a long time to heal.
Omar was only 17 when he was arrested for his involvement in the peaceful protests in his hometown of Banyas.
On Nov. 16, 2012, Omar says he had gone to his aunt’s house in Al Bayda after Friday prayer.
Assad regime’s Air Force Security officers arrived at the house and arrested Omar and three of his cousins — Rashad, Basheer and Nour, all in their early twenties.
The four cousins were first taken to a detention center in Banyas where they were tortured and forced to make up stories to satisfy their tormentors.
Because Nour was with them, the three male cousins were treated more harshly in order to humiliate and break their spirits in front of her.
The jails in Banyas and Tartus were fairly empty when Omar and his cousins were there so the guards amused themselves with torturing their prisoners in a variety of ways.
The torture was conducted while the prisoners were blindfolded. Omar was hung by his cuffed hands and tortured with electricity until he agreed to talk.
Omar’s torturer asked him if he had been sufficiently “cooked” and when he said yes, his body was lowered and he was asked how many officers he had killed in his village.
Omar’s answer was; “Look at my face, I am 17 yrs old. Do you think I am capable of killing any officers?”
Angered by his response, the guard hung him up again and proceeded to electrocute him on different parts of his body, including his genitals.
There was also some type of fluid that was applied to his neck with a cotton ball which increased the effect of the electrical charge to an unbearable extent.
Omar said he was so delirious with pain that he would have confessed to anything — that his father was the one who killed many officers and his mother was the one who brought down their plane — just to stop the pain. But he was unable to speak.
When he was finally able to speak again, Omar began reciting the names of people he knew who were already well-known criminals.
Omar also says that those who had been tortured in Assad’s prisons were often given injections of drugs that allowed them to talk freely and must be excused for things they don’t remember saying.
Every night the cousins would whisper to each other from their cells. If one of them failed to respond, the others would fear they were dead.
They also compared stories about how each of them had been tortured. Basheer told Omar how they had opened a wound on his foot with a screwdriver.
Omar was moved 11 times; from detention centers in Banyas, to Tartus, to Homs, to Damascus and then to Al Qabun.
From Al-Qabun he was sent to the notorious Sednaya prison where he was held for one month before being referred to the military court.
The court sent him to the 291 “Death Branch” for one terrible day of indescribable torture before he was sent to 215 military prison where he was kept for the remainder of his detainment.
At 215 he was taken to the basement and examined by a doctor.
Omar said the prisoners he saw around him looked like skeletons. They huddled together and there were lots of dead and semi dead bodies on the floor with smelly wounds that oozed with infection.
After four days of wandering with no place to sit, an officer began questioning Omar about his cousin Nour and where she had supposedly gotten explosive materials for making bombs.
Omar eventually learned by word of mouth that his cousins were also being held in 215.
On March, 2013, Omar’s cousin Rashad died under torture. Rashad’s brother Basheer was so worried about how he would tell his mother that Rashad was dead when he got out.
He need not have worried for Basheer also died from pneumonia while still in prison in 2014.
Omar says that a fellow prisoner, a sheikh named Yasser Abdul Kareem, helped him and the other prisoners to maintain their sanity. He was their psychologist, their nurse, their spiritual advisor, their everything Omar said.
During his time in 215 Omar’s job was to record the numbers of the dead bodies and help dispose of them. He said the number had reached over 8,000 while he was there.
When four of their fellow prisoners were shot during an attempted jailbreak, their bodies were left where they fell for a week and then hung up as an example to the rest.
The prisoners were responsible for throwing the bodies of the dead unto the truck that came around each week to pick them up… Omar says the bodies sometimes fall apart as they tried to lift them.
Omar recalls that one of the men they were supposed to dispose of was still breathing. The guard forced them to throw him onto the pile of dead bodies anyways.
June 11, 2015, Omar was released. The prison guards had begun accepting bribes from family members of prisoners in exchange for their release.
It wasn’t until after his release that Omar learned his father had also been martyred during the Banyas massacre in 2013.
