By Mónica G. Prieto (Homs, Syria)
Translation: Blanca G. Bertolaza
- Fifth chapter of the “Syrian Chronicles”, written this Christmas in the besieged city of Homs, in Syria.
- Standing on top of a platform, Mohamed al Dalaub, 23 year old construction worker, begins to sing a song. Men, women and children are his choir and start dancing as if it were a party. Except that this party, like in all of Syria, can end drenched in blood.
- “When freedom knocks on your door, fear disappears”. That is Al Dalaub’s explanation for the continuation of the protests.
Standing on top of a platform, Mohamed al Dalaub, 23 year old construction worker, starts a songs that the hundreds who almost daily attend the demonstrations in the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs have already learnt by heart. “Come on, Bashar, what you are doing is wrong. Leave and leave Syria alone”. Men, women and children are his choir, dancing to the rhythm of the drum played by Mohamed Darmush, 23 year old painter, and start dancing as if they were attending a party. Except that this party, like in all the rest of Syria, can end up drenched in blood because the Security Forces, for the last nine months, have been trying to silence the cries that demand freedom with their weapons.
Protests in Homs begin with songs and usually end with shots. Each neighborhood in this city, which has been under siege for five months, holds rallies against the regime every night. They are not as marked by improvisation as in the beginning, and the main example is that each one has its own revolutionary singer-songwriter, such as Al Dalaub or Zakiah Ahmad, a 22 year old construction worker who spend their days writing and rehearsing in a humble home with Darmoush the songs they will sing by night.
“At first it was chaotic, us protesters chanted slogans without coordination. Then we started looking for those with the most powerful voices to motivate others”, Ahmad explains. That is how the idea of assigning singers to the marches came up, another way for them to fight for their freedom. “I demand my rights shouting, I take revenge on Assad’s crimes singing for freedom”, continues the young man.
“When freedom knocks on your door, fear disappears”. That is how al Dalaub explains the continuity of the marches despite repression by the regime. The three young men consider this new occupation since the beginning of the popular Syrian revolution that demands the end of the dictatorship as something more than a hobby. “Before the revolution, this interview would not have been possible. Even meeting like this would have meant ending up in jail. The regime does not even allow camping out. Now we cannot stop going out on the street”, Al Dalaub explains. “We have tasted freedom, how could we ever forget its taste?”. Darmoush agrees. “We live in a huge prison, and we have finally overcome our fear. Now we can speak out, prove that we do not need Bashar and pay tribute to Hama”.
The Hama massacre took place in the 80’s, when the regime squashed what it described as an Islamist insurrection in a military operation that cost between 10,000 and 20,000 lives, according to different estimates. It had no outside repercussion due to the shortage of journalists who were present and the lack of Internet and cell phones. Syrians still consider it an open wound, an example of what the regime is capable of doing to crush them. And they see the relative visibility social networks give them now and the precedents set by the Arab revolutions as their best chance to achieve freedom. That is why they believe that “there is no going back anymore”.
Political singers are a new phenomenon that has come out of the Syrian revolution, and as it settles in, they improve their methods. They have set up a network on Facebook to get in touch with other songwriters all over the country, to share information about the protests and to coordinate tunes they use in the marches, as well as their lyrics.
Like the rest of Homs, the three young men have to face harsh consequences for taking part in the revolution. Mohamed has his hands burned because of a grenade attack against his home a few days ago; one of his friends died in that explosion. In Darmush’s case, his brother was arrested by Assad’s forces. “They shot him in the leg and arrested him. They said they would set him free if he turned me over. Spies had given them my name, even though it is easy to recognize me because of the videos. We hired a lawyer, but all he could do was go see him. Through him, my brother sent me a message that said ‘keep protesting, stay on the street, I’ll be fine’”.
“Even the people who stay in their homes, who don’t go out and protest, die. I’d rather die claiming my rights than die in silence”, stresses Zakiah Ahmad, 22. The risk is everywhere, and the faces of the three young men are well-known since the footage from the protests has been broadcast through the Internet for months.
“If I get arrested, they will chop my head off”, says Darmush. “They will rip our throats out”, disagrees Dalaub, recalling the case of Ibrahim Qashoush, a singer who livened up the protests in Hama until the regime arrested him: they ripped out his vocal chords.
Khaled Ikrahied, his equivalent in the historic Homs neighborhood of Bab Hud, was arrested and tortured. “His corpse was beyond recognition when they returned it to the family”.
That does not deter them from being at every march that is held, with their voices and their drums. As Mohamed Dalaub says, “when you see the crimes that are being committed you cannot just stand there doing nothing, feeling sorry. We have to do something, anything, to try to stop it. And when you cannot use your hands, you have to use you voice to denounce it, and if that does not work either, your heart. We sing with the heart. Bashar, what you are doing is wrong. Leave and leave Syria alone”.