sunni

A Syrian witness to war – Something inside me broke

Mohammed Abdullah (Artino) joined the 2011 protests, was arrested, tortured, and later witnessed the chemical attack on Ghouta.

Assad Torture civilians protestor

Like many others, Mohammed Abdullah – Artino – lost a lot of weight after the siege took hold in Ghouta in May 2014 (Photo courtesy of Artino)

Mohammed Abdullah (Artino) spoke to Middle East Eye about his experiences since joining the Syrian protests in 2011, later becoming a war photographer who witnessed the Ghouta chemical attack.

I joined the protest movement in March 2011. It was a decision that cost me many friends and changed the course of all our lives. Those were heady, exciting days. There were so many of us. We really thought our peaceful protest could beat the system. When the older generation joined the movement we felt invincible.

I am an Alawite, like the al-Assad family and much of the military establishment. I had grown up seeing how people used and abused their influence and hated the corruption that was so rife in all parts of Syria. I wanted to live in a country where everyone could be seen as equal.

Assad prison torture peaceful protestors

Artino (left) at a protest in Zabadani (Feb 2012) (Photo courtesy of Artino)

After just a few weeks, I was filmed attending a funeral and arrested. I was taken to the notorious prison of the Mukhabarat, the Syrian secret police, where I was placed in solitary confinement, blindfolded and strapped to a chair. One guard was particularly bad. He must have been a big guy because I could feel his huge hands when he smashed me with his fists.

One day I fought back. “What have I done? Uncuff me, take off this mask! Why won’t you show me your face, are you a coward? Why can’t we talk man to man?” He went crazy, picked up the chair, and threw me against the wall.

I was also subjected to the infamous flying carpet where the prisoner is strapped down to a hinged board and the ends are brought together. The aim is to bend the spine and inflict maximum pain. The prison experience still haunts me. When I came out, I felt so unclean that I would spend hours in the shower.

Because my father was in the military, he was able to secure my release after a week, on payment of 60,000 Syrian Lira. He was an intelligence officer in the Syrian Air Force, part of the Mukhabarat no less. Both my parents were from Golan. My mother was Circassian, and a Sunni. She died while giving birth to me, her third son, so I was brought up by my maternal uncle and his wife.

I found out that the authorities were after me, so I escaped to Ghouta, a rural area to the east of the city where my adopted parents had a house. Soldiers regularly searched the area, and anyone deemed a rebel or traitor would be arrested or shot. So my mother dressed me in a khemar, traditionally worn by local women. Anyone who meets me can see I am hardly the most feminine of men, but there I stood swathed in layer upon layer of black cotton. Whenever we heard government forces were close-by, I would be told to go and sit with the women.

Barely getting out alive

As the protest movement developed into a full-scale war, I met the famous Serbian photographer, Goran Tomasevic. He took me on as his fixer, and I would organise his schedule and carry equipment.

Every day we would go up to the frontline and take pictures of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). I would wake at 4am and wait for one of the rebel soldiers to call. They would tell us where the fighting was likely to be. It was risky work and frightening seeing death and killing so close up.

Goran was crazy, he did not seem to feel fear. One January morning a sniper’s bullet missed my head by millimetres, he just turned to me and laughed: “Luckily you are so f**** short.”

Syria Assad regime kill prisoners

Another photojournalist snaps Artino lying down to take a shot (Jobar, Sept 2013) (Photo courtesy of Artino)

Another day we were waiting in an empty building when two or three grenades came whistling through the air, followed by heavy artillery barrage. The rebels fired back. Bullets were flying everywhere. For 30 minutes there was no let-up. Very slowly we inched into a cupboard in one of the back rooms. I cannot believe we got out of there alive.

Being an amateur photographer before the war, Goran became my teacher. He introduced me to Reuters so I started my career as a photojournalist. When my photos began to appear on the front pages of major international newspapers, I felt happy and proud. I am just a civilian. I am not a soldier. I am not a fighter. Neither of us expected this to be our job, but when our countries were burning we picked up a camera.

On my way to shoot a local brigade, I was hit by a shell. One moment I was walking down the street, the next I was in the air. When I came round I knew it was bad. My knee, thigh, shoulder, hand, the complete right side of my body was badly damaged. I was put in an old ambulance where all the glass had been blown out. As it careered along, I leaned out the window directing the driver away from pot-holes.

I was confined to my bed for two months. I was in pain – there were no painkillers – but also bored from being housebound. I pestered my friends to take me out. Reluctantly they would push me towards the frontline in my wheelchair so I could continue taking pictures.