Omar is one of the fortunate refugees who managed to make his way into Europe through Turkey and Greece.
He is currently undergoing treatment for Tuberculosis in Sweden and says that no one comes out of Syria’s Branch 215 prison physically or mentally whole.
Orient Net – Yasser Ashkar Publication Date: 2016-04-20 11:00
Article from: http://orient-news.net/en/news_show/109666/0/The-ordeal-of-a–year-old-Syrian-in-Assads-detention-centers
The story behind one of the most shocking images of the Syrian Revolution. This was in 2013 Syria, Assad regime mass murdered Syrian Civilians and dumped their bodies into the river.
A Syrian bodybuilder in prison: Rife with contagious disease, starvation, ‘I buried prisoners with my own hands’
A recent SNHR report estimates the number of arrests by all parties over the course of the Syrian war at 215,000 people, the vast majority detained by Assad regime agents.
One of these detainees was Ibrahim Shahabi, a well-known bodybuilding champion from Aleppo. He was arrested at his gym on charges of selling pharmaceuticals without a license in late January 2011, charges Shahabi calls “preposterous and totally untrue.”
And so began 30 months of a prison sentence that left those who did not die so hungry that they ate pieces of the wall. Shahabi’s description of prison life resembles the Middle Ages in every way, down to the guards fearing contagious diseases from the increasingly ragged prisoners: “They would throw us our measly rations from the bottom of the cell door, and if someone died, they would throw us the key from the cell window so we could bury the victim in the yard,” he tells Syria Direct’s Alaa Nassar.
Shahabi, who had family and friends active in the Free Syrian Army (FSA), was one of seven detainees released during an FSA-regime prisoner exchange in July 2013.
After leaving prison 176 pounds lighter along with several unhealed broken bones and other injuries, Shahabi is now back to training. Today he lives in Turkey, and is competing again in international bodybuilding competitions—under the revolutionary banner.
Q: When was your arrest? What were the charges against you, and why was your release delayed if these charges were fabricated?
I was born in 1977 in the city of al-Baab a-Shamali in Aleppo province to a well-off family. I opened a gym after finishing my compulsory service in Syria and I too was doing well.
I was arrested on January 28, 2011 and sent to the central prison in Aleppo after being accused of illegally selling pharmaceuticals without a license. These accusations are preposterous and totally untrue. I was a member of the Syrian Sports Federation and a certified international referee. I had won more than 15 awards in Syrian and Arab bodybuilding competitions.
Before my arrest, I was traveling and studying in Europe. I was learning how to design women’s shoes and training young people in gyms. In 1996, I came back to Syria to see my parents after a long time away, but the authorities stopped me at the airport and immediately dragged me off to perform my compulsory military service, believing me to be a deserter.
I spent five years in the military and subsequently in prison as a punishment for fleeing my service. After I finished my prison term, I decided to open a gym in Aleppo and settled down in my hometown. That is, until 2011 and the arrest.
At the time of my arrest, I was at my gym, which I opened in the Hanaano district [a neighborhood in northeast Aleppo city]. I was arrested on drug smuggling charges. Obviously, I had absolutely no connection to this. I was an international athlete and won international medals across Europe and in Syria.
With regard to my delayed release, the prison officials cheated everyone out of their money. Every single dollar that was spent to secure our release was in vain; the regime did not release a single person. On the contrary, we were exposed to the worst types of abuse and torture in prison, and I was one of those victims. Just compare the pictures and videos of me from before and after my arrest and you will see the violence and starvation that I faced in prison.
While in prison for nearly two-and-a-half years, Shahabi went from 273 pounds to just 97. Photo courtesy of Ibrahim Shahabi.
Q: Tell us about what you experienced in prison.
One time I tried to escape along with 13 other prisoners, but once we reached the prison wall, the sniper locked in on me. The guards arrested me along with 10 prisoners, though three were able to escape. They later appeared on Al Jazeera together where they talked about their suffering in the prison. Meanwhile, we returned to our cells where the guards tortured us and broke our bones. Despite these incomprehensible struggles, I did not surrender; rather, what I saw and what I experienced in the prison strengthened my resolve and my determination not to become a victim of these heinous crimes.
