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Hama ’82

Stories from Hama (Memories of Painter Khaled Al-Khani) Part I

A repost updated from  2012

Introduction by Off the Wall

A painting by Syrian painter Khaled Al-Khani

In few more days, the thirtieth anniversary of the massacre of Hama (February, 1982) will befall us. This time, the anniversary has a special meaning as Syrians, who have broken the fear barrier, are now openly talking about the events that transpired thirty years ago in their homeland. We are helped nowadays in that even the dumbest observer can recognize the lies of the Assad regime, and that has made many of us search for the real narrative of Hama, a narrative that the regime has for decades tried to suppress through its demonization of the Muslim Brotherhood, and to hide, by extension, the stories of the innocent victims of Hafez Assad and his henchmen which according to people from Hama, may have reached 40,000 murdered souls, not to mention the rapes, the pillaging and hateful acts of barbarism the aging thugs are now trying to blame each others for.

As the sons of the perpetrators of the Hama Massacre,  helped undoubtedly by some of those who participated in it, now attempt to suppress the current Syrian uprising through similar machination of brutality, lies, and deceptions, it becomes more necessary than ever for us to recover the real narrative of Hama. It is the narrative of the children who witnessed their fathers and older brothers being murdered, of women who were raped and killed in cold blood, and of entire city districts raised to ground out of vengeful hate that shames us all for its existence among our sentient specie.

My friend Khaled Al-Khani, then a seven years old child, is now a renowned Syrian painter. He tells the story of the massacre as he witnessed it and lived it through the murder of his father, his own epic journey with the few women and children who survived Assad’s murderous machine. In this and the next two posts, I will attempt to bring Khaled’s memories to English readers. It is only my way of telling the Assad gang, we will hold those who did it accountable, and we will not allow you to do the same, Never again.

This story can also be read in French, thanks to my friend annie

Part 1 (French) Histoire de Hama : souvenirs du peintre Khaled Al-Khani

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Stories from Hama (Memories of Painter Khaled Al-Khani) Part I

I do not know what happened to me today…? I don’t want to remain in hiding and I will go to my workshop and to every demonstration. I can no longer hide my real identity. I, the artist, have turned into a rebel ever since the Libyan embassy incident. My transformation has nothing to do with my distant memories, in Hama, of my father’s murder and the death of the city of my childhood, the rape our women, our imprisonment, our bombardment, and the subsequent conquering and forcible displacement of those who were left alive among us to the countryside as means to cover the crimes.

I swear to God I’m not hateful and I am not seeking revenge, but just retribution. My current sorrow is related to what I witness transpiring around me daily. We demonstrate, they shoot us with bullets, we then join funeral processions, and they rain a hail of lead on us. And as we walk once more in the next funeral procession, they reply with the same, and so on. We stay in our homes, they break our doors arresting us and intimidating our mothers, if I am not killed, someone else will be.

I swear to God I love life, but I love justice more. Please, tell me what to do. I do not know what befell me today? Today I remembered, more than any other day, I remembered my father. My father was an ophthalmologist in Hama. He was not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but he sided with the people of his ravished city. Believe me, and half the people of Hama testify to that. They gouged one of his eyes while he was a live, then they killed him and horribly mutilated his body. I was little when we buried him and I remember that he had no eyes.

In February 1982, I was a 6 year old first grader. We had just finished the first school semester and had gone on spring break, and what a holiday..  At night, and as we slept, we could hear loud sounds breaking the place’s silence and turning its serenity into a murderous horror.  Obvious was the panic on my aunt who raised me and next to whom I would sleep to compensate her unfulfilled motherhood because she never married, and thus lived with us in our beautiful two-story traditional Arabic home. The rest of my family and my father and my mother slept on the second floor.  Soon, I would hear the voices of my siblings and my father and mother becoming louder coming down the stairs and entering my aunt’s room as the shooting increased. My mother said to my father “Didn’t I tell you to stay on the farm?” For many year, this sentence did not go away from my memories, and the idea that my father left the farm hurt me a great deal and remained with me until I had grown up, forgiven him and  reckoned, It was destiny.

