syria crisis

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.

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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

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Shocking reality of barrel bombing in besieged city of Daraya

In late January 2013, during the Syrian Civil War, the bodies of approximately 110 men and boys, most with hands bound behind the back, mouths sealed with tape, and gunshot wounds to the head, were found on the edges of the river in a part of Aleppo controlled by opposition forces. Very few of the victims were over 30. Many victims showed signs of torture.

‘This video shows in shocking close-up detail what civilians in Daraya have had to live through’ – Magdalena Mughrabi

The shocking reality of the Syrian government’s barrel bombing of the besieged city of Daraya, near Damascus, is shown in brutal detail in a new video released by Amnesty International today amid the latest round of peace talks in Geneva.

The video, shot by civilians in Daraya between 2014 and late February this year, includes unseen footage not previously made public. It shows scenes of Syrian government forces’ barrel bombs falling and exploding inside the city, interspersed with civilians – including children and the elderly – describing the sheer terror of living under such relentless attacks in a city under siege.

In one harrowing scene, an injured young boy lies alongside the corpse of his brother who was killed in a barrel bomb attack, weeping and begging: “My brother, please don’t leave me.” In another scene, a bespectacled young girl with curly hair says when asked about the bombs: “They want to kill me”.

Daraya has endured thousands of barrel bombs on top of more than three years of crippling siege by Syrian government forces. According to data collected by the Local Council of Daraya City, around 6,800 barrel bombs have been dropped there between January 2014 until the “cessation of hostilities” agreement on 26 February 2016.

The resulting damage and destruction is evident from countless videos and other images. At least 42 civilians, including 17 children, have been killed by these imprecise explosive weapons. According to local activists, a further 1,200 civilians have been injured. Local activists believe that the death toll would almost certainly be higher except for the fact that residents have become so used to rushing to shelters whenever helicopters are spotted.

Although no barrel bombs have been dropped on Daraya since the partial “cessation of hostilities” came into effect on 26 February, there have been attacks with other weaponry and thousands of civilians who remain in the city continue to suffer from severe food and medical shortages and no electricity. Most of Daraya’s original residents fled the devastation years ago and now only between 4,000 and 8,000 remain, a fraction of its original population.

Amnesty International interim Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Magdalena Mughrabi said:

“This video shows in shocking close-up detail what civilians in Daraya have had to live through.

“It is absolutely outrageous – though not surprising – that the Syrian government has continued to bombard and starve its own civilians. And it is unacceptable that the UN and other influential international players are not doing more to address the critical situation in Daraya and other besieged locations.

“Every day that goes by without aid delivery means that the humanitarian crisis in Daraya worsens.”

Humanitarian crisis amid siege of Daraya
In addition to widespread and large-scale destruction caused by the thousands of barrel bombs dropped on Daraya, government forces have cut off the city and not allowed in any humanitarian aid at all since November 2012.

Medical workers are severely under-resourced to cope with the scale of the humanitarian crisis they face. The besieged city’s only remaining field hospital has been targeted 15 times by government forces. Daraya’s Medical Office sent Amnesty lists of more than 100 medicines, supplies and equipment it urgently needs. Among the items they lack are: antibiotics, painkillers and anaesthetics; disinfectants and other cleaning supplies; and equipment including dialysis machines, CT scanners and hospital beds and cots.

Amnesty is insisting that the Syrian government allows urgently-needed aid into Daraya, in compliance with its obligations under international humanitarian law and binding UN Security Council resolutions. The International Syria Support Group and UN agencies, especially the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, must ensure this is made to happen for Daraya and all other besieged locations.

Crude but deadly weapons
Barrel bombs are crude but deadly weapons fashioned out of oil barrels, fuel tanks or gas cylinders, which are packed with explosives, fuel and metal fragments and dropped from helicopters and planes. They are by definition imprecise and must never be used in the vicinity of civilians. Amnesty hopes the harrowing eyewitness footage from Daraya will spur the international community to re-double its demands on the Syrian government to grant immediate lifesaving humanitarian access to Daraya and all areas still under siege.