Witnessing Ghouta

In August 2013, I witnessed the now infamous chemical attack in Ghouta. I was woken in the middle of the night with news of a gas attack. The next morning, despite several warnings not to go, I went to investigate myself. Nothing prepared me for what I saw: children, babies lying on the floor in their pajamas, so still and calm with no visible signs of injury. They looked like they were sleeping but all around was mayhem: everyone was screaming and crying, but the children were so still and other-worldly. I noticed their strange complexions; they had fluid coming out of their mouths and eyes. They were all dead. They say more than 400 children were killed.

I was paralysed. I could not move, let alone take a picture. As the feeling of nausea ebbed away, I found a doctor and I asked him: “How can you be sure this is chemical and not a normal death?” He himself was in shock, his colleague had died after inhaling the sarin gas. He carefully showed me the dark blue colour on their skin; the foam and vomit around their mouths were the signs of asphyxiation.

The bodies were laid out in schools and mosques, rows upon rows of them. I wandered from one building to the other taking photos. Something inside me broke: so many victims, survivors hallucinating and gasping for breath. Hell came to Eastern Gouta that day. Barack Obama said that if Assad had used chemical weapons on his own people there would be no other option but to intervene. We are still waiting.

I persuaded my parents to leave Ghouta because the whole area was besieged by government forces. The siege was getting tighter and the food we had stored would not last long. None of us choose to abandon our homes, but sometimes we just run out of options. My parents are in their fifties and living in a warzone is a huge burden.

Improve your body, improve your mind

Left alone for two months with a broken knee, I had to fend for myself as best as I could. I would crawl across the floor just to reach the bathroom. It was tough and humiliating but more than that I was fed up. I began reading avidly, finishing a novel each day and researching survival techniques on the internet. But it was not enough. I was powerless and my body was not mine anymore.

Then it hit me. I would start working out. If I could improve my body it would have a positive impact on my mental state. What 30-year-old guy does not want a six-pack? Did it matter that I was living under siege, in a country at war – no. As I posted the photos on Facebook, my friends commented wildly. They had seen too much blood and bullets, this was different, funny even, my quest for a beautiful body. Bit by bit, I started to gain strength and move again. I was proud of my developing abs. Perhaps they were not perfectly sculpted because I lacked the protein and fat necessary to build the muscle. It may seem strange that while my neighbours were scrambling to find enough food to feed their children, I worried about how I looked. This is what extreme situations do to you.

The calcium in my knee was decomposing, and the only long-term option was a knee transplant, something impossible in Ghouta. Every time I went to the field hospital to get my screws fixed, I could see my case was not a priority; people with life-threatening conditions could not get enough medicine. Hobbling around on a stick, I taught photography to children but I could not walk more than a few metres. The pain was unbearable.

Syria revolution

When he wasn’t taking photos himself Artino would teach children how to use a camera (Lebanon October 2014) (Photo courtesy of Artino)

Who can you trust?

I paid a smuggler $4,000 to provide me with a fake Syrian ID and take me to Lebanon. Before the war this journey was less than two hours, but it took us the best part of a month. I could not move fast due to the injury and there was fighting on all sides. You are moved from safe house to safe house, passed from group to group; sometimes it is the FSA and sometimes individuals who could be best described as gunrunners or bandits. It is a terrifying process, your heart is constantly in your mouth, you jump at any noise. Can you trust the smugglers or will they betray you to the government forces? We had to dodge the different armed groups, sleeping in bombed out buildings or sometimes outside.

After the bombs, the cold and hunger, I felt surrounded by luxury in Lebanon. When I asked my friend for a glass of water, I expected him to go over to the sink, but as he opened the fridge and the light flicked on, I broke down and wept. I was so overwhelmed and exhausted.

As I tried to establish my life there, I found I was forgetting small things: names and appointments. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I still had not been able to get my injuries fixed. I then learned of another option, resettlement.

‘I am just a regular metalhead’

I arrived in Europe towards the end of last year. People are astonished when I tell them I am from Syria. They have this image that we are all jihadis living in the desert with the camels. I have only seen one camel in my life. I am just a regular metalhead with a loud laugh and a few tattoos.

I learned my half-brother was killed in action earlier this year. He was a pro-government fighter, and died defending what he believed in. I have not spoken to that side of the family since the start of the uprising. My older brother is also in the army. We always had a difficult relationship, he would taunt me when I was a kid and blamed me for killing his mother. He texted me to say that I was a disgrace to my family and if he ever found me, he would kill me. He is so loyal that I feel for sure he would kill me if he could.

My real father died in 2014. While he still backed the government of Bashar al-Assad, he had accepted our differences. When he secured my release back at the start of all this, he told me that he was proud of me. “Your uncle has done a good job, he has ensured you a good education and you have inherited his good nature.” My father pleaded me to give it up, but knew I probably would not. He told me he was able to save me once, but if I got caught again there would be no more strings to be pulled.