******

The sound of firing fills life. It was the first time I heard its wheeze. It rose further and then began the thunder of explosions. As the hours passed, we got used to these sounds. Time passed and some of the neighbors started flocking to our home. Chaos is everywhere, children crying, women reading the Qur’an, and great concern. This continued for three days, and then we heard a big explosion. Father said that a shell hit the top floor. The house shook as dust filled my lungs like it filled the place and women recited Surat Yassin (the verse of Yassin). Meanwhile, a wave of sharp cries rose and father said we must leave the house as fast as possible, so we went out and people started to gather while shouting. Panic dominated everything, and we went to the house of a neighbor, then to a dark cellar thought by the men a more secure place. There were more of us than the place could accommodate. We stayed there for three days while the firing continued with no stopping. Then an artillery shell, Surat Yassin kept rising all the way to the sky, a second shell and a third, causing the cellar to vibrate madly. While no one of those who took refuge in the basement was hurt, many residents of our neighborhood perished and many were wounded. The doctor who lived in the neighborhood was able to save some. We stayed in the basement until the bombardment and firing calmed down and they got us out saying that we must leave towards safer neighborhoods. Little they knew, for they were wrong as it did not occur to them that a campaign of genocide was taking place. We went out hurriedly through the Hadher market to reach the Ameeriyyah district. We encountered streets through which we had to crawl because snipers were everywhere.

After incredible difficulties, we reached the Ameeriyyah neighborhood having just crawled the last street with my father helping my aging aunt to whose side I was totally stuck. My mother and sisters crossed with the rest of the people, and the three of us stayed. But then my father asked me to leave with everyone and I refused because I wanted to stay with my aunt who raised me. He forced me to catch up with my mother and the others and he stayed with my aunt, and this was the last time I saw my father alive.

In the Ameeriyyah district, we continued to search for a shelter and we found a cellar packed with people, but they could not let us in because our numbers were very large (most of the population of Baroudeye neighborhood). Later, they let my father and my aunt in because they were only two. The refuge in the Ameeriyyah is where my father was arrested and  where my aunt survived to witness and tell of what happened.

****

Our group followed the road towards Northern Ameeriyyah where we found a shelter large enough for all of us. We stayed in that shelter until the arrival of the “Syrian Arab Army” whence the shelter was turned into a prison. They took all the men including young men out of the shelter and promptly executed some of them right at the door and arrested the elderly men. Only women and children remained in the place. Some were crying, while the majority were forced to shout, at gun threat (“with our blood we sacrifice ourselves for you Hafez“, بالروح بالدم نفديك يا حافظ  and  “O God, it is high time for  Hafez to take your place” يا الله حلك حلك يقعد حافظ محلك) in order to worsen our humiliation. Our imprisonment lasted three days while they murdered whomever they wanted. I swear to God we stayed without food, and I still remember the smell of the place. It was unbearable. We constantly heard screaming voices outside the basement, voices of women being raped, and of and torture that would still visibly affect me whenever I recall or try to describe. Some women had few candies ad Chocolate with them, and before they took the men, one of them brought a few loaves of bread and olives that we shared, and which was barely enough for one man.  Women kept reading Qur’an continuously, albeit in hushed voice.  Then the door opened and they ordered us to get out because they said they will now execute us. We got out as we were shouting “we sacrifice our blood for you …..”, but then they told us that we must head in the direction of the Aleppo Road outside the city.

We walked, raising our arms and repeating what we were told to repeat. The landscape was surreal, the place was full of corpses, swollen, of black blood, and as we moved from one street to another, bodies and destruction were everywhere. We proceeded until we reached the Omar Ibn Khattab Mosque (of which you have been hearing lately as the place where demonstrations to demand freedom started). The Mosque was  destroyed completely, with the washing room being the only section left.  In there, there were some army soldiers who terrified us by pointing their rifles and machine guns at us forcing us to lie face down on the ground. Then they  brought us into the washing room and shut the door tightly. Some women begged the army men to kill us and let everyone else out of the city, but they refused. When we entered the washing room we found fungus covered stale bread that we ate. There were also two ornamental statues of white doves. I do not know why they were there, but to me they signaled the beginning of salvation from the bloodbath. The door remained locked for a day and a half, after which one of officers shouted a speech at us in which he said:

“she who awaits her husband or brother or son or father, don’t be waiting for him because he will not come out alive and will never return.”

They released us in the direction of Aleppo, we walked more than ten kilometers racing against time as we cried and barefoot women kept reading the Qur’an, and whenever we heard the shooting, we instantly lied down, until we reached the point where they had allowed the villagers access to help the survivors. What can I say … I swear by God, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

……….. To be continued

I encourage you to visit the online gallery of Khaled Al-Khani and see how Hama echos resonate in his work

Lest we forget-31 years (Introduction by OTW) Stories from Hama: Memories of Painter Khaled Al-Khani. Part 3

HAMA-31-MemoriumNearly a year ago, I posted my translation of several segments of the memoir of Khaled Al-Khani, a Syrian painter who lived as a six-year old child the horrors of Hama. Then, I hoped to post all of Khaled’s memoirs, which were originally written by him as eight letters sent to his friends in the early days of the Syrian Revolution, on three installments. I was never able to do the third installment since pain, sorrow, and grief, always struck me hard in nearly every sentence. Khaled and I have become good friends, and every time I started working on the last four letters of his, I could not  stop weeping as I  thought of my friend, living the massacre as a child and hearing the horror stories from his neighbors as he grew up, so I stopped.

