Razan Ghazzawi: “Al-Tal City, and Beyond”
“He was a 17 year-old activist from Daraa. He had a little motorcycle which he used to go from town to town. He carried his USB memory sticks with videos to be uploaded. He was one of my main sources before he was killed by a regime sniper.”
That is what my friend, Abu Abdalla, told me on Skype while I was having a fine evening in Damascus. I stopped drinking my tea; then he told me that his friends are trapped in his hometown Tal, just northwest of Damascus.
On August 8th the Syrian National Council announced Al-Tal, a suburb of Damascus, to be a disaster city. The regime army besieged the city and cut water, electricity and communication supplies, including the internet. They started shelling it on Thursday August 9th and continued for weeks, which left more than 160 people dead.
I asked Abu Abdulla if it is possible to set up a conference chat with his trapped friends inside Al-Tal, and so he did. I had the privilege to interview Qusai, Ashor, and “Renewed Hope” the following day.
“Our city has been destroyed,” types Ashor, a relief activist and owner of a grocery store which has just opened now to secure food distribution for the besieged people who remain in the city. “In July last year,” he continues, “we distributed dates and water on regime forces, we organized a “Dignity Strike” in collaboration with shop keepers, we launched anti-sectarianism campaigns, we worked hard and we did an excellent job.” Ashor gives proudly examples of revolutionaries in Al-Tal, but is helpless about what the situation is turning into.
“I am sorry,” said Qusai, “the internet connection is very bad where I am, it might get cut while I am typing.”
Qusai is the spokesperson of the Coordination Committee in Tal, he’s constantly contacted by Arab tv channels to give the latest updates about his city. He explains how the relief support hasn’t reached Al-Tal in months, and points out that without the residents many families would be homeless and run out of food supplies.
In my attempt to ask the young men how they felt in the past few days, Ashor ignored my question and typed:
“Just a while ago, for example, we were at a lady’s house, three of her children died. We went to her to give our condolences in her plight.”
“Up to this minute, she cannot believe they’re dead! Even though they’re buried now, she asked us to check if they’re really dead. She doesn’t seem to realize what’s happening around her. That’s one of the things we deal with here.” Ashor stops typing.
Renewed Hope pops in and types: “young people have changed, we used to care for our hair cut, young men cared for their girlfriends, whether they liked us or not…Now, you meet a 17 year-old boy and you see how the defence of his country is all he thinks about.”
Ashor interrupts his friend and types: “I myself used to fear death; I was scared of watching dead people. It freaked me out, but when the shelling reached our city, we saw the martyrs, we rescued the injured, in these hands and Renewed Hope’s hands, we carried the martyrs and buried them.” Renewed Hope interrupts again: “we cannot cry anymore.”
The young men continued interrupting each other throughout the chat conference. It almost felt like they wanted to let it all out.
“But I became more compassionate,” Qusai adds before leaving us on the chat conference, “It’s a normal feeling to wish to die among all this, but we live the day finding ourselves rushing to save lives.”
With the line Qusai shared, the young men asked to leave the chat conference to continue their work.
I thanked them for their time, closed my laptop, and didn’t really think it is possible to have another fine day in the more quiet Damascus.
© Photo: Al-Tal City Coordination, Text on Banner says: Dear Revolutionary, your actions reflect revolutionary morals, let’s act responsible.
This campaign was organized to encourage regime forces to withdraw without using force against civilians. Such campaigns were also organized by Darayya suburbs of Damascus by distributing roses and water.
Dignity Strike is a strike campaign organized by Syrian revolutionaries which was applied in several Syrian cities and villages. The campaigners were trying to keep the revolution peaceful by encouraging a civil disobedience gradually. Al-Tal is one of the first cities to join the call to strike.
Ashor and Renewed Hope mentioned later a sectarian incident that occurred in Al-Tal where a micro-bus driver was cursing Christians while driving. The activists organized themselves and distributed flowers on Christians that day in the neighborhood, and carried banners in demonstrations stressing on revolution’s values and national unity.
The video shows an unusual dialogue between protesters and regime forces that can only take place in areas where peaceful forms of resistance are demonstrated. The protester holding the microphone is addressing the regime army by saying “we are one hand, we are one hand” and stresses their overall unity.
She has been detained twice by the Assad regime and is now under military trial. Razan is an English Literature graduate and got a Master degree in Comparative Literature from Balamand University in 2011. She started blogging under the name of „Golaniya 7“ years ago, but chose to write under her real name 5 years ago. She recently won the Front Line Defender’s prize for Human Rights Defenders 2012.