In Episode 139 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg marks the 10th anniversary of the 2012 Daraya massacre, in which the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad killed some 700 civilians while taking back the city from the secular pro-democratic revolutionary forces that had seized power there. These early Syrian revolutionaries were inspired by the grassroots-democratic vision of the anarchist thinker Omar Aziz, and the ethic of nonviolent resistance propounded by Jawdat Said, the "Syrian Gandhi." Daraya was re-taken by rebels later that year, but fell a second time in August 2016, putting an end to the experiment in parallel power and direct democracy. Most of the remaining inhabitants were evacuated to Idlib province in the north, which remained in rebel hands, and the model of parallel power survived there for another two years—before extremist factions linked to the Nusra Front began to take over. The November 2018 assassination of civil resistance leader Raed Fares was another turning point. The following year saw a popular uprising in idlib by the pro-democratic resistance against jihadist rule. But the legacy of Daraya, once the frontline of a peaceful revolution, is largely forgotten history, its true heroism betrayed by the world.
Thousands of local residents held protests across the Turkish occupation zone in northern Syria on Aug. 12, to oppose calls by Ankara for "reconciliation" with the Bashar Assad dictatorship. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, speaking to diplomats in Ankara the day before, said, "We have to somehow get the opposition and the regime to reconcile in Syria. Otherwise, there will be no lasting peace, we always say this." He also revealed that he met with the Syrian regime's Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad in October 2021 at the Non-Aligned Movement meeting in the Serbian capital, Belgrade. Angry protests, under the slogan "We will not reconcile," were held in the towns of al-Bab, Afrin and Jarablus, as well as areas controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in neighboring Idlib governorate. In the town of Azaz, a Turkish flag was burned by protesters. (Syria Direct, AFP)
More than 306,000 civilian were killed in Syria between March 2011 and March 2021, according to new estimates released June 28 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. According to the latest findings, civilians represent an overwhelming majority of the estimated 350,209 total deaths identified since the start of the civil conflict.
The latest report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic stated on Sept. 14 that Syria is "not fit for safe and dignified returns of refugees." The report found that between July 2020 and June 2021, armed conflict increased in the country. The report documented 243 civilian deaths, but estimated that the total number of fatalities is actually far greater. The report also stressed the humanitarian crisis and ongoing human rights abuses in the country. Conditions were also found to be precarious for the 6.7 million displaced persons within the country.
Fighting has erupted again in the southern Syrian town of Daraa, where an opposition-controlled neighborhood is resisting pressure to disarm. Assad regime forces placed the area, Daraa al-Balad, under military siege in late June, and later escalated to intermittent shelling of the enclave. A new ceasefire was brokered by pro-regime Russian forces over the weekend, under which the opposition forces were to begin the process of disarming but maintain some autonomy within the district. However, the ceasefire broke down almost immediately—allegedly due to violations by Iran-backed militias fighting for the regime. Shelling of the neighborhood has since resumed. The UN relief agency UNRWA has especially expressed concern for the some 3,000 Palestinian refugees living in a camp within the besieged area. UNRWA reports that water and electricity are completely cut off inside the camp. (Middle East Monitor, Daily Sabah, Daily Sabah, Reliefweb)
Doctors and healthcare workers held a demonstration outside a hospital in the Syrian city of Idlib June 1, to protest the election of the Bashar Assad regime to the executive board of the World Health Organization (WHO). Syria was elected to the board for a three-year term by the 22 countries of WHO's Eastern Mediterranean region—the latest coup for normalization of the Assad regime. "How can we trust WHO [when] one of its executive board members is the murderer who is killing my colleagues, my friends?" said Dr. Salem Abdan, head of health services for opposition-administered Idlib, in a WhatsApp message. Read a banner at the protest: "We reject the idea that our killer and he who destroyed our hospitals be represented on the executive board." Idlib province is part of a remaining rebel-held pocket in the northwest of the country, where Assad regime warplanes have for years been bombing hospitals and clinics.
Ten years ago this week, the Syrian Revolution began with peaceful pro-democracy protests. The first demonstrations broke out in the city of Deraa after local schoolchildren painted a mural depicting scenes and slogans from the recent revolutions in other Arab countries, and were detained and brutalized by the police. The Bashar Assad regime responded to the demonstrations with serial massacres. After months of this, the Free Syrian Army emerged, initially as a self-defense militia to protect protesters. But the situation soon escalated to an armed insurgency. The regime lost control of large areas of the country, and local civil resistance committees backed by the FSA seized control. Assad then escalated to levels of violence rarely seen on Earth since World War II.
The Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, on Feb. 24 convicted a former officer of Syria's General Intelligence Directorate, Eyad A., on charges of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity—specifically, torture and deprivation of liberty committed against 30 persons. Eyad received a sentence of four years and six months in prison for his role in arresting people who were later tortured. The 30 persons, who were all civilians, had been participating in anti-government protests in Douma in 2011 when they were rounded up and sent by bus to Branch 251, or the al-Khatib detention center in Damascus. At Branch 251, they suffered grave physical, emotional and psychological abuse, in addition to being subjected to inhumane and degrading conditions. The court stated that "Eyad A. had already known about the regular and systematic torture in the prison of department 251 when the demonstrators were arrested... He also expected that the torture was part of a planned, organized action by the government to suppress opposition forces."