Two weeks ago I underwent surgery, three years after my knee was first damaged by the shell. When I am physically fit I will go back home.

I miss home. Of course I miss home.

_____________________________________________________________

Henrietta McMicking
Tuesday 19 April 2016 10:14 UTC

– See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/in-depth/features/i-am-alawite-and-i-miss-home-918192142#sthash.EVZOLqik.dpuf

Syria Refugees Crisis – Help is Coming

Published on Sep 10, 2015

A short film by director Mat Whitecross, in support of Save The Children’s Refugee Crisis Appeal
http://helpiscoming.org
Download the single: http://po.st/9GDAYa
Pre-order the vinyl: http://www.vfeditions.com/product/vie…

Text GIVE to 61144 to donate £5 (UK only)*
For international donations, go to http://www.helpiscoming.org

Interview footage
Director/Filmed by: Simon Rawles
Producers: Mustafa Khalili, Richard Sprenger, Angela Robson
Assistant producers: Karl Schembri

*For full terms and conditions visit the website http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/t-a…

A History of Syria – Documentary


Published on Sep 11, 2015

Dan Snow travels to Syria to see how the country’s fascinating and tumultuous history is shaping the current civil war. For thousands of years empires and despots have fought for control of the strategically vital region, leaving behind stunning temples, castles and mosques, as well as a diverse cultural heritage. Those conflicts – from the Roman conquests to the crusades, from the French colonial invasion to the military coups of the 1960s – loom large in today’s conflict. For those confused by the seemingly random nature of the bloodshed and slaughter, Dan Snow unpicks the historic divisions between Sunnis and Alawites, Islamists and secularists, east and west.

The massacre of Douma by Assad regime on Aug 16-2015 part III

Before he left the country, Dr Mohamad F, a former coroner at the University Hospital in Aleppo, tried to flee and was arrested on charges of being ‘a terrorist threat’.

He spoke to De Bild before the most recent attack about what was happening in Syria:

“I have suffered, but it’s nothing compared to the pain other prisoners have gone through. I have seen policemen rape women and children in front of other detainees,” he said.

The area of Douma is often the target of government action and has been targeted by air strikes for nearly two years.

Sunday’s attack is said to be one of the bloodiest attacks in the last four years.

Recently, UN’s new humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien went to Syria and, according to state media, expressed a willingness to work with the government to alleviate humanitarian suffering.

Mr O’Brien has said since the attacks: ‘I am absolutely horrified by the total disregard for civilian life by all parties in this conflict. Attacks on civilians are unlawful, unacceptable and must stop.’

Perhaps then, it’s this sort of activity – and not just ‘benefit culture’ – that is bringing migrants to our shores? Just maybe…

Syria Assad regime killing civilian with impunity

Assad Douma atrocities

Assad regime genocide Douma civilians at the marketplace

Deadliest attack on civilians by Syria Assad regime

Assad mass murder Douma Civilians

Attack on civilians disregard human life committed by Assad regime

Mass killing children, civilians at Douma Marketplace

Syria Damascus Douma market bombed by Assad regime

Assad bomb Douma market

Douma market massacre civilian die

Article from: http://metro.co.uk/2015/08/17/an-official-massacre-in-syria-shows-yet-another-reason-why-people-flee-to-the-uk-5346819/

Understanding the Syrian crisis in 5 minutes


Published on Apr 30, 2014

After three years of war and about 150 000 deaths, Syria is more torn apart than ever. But why is this war still going on ? How did the pacific “arab spring” become such a blood bath ? Here are some keys to understand how the syrian conflict turned into a civil, cold and holy war.

No Happy Father’s Day in Syria

Many many Syrian families have lost parents, relatives, children, siblings to the 4 years old civil war… No more laughter in Syria… Children are deprived from food, water and school…

 

syria_assad_bomb_school_children_192

syria_assad_bomb_school_children_191

syria_assad_bomb_school_children_190

syria_assad_bomb_school_children_189

syria_assad_bomb_school_children_188

syria_assad_bomb_school_children_187

syria_assad_bomb_school_children_186

syria_assad_bomb_school_children_185

syria_assad_bomb_school_children_184

syria_assad_bomb_school_children_183

syria_assad_bomb_school_children_182

syria_assad_bomb_school_children_181

BBC Exclusive Interview With President Bashar al-Assad

Mr Assad denied that his forces had dropped barrel bombs indiscriminately on rebel-held areas, killing thousands of civilians, and dismissed as propaganda a statement by the UN that his government often blocks access to besieged areas for relief organizations.

He says he’s a patriot, defending his country, his enemies say his desire to stay in power has caused the catastrophe that has engulfed Syria in the last four years.