#360Syria “virtual tour” website
Last month Amnesty launched a #360Syria “virtual tour” website showing the devastation wrought by Syrian government barrel bombing of the besieged city of Aleppo. The site (www.360Syria.com) comprises specially-created 360-degree photography, narration, sound recordings, 3-D data graphics and videos gathered by Amnesty-trained Syrian media activists. The innovative site is designed to take the viewer into Aleppo’s rubble-strewn streets for an “immersive” virtual reality-like experience. Visitors can navigate around full-screen “photospheres” which capture the apocalyptic scenes and sounds after barrel bombing attacks. The images also feature the brave rescue efforts of unarmed civilian volunteers – the “White Helmets” – from the Syrian Civil Defence teams.

Syria Torture Machine

Syria’s Torture Machine

Published on Jan 21, 2015
ch4 Syria Torture bashar assad Mukhabarat secret service

SAC Hails House Vote Calling for Assad War Crimes Tribunal


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.
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SAC_logo

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
http://www.sacouncil.com/

ISIS-Finding Ground Zero


Published on Jan 6, 2016

The video is a dispatch report by ANA Press crew from Aleppo, it consists of a documented trip from central Aleppo to the northern outskirts to where Syrian rebel groups are stationed in opposition to ISIS.

This video is hereby translated under full responsibility of ANA PRESS

For more information please feel free to send your inquiries to: info@anapress.net

Refugee crisis: In Serbia, every shoe has a story

By Masuma Ahuja, CNN
Fri October 23, 2015

Footwear -- or lack thereof -- tells the refugee story in Berkasovo, Serbia, on Tuesday, October 20.

Footwear — or lack thereof — tells the refugee story in Berkasovo, Serbia, on Tuesday, October 20.

New York (CNN)About 10,000 refugees are in Serbia, according to recent reports. They face harsh conditions — freezing temperatures and a shortage of aid and shelter.

Marko Risovic, a photographer from the capital of Belgrade, has been at the border between Croatia and Serbia to capture a piece of the long journey that thousands of migrants from the war-torn Middle East are making.

“This kind of story is very hard to show. It’s a very big story,” Risovic said. The “simple details,” he said, ” can tell you a lot about the condition, the emotional message.”

The details he focused his lens on were the shoes — sneakers, trash bags, improvised footwear — that refugees wore.

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“All the shoes have a different story,” Risovic said, “Shoes were torn apart by long walking or by the circumstances or conditions at the border crossing.”

Taking photos of shoes allowed Risovic to tell the stories of migrants while overcoming communication barriers and hesitations of his subjects.

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“It’s hard to communicate with many of them because they speak Arabic,” Risovic said, “Some of them are afraid of showing their faces and being photographed.”

But no one had anything against him taking photographs of their muddy and worn shoes.

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October 20, 2015. Long lines have formed on Croatia’s border with Serbia. Photo by Marko Risovic for CNN.

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Follow CNN on Instagram to see the full series of Risovic’s photos.

How you can help in the migrant crisis:
Catholic Relief Services
Concern Worldwide
International Federation of the Red Cross Europe
International Medical Corps
International Rescue Committee
Medical Teams International (MTI)
Mercy Corps
Migrant Offshore Aid Station
Samaritan’s Purse

Syrian Refugees- We don’t wait for others to give us solutions

Message from Syrian Refugees to the World:
We are starved, tortured, bombed, gassed for almost 5 years!
We are going to walk to Europe, we don’t wait for others to give us solutions!


We Walk Together: a Syrian refugee family’s journey to the heart of Europe
Published on Sep 10, 2015

Thousands of refugees were sleeping rough at Budapest’s Keleti station, waiting for trains to take them to western Europe.

Then, they just got up and walked. Guardian journalist and filmmaker John Domokos went with them, every step of the way. This is the story of one Syrian family, and those who came out to help.