Since the beginning of the revolution and our arrest, we were isolated from the rest of the prisoners in an attempt to portray us as terrorists. There were approximately 630 prisoners, with five people to a cell, rooms no bigger than 1 x 1.5 meters. After our failed escape attempt, each person was individually isolated.
During this time, people died, whom I buried with my own hands. In the end, only one other person besides me survived. It was only because of my athletic physique that I was able to bear the physical pressures, psychological torture, and the slow death in comparison to those prisoners who were less fortunate.
The guards forced us to bury our dead in the prison yard out of their fear of getting infected by our diseases.
I don’t know where to begin in describing the regime’s brutality towards its political prisoners; it’s unspeakable. The methods of torture were unimaginable, something that no human mind can comprehend. Even as we filed out after being tortured, one by one we would be struck without reason with metal rods—blows raining down on our heads and bodies with reckless abandon.
I came out of prison with three fractures to my head, one to my shoulder, and a deformed back all due to these beatings. Since leaving prison, I have undergone 11 plastic surgery operations for my back, and still I suffer from the fractures that I sustained while in prison. The operations, which are still ongoing, have cost $30,000.
As prisoners, we received monthly rations of one loaf of bread and two liters of water. That’s it. In spent 30 months in this environment with many prisoners. I came in weighing 124 kilograms (273 pounds). By the time I left, I weighed only 44 kilograms (97 pounds).
Worms were eating at my friends. Those who managed to cling to life were filthy beyond imagination. We had such little water and were not allowed to bathe, which led to the spread of tuberculosis and diarrhea, which I suffered from. Having bread and water, this was a dream for us. We were eating the wall out of sheer hunger. Throughout all of this, it was forbidden for any guard to speak with us.
Q: Can you describe the process of being tortured?
For the first six months, the torture was every hour. It came in so many ways, without mercy or compassion. However, after tuberculosis, diarrhea, and other infectious diseases came into the barracks, the guards refrained from entering out of fear that they too would be infected. They would throw us our measly rations from the bottom of the cell door, and if someone died, they would throw us the key from the cell window so that we could leave to bury the person in the yard.
Q: How did you learn of the deaths of your friends? How did you inform the prison guards of the news?
I would shout loudly and continuously until they responded. We were all isolated, trapped behind bars, and so everyone was accountable for the person in the next cell over. We would call to the next cell, and if the person responded, he was alive. If he didn’t respond, that meant he was dead, in which case we’d call the guards so that we could bury him.
One of my relatives was an assistant officer in the prison, and he was shocked when he saw me still clinging to life. I didn’t take advantage of his being there because the guards were prohibited from entering except for one Alawite officer [names officer.]
It’s also worth mentioning that my relative left with the Red Crescent and defected during the course of our release.
Q: When and how were you released?
I was released on July 10, 2013 following negotiations that the Red Crescent mediated between the opposition and the regime. Seven people were released from prison, myself included, in exchange for three officers, including a shabiha commander.
My name was the first one to be submitted for release given my close ties with the Free Syrian Army. Several of their leaders, particularly my brother in the a-Tawhid Brigade, were demanding my release.
Q: How did you rebuild your life following your release?
After my release from prison, I left Aleppo and went to Turkey on April 2, 2014. I got back into sports and physical training, and, thanks to God, began working as a trainer at a sports club in Istanbul.
I’ve coached five Syrian champions in Turkey, including Hassan a-Nasan, Mahmood Hassan, and Hassan al-Khalid, who have performed very well on the national level. I am now training to participate in the European Bodybuilding Championships under the Free Syria banner.
I have been very vocal in my dissent against the regime, and when I participate, I will raise a photo of Erdogan because he is the only one who has supported me in my recent competitions.
Q: Describe the challenges you faced as an athlete before the revolution. Contrast that with your participation in the Public Authority for Youth and Sports, an organization funded and supported by both the opposition in exile and the Turkish government.