Today, we enter the thirty-first anniversary of the Assads’ massacre of Hama. It was on this day, thirty-one years, when an abominable group of barbarians invaded a beautiful city on the Orontes river. What happened  next became suppressed in the memory of millions. It was suppressed in the memories of those who knew of the massacre, but remained silent for fear that the Assads may do to them what they have done to the city of Hama, to Khaled’s friends, to his larger than life father, and to our identity as Syrians. Others were merely ashamed of our own complicity in the crimes, whether that was in believing the lies and distortions of Hafez Al-Assad, or in failing to rise up in aid of our sister city, raped as she was.

In less than two months from now, we mark the beginning of the third year of the Syrian Revolution. Much has happened since I posted the second part of Khaled’s memoir. The horrors khaled describes are now common place, for what was done in 1983 in the secrecy of siege has been happening in the open, by the son of the murderous hafez, a foolish entity, that proved to many existence of filthy genes.

Bashar’s barbarians are not far from his fathers’ and uncle’s. Their crimes are no less horrific as they have demonstrated through countless “leaked tapes”. The Baroudeyeh neighborhood, who fled to the undulation room in a destroyed mosque, are now joined by their children from countless Syrian cities and villages. Photos of murdered detainees, tortured to death, starved, burned, mutilated, are now part of our daily lives.

All of this does not belittle the pain that is Hama. And while we mourn her sisters joining her in tragedy at the hand of the murderous sons and nephews of the senior assad thugs, we must also continue to remember Hama. As I wrote in the previous post, what we see today was foretold thirty-one years ago. It is also a warning that this clan must not remain in Syria, should have no future or connection to Syria, and that its heads, its bullies, their partners, and loyalists a swell as their propagandists and publicity prostitutes must face up for their crimes.

Today, while Syrians die or become refugees on hourly basis, many of the perpetrator of Hama’s massacre remain free. Rifaat Al-Assad enjoys his billions all over Europe, Abdel-Halim Khaddam lives safely in the most expensive area of Paris, and many of the junior thugs, are now generals in the barbarian army, not counting the soldiers and petty-officers have retired. For Hama, then, and for what is happening now in Syria to without punishment is a dishonor not only to Syria, but to humanity as well.

Again, I could not finish translating  all of Khaled’s Memoir. It is still very hard to do. There will be one more. But that is OK, for in having a task like this going incomplete, i continue to remember our dept to Hama, and  the fact that it can never be paid.

Stories from Hama: Memories of Painter Khaled Al-Khani. Part 3

Part 1,  Part 2

11. Life under shelling 150x150.acrylic on canvas

One of Khaled Al-Khani’s 2012 paintings titled: Life under shelling.

When my father slapped me and sent me to join my mother and my brothers and the rest of the residents of the Baroudeyeh neighborhood, it was like he knew that I would never forget the details of the tragedy for as long as I lived. I tell you now, and I swear; I see him today in every martyr among the detainees. I beg your forgiveness. You may find some confusion to this part of my testimony, and you have to excuse me, he is my father.

O’ father, how could you send us to the unknown? What a pain. What went through your heart and mind then?  when your sufferings began to grow.

He was captured in the shelter he went into with my aunt after the army, delayed by some brave young men, later arrived. I know one of these men very well, and he told me how much they suffered from bombardment, and how were they able to delay the savages’ invasion for few days.

My father was arrested with all of the men in the shelter and sent to the ceramic factory. Some of those who were with him told me later that after days of having been with no food and with only rain water to ease their thirst, a few soldiers would come once or twice and throw some bread around asking the people, at gunpoint, to race for the bread in order to amplify our disgrace. There were sheds and cellars in the factory, and as customary, the detainees shared the pain. The cellars were warmer than the sheds, which protected them from the wind, but in the factory yard, a place which became outside universe of humanity, laid killing, maiming, dragging, brutality, teeth pulling, ear and tongue cutting, eyes gouging, and breaking of limbs. Despite all of this, people shared the roles and the pain.

