By Taha Bali
Under Aleppo’s rubble, there is something for everyone to mourn.
For those who believe in peaceful and civil resistance tactics as a means for change: Aleppo was the city that produced the most significant and consequential student movement in the Syrian Revolution, and, in later days, it was the liberated areas in Aleppo that saw some of the most active anti-ISIS demonstrations and an effective, albeit contentious and imperfect, oversight from civil society and local governance bodies over military factions. None of this has ever been or will ever be allowed under the totalitarian Assad.
AntiNote: The following article, written almost exactly two years ago, has special significance to us for several reasons, primary among them of course the subject matter—the gas attack in the outskirts of Damascus whose second anniversary was just observed by Syrian liberation activists and allies around the world—and the author.
Razan Zeitouneh is an award-winning Syrian human rights lawyer and activist who was abducted along with her spouse and two colleagues just a few months after writing this heartbreaking eyewitness account of the Ghouta massacre. Her story is one that should be far more widely known, and that provides a glimpse of the shape that the civil society movement took (though the assumption is widespread that it disappeared completely) after the Assad regime decided to counter the uprisings of 2011 with barbarous violence. Efforts to find her and secure her release have not ended.
Resources in English about the movement of which Razan Zeitouneh was a part and the context in which she worked are relatively rare but not inexistent. A good place to start is a medium-length documentary in Spanish and Arabic (with English subtitles), Ecos del Desgarro, which we recently shared in the Cinema Utopia section of this site.
“We have grown accustomed to the fact that anything is possible in this war and that the sole means to confront it is to prepare for anything.”
East Ghouta, Syria
I am trying to replay that day in slow motion in the hope of bursting into tears as any “normal” person is supposed to do. I am terrified by this numbness in my chest and the fuzziness of images running around in my mind. This is no normal reaction after a long day of tripping on bodies lined up side-by-side in long and dark hallways. Bodies are shrouded in white linen, and old blankets show only faces that have turned blue, dried foam edging their mouths, and sometimes, a string of blood that mixes with the foam. Foreheads or shrouds bear a number, a name, or the word “unknown.”