Regarding the pressures that we faced before the revolution, the regime always played dirty and trampled on our rights. For example, every year in the city of Basil in Latakia province, there was a tournament called “Mr. Beach.” These Alawite guys would participate, and, of course, every year they would come in first place in the tournament even if the competitors had better bodies.
We also never received any of the prize money that the Sports Federation provided for the athletes. It was either stolen or distributed to the Alawite athletes.
Today, the situation is completely different. It’s possible for us to voice our opinions, work together, and do everything in our power to comfortably train our young men and women with the support and cooperation of the Public Authority. We are working to foster a new generation of professional athletes, far removed from the disgusting politics of the Baath Party, which robbed us of our rights.
I have promised that I will establish myself once again and come back to my fitness club stronger than ever. This last year I have been training a team called “Free Syria” for the bodybuilding championships, and for the second time in a row, we got first place in Turkey, and our people are getting ready for the European championships. This year, I will participate in the tournament in Spain.
Q: Can you describe what it is like dealing with countries in order to participate in the athletic championships? Who is funding you and the Syrian teams?
Funding and support comes from the Turkish Sports Federation. I will participate in the world championships through Turkey, joining the league and training participants, given that I do not own a club. In addition to being an athletic trainer, I work on the side as a designer of women’s shoes for Schuster’s Shoes. After I finish my day with the company, I go down to the gym and start training. When I was in Italy, I was working as a women’s shoes designer before I ever entered the field of professional sports.
Q: How do you see the Assad regime today?
Since the moment I was arrested at the airport in 1996 before I even got the chance to see my parents, I have viewed the regime as broken and a failure. In my opinion, since the start of the revolution, there is nothing that remains that can be called a regime.
The regime fell when it began destroying the country and killing its people. I am unable to describe the brutality, criminality, and sheer barbarism of its actions. Even though I have seen it first-hand with my own eyes in the prison, my mind is still unable to fully comprehend what I experienced.
Samuel Kieke was a 2014-2015 CASA I fellow in Amman, Jordan. He received his BA from the University of Texas at Austin in Arabic Language and Literature, Middle Eastern Studies, and International Relations and Global Studies.
Alaa was forced to flee Damascus with her family because of the pressure from the Syrian regime in 2013. She was a student of Arabic Language & Literature at the University of Damascus. She came to Syria Direct because she hopes to find a new direction in her life and to show the world what is happening in her country.
Published on Mar 14, 2016
March 2011, in the south of Syria, four coffins for four Syrians protesting peacefully against their government – the first to die in a conflict that has taken as many 400,000 lives.
The Syrian American Council, the largest and oldest grassroots Syrian-American organization in the United States, hailed the decision by the U.S. House of Representatives tonight to approve H. Con Res. 121 which condemned the Assad regime’s war crimes in Syria and called for President Obama to direct his Ambassador to the United Nations to promote the establishment of a War Crimes Tribunal for Syria. The resolution passed on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the Syrian revolution which began on March 15th 2011.
SAC thanks Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) for sponsoring this resolution, as well as Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA), and Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) for co-sponsoring. The resolution passed resoundingly with a vote of 392 to 3. SAC urges the Senate to follow suit and move quickly to pass the measure.
The text of the resolution can be found here, and a summary can be found here. SAC would like to thank the Syrian American community and other fellow Americans for their mobilization in support of the measure.
SAC expresses its extreme disappointment with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) for their shameful vote against holding the Assad regime accountable for war crimes that have created the greatest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. Although these three representatives have consistently voted against American support of the Syrian revolution, today’s vote represents a new low.
Syrian American Council
Published on Oct 24, 2015
Hundreds of thousands of refugees are making their way to Europe.
Although this number is smaller than the millions pouring into Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, it is a crisis dividing Europe.
Many Europeans are uneasy and concerned about what they feel is a lack of control and wonder who is coming and whether their societies can cope.
So what are the refugees seeking in Europe? And what do they have to say to Europeans who do not want them to come to their countries?