The Syrian dictator is profiting from the west’s lack of strategy, while the bloodshed he unleashes leads a country to ruin.

assad syria barrel bombs kill

In a wide-ranging interview with the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad talks about the devastating civil war, the use of barrel bombs, the battle against Islamic State and al-Qaeda and relations with the US.

Below are excerpts from the interview recorded in the Syrian capital Damascus.

Q: Mr President, you’ve lost control over large areas of Syria, the Islamic State has emerged, there are perhaps 200,000 Syrians dead, millions have lost their homes. Has Syria become a failed state?

A: No, as long as the government and the state institutions are fulfilling their duty toward the Syrian people, [we] cannot talk about failed states.

Talking about losing control is something completely different. It’s like if you have [an] invasion of terrorists coming from abroad and the government is doing its job in fighting and defending its country.

Q: Can we briefly go back to when all this started in 2011 – you’ve said that there were mistakes made in the handling of those early demonstrations. Did you make mistakes yourself?

A: No, I never said we made mistakes in handling this. I always said that “anyone could make mistakes”, but there is a difference between talking about, or asking your question about policies and about practice.

If you want to go back to policies, we took the decision to fight terrorism from the very beginning. We took the decision to make dialogue on [a] national level, and I think both policies are correct. While if you want to talk about mistakes in practice, and that some mistakes [have been] committed towards some civilian, that happened from time to time, and some people were punished for these mistakes.

Q: You’ve talked about the influence of terrorism, as you call it, from the very beginning. But I was able as a reporter to go to some of those early demonstrations inside Damascus, in areas outside as well, and people there were not saying they wanted an Islamic Caliphate – they were saying they wanted freedom, democracy – not some kind of vision that IS have now for the country. Do you think you got it wrong?

A: You in the West called it that time, and some still talk about that period as [a] peaceful demonstration period.

And I will tell you that during the first few weeks many policemen were killed. Shot dead. I don’t think they were shot dead and killed by the sound waves of the demonstrators – so it was just a fantasy to talk about this… we have to talk about facts. From the very beginning the demonstrations weren’t peaceful.

Q: What about barrel bombs, you don’t deny that your forces use them?

A: I know about the army, they use bullets, missiles, and bombs. I haven’t heard of the army using barrels, or maybe, cooking pots.

Q: Large barrels full of explosives and projectiles which are dropped from helicopters and explode with devastating effect. There’s been a lot of testimony about these things.

A: They’re called bombs. We have bombs, missiles and bullets… There is [are] no barrel bombs, we don’t have barrels.

Q: On the fight against IS and al-Qaeda, the US and others have said you cannot be a partner in that fight. Would you like to be partner, would you like to join the coalition?

A: No, definitely we cannot and we don’t have the will and we don’t want, for one simple reason: because we cannot be [in] alliance with the country who support the terrorism… because we are fighting the terrorism.

Q: You’ve been very harsh in your criticism of the Saudis. Now the Saudis say they are against IS, they are frightened because IS do not want a royal family in Saudi Arabia. So isn’t it logical that they want them out? Why would they support them?

A: First of all, the source of this Islamic State ideology, and other al-Qaeda affiliated groups are the Wahhabi that have been supported by the royal family in Saudi Arabia. So just to say that “we do” and “we don’t”, it doesn’t matter. It’s what you do – what the action that you are taking in order to prove that what you are saying is correct.

Q: Let’s talk about American attitudes. Your departure from office is still the official American policy, but there are signs that they are softening… Do you believe that you are now being seen as part of the solution?

A: First of all, we don’t breathe through the Americans, we only breathe through our citizens. That’s how we breathe, this is first. So it’s not a lifeline for us.

Q: Syria has been very isolated, you’re under sanctions here, people can’t use credit cards, you’ve been cut off from a lot of the commerce of the world. You must surely welcome a situation which might get you back into the family of nations in a way that you haven’t been since 2011?

A: We’re not against co-operation with any country, we will never be. We didn’t start this conflict with the others. They started, they supported the terrorists, they gave them the umbrella.

It’s not about isolating Syria now, it’s about an embargo on the Syrian population, on the Syrian citizens. It’s different from isolation, it’s completely different.

Q: There’s the American military in the air above Syria and the Syrian Air Force. But there haven’t been any incidents between the two, no shots seem to have been traded, no planes have been shot down. That suggests to me surely that someone is talking to someone here?

A: That’s correct, that’s correct. But again there’s no direct co-operation…

Through a third party – more than one party – Iraq and other countries. Sometimes they convey message, general message, but there’s nothing tactical.

The Guardian view on Bashar al-Assad’s BBC interview: the lies of a tyrant

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/10/guardian-view-bashar-al-assad-bbc-interview-lies-tyrant