After days of existence in the detention camp, some people began calling my father “Doctor” as a sign of respect and to ease his pain having eased theirs many a time in the past. He repeatedly told them: ”Don’t call me Doctor” because as one of signatories to the city’s intellectuals’ statement sent to the regime calling for democracy and respect for freedom and other human rights, he knew that the regime would not allow any intellectual from our city to survive.  Today, we are calling for our rights again, and we will get them, god willing. One witness told me that my father once chided him for toasting a piece of bread on a makeshift stove and told him to eat it as it is. To date, I could not understand why. Was he concerned about the loss of nutritional value with toasting? or was it the smell, in consideration for the hunger of all of the detainees.

The presence of a physician among the detainees, of whom there were five thousands in this particular detention camp, leaked to the officer.  So, he gathered the detainees in the yard. Then, this senior officer said that they needed a physician, suggesting there was a medical emergency. My father and another doctor adhered to the Hippocratic Oath and answered the call of duty. Little they knew of the planned treachery.  My father and the other doctor were both dragged alive and tortured. They gouged one of my father’s eyes in the midst of his suffering and  one of those who were present told me that my father was on the ground writhing in pain when the soldiers were beating him with their weapons as if they were playing and before he died, the soldiers ganged up him as a pack of wolves. His tribulation and pain lasted for hours. Oh father, what did you feel…? After that, his body, which looked like mine, his face, resembling mine, and his soul, similar those of our today martyrs, was thrown in the yard and later handed to the national hospital, where he remained, with the other martyrs’ , laying at the hospital door. My father’s torture did not end then, for in there, they gouged his other eye, took his identity card and stapled it to his clothes.

One of our relatives was able to retrieve my father’s body. He was buried eyeless.

Today, I swear I never stopped asking for our full rights and for the murderers to receive just punishment. I never stopped, and will never stop until you return to me my father’s eyes to lay them to rest where he is.

I wrote the first few parts of my testimonial while under fear and anxiety from everything and I sent them to you to expose the crimes of this corrupt regime.  God knows, as I was writing, letters of the alphabet abandoned me, and my language did not save me. Sometimes I would search for a letter or a sentence and try to write it down but it would escape as a fugitive does from this tyrannical regime. You have no idea how many a prose I erased out of fear for the safety of people, and how many times I hesitated, stuttered, and cried until I fell down. I swear my crying never stops when I write, and what I write is always forcefully extracted from my memories, which constantly tries to escape into the far and deep corners of my brain.

My father’s corpse was dumped for days among other corpses at the door of the national hospital. Earlier, my father, a non-Baathist, was appointed as a director of the hospital and president of the city’s syndicate of physicians. This was an earlier attempt to signal the regime’s responsiveness to the intellectuals statement and to initiate a dialogue with members of the city’s civil society in the same treacherous tricks being used to out such people by the regime nowadays. We must exercise caution and read the regime’s movements well.

A nurse, who worked with my father when he was the director of the hospital told me that wounded people arrived  to the hospital in an non-slowing acceleration. An incident occurred when a wounded man was brought in  loudly crying out of pain. His cries were so loud to the point where everyone in the hospital heard. He was not the only one crying out of pain, but his voice was the loudest. People who brought him believed, as we all now do, that the cries of pain were the signal to the soldiers who camped at the hospital to finish off the wounded and to assure our complete annihilation.  It was not the treatment to ease the pain that was proportional the the pain of the wounded but the severity of torture awaiting them. The nurse told that the soldiers, accompanied by another nurse who adopted murder with them, opened up the man’s chest while he was writhing and shouting with pain, took out his heart, his blood covering their faces and their military uniforms; until they finally silenced him, forever, as they had thought then. But by god, I am his voice, his pain, and his body, until we honor him as befitting a human. They killed in a celebration of victory over humanity. This is their eternal war. The teller swore that the nurse who identified with the soldiers took out the man’s liver and chewed and spat pieces of it as if god didn’t exist in that place. The woman who told the story remained silent for years about it. Till today, she remains frozen in that place, unable to leave it as she relives repeatedly in her memories the scene. She said that they never asked for the man’s name. They don’t track names. The barbarians don’t know the language of children and women; our language. They know only the language of killing.

Bodies were defaced and disfigured in that hospital. On the walls, they drew with blood and wrote  phrases such as “no god but nation and no prophet but the ba’ath”.  The decapitated heads to express their fear of our mind, or may be so that people remain uncertain about the death of their disappeared beloved, or whether they are among the detainees in the gang’s jails.  This is merely a picture of our psychological torture, which they strove to make chronic up to the present. Until now, doubts remain, and people, heart broken, still yearn for the return of those who went to that place.

It was as if the barbarians were abstracting the Human on a painting dominated by red and adding from the darkness of their hearts to balance their inhuman art. This was their art of painting, sculpting, of cinema and theater, and perhaps of poetry and music, but the  task for narrating was left to me. They excelled over all of those who made contemporary art then, but they forgot that they were killing the human because these are the arts of killing among barbarians. They even performed their own scientific experiments:  intravenous introduction of water and alcohol into the blood of the wounded while they observed what happened. What scientists? They have surpassed the ages. They punctured eardrums, slashed veins and cut productive organs, fingers, and ears. They gouged eyes, and penetrated every orifice with their guns. They used Cyanide on us (I will tell more about it later). They desired god to create us with no ears and no hearts. They desired that god never created us to begin with.

A wounded woman meant more pleasure for them because they can practice more of their arts including the rape of a woman while she is dying or bleeding, or sometimes, being merciful, killing her and then raping her. If she had any jewelry on her, they would extract the jewelry in the most vicious way such as by cutting her hand, or slashing her ear, and more. As they are doing today, then and in that area of my city, they instructed all hospitals not to admit anyone but wounded soldiers, and when no one listened to them, the destroyed all private hospitals. No one escaped their savagery as they looted, ransacked, and destroyed all of the pharmacies in our area.

Hameedo-Pigeons

Commemorating Hameedo’s pigeons. For 31 years, Hameedo and hi pigeons remained part of the artists’ memories of resisting the culture of death of the regime. Hameedo’s insistence on making sure that his pigeons never land in defiance of the soldiers’ bullets was one of the few inspiring things to a six-year old boy living the horrors of the massacre.

Perhaps all of  the survivors from the Boaroudeyeh neighborhood know Hameedo, a mentally disabled young man, who surpassed the murders in intelligence and humanity. Hameedo was there when the massacre of Hama started, and he would never hesitate to declare himself defender of his sacked city. Everyone in the neighborhood knew Hameedo because like a clock, he would release his flocks of pigeons to the sky at sunrise. His voice transcendent,   Hameedo would wake everyone while sending his pigeons off. At sunset, he would sing the sun farewell with his loud voice calling on his flocks to return. A part of the homes and of the place, Hameedo would not stop doing that, even if everyone left. After the barbarians’ night attack on our city, and I don’t really know where he stayed at, but on that morning, while we were in our house, and when bullets flew from all direction,  Hameedo went up to his roof and released his flock and his voice to the sky. His voice mixed with the sound of bullets and the sound of his pigeons was not the usual. It was more like our own sounds. Hameedo’s birds were scared of the bullets as they circled the sky desperately trying to land. Some of them got lost. But not Hameedo, who defied the bullets as his mother was calling him, with his voice being the only voice heard at that moment. We may never understand his feelings, and I think that he did not realize what  he felt, but he stood with his sacked city and may have released his birds to make the barbarian understand his message. What a man? He grew grand in our eyes, freeing himself, and facing the murderers. Ever since that day, I have been trying to reach Hameedo’s heights and to tell you about his struggle, which is unlike any. The soldiers saw Hameedo’s birds and they started sniping them one after the other, but he kept shouting to tell us with his shouts that the barbarians would not refrain from any evil. He did not surrender, and would never allow his pigeons to land on the roof of his house. Some birds landed on other roofs, the rest were killed, but even then, Hameedo did not stop, he went looking for his birds from one roof to the other, enticing them to fly again. He faced the barbarians, and he didn’t hide or surrender to the sound of bullets for he kept that sound out until he was shot by the soldiers, who never understood what emotions are, and never knew what does humanity mean, and never favored it for other creatures.

Hameedo went silent on the roof of his house, but has never been silent in my memories. It is as if he is sending into my soul again what he felt in the wide skies. By god, today, we all feel like Hameedo, who released his weapon of simple humanity to stop the murder. Foretelling before anyone could that the barbarian were here to exterminate all birds,  he departed with his birds to where he desired and left me to carry to your what he wanted for all of you. Where are you now Hameedo? To declare freedom in your own way, you are now eternal in the memories of those surviving residents of the Baroudeyeh. Everyone knew then that Hameedo was flying with his birds towards the sky. He was one of the first martyrs of our neighborhood.

Horses-of-Hama

The residents of Hama’s Baroudeyeh district adored their Arabian Horses. Bestowing their own names on their horses to signify the unique relationship with their Noble horses. The above painting by the artist illustrates the centrality of these horses in their lives.

In the Baroudeyeh, we had horse stables within arabian-styled our homes. All families in our neighborhood had horses and these horses were part of our pride and honor. We never classified our horses as animals, for they carried our names, and in that there was and remains an infinitely clear expression of the nature of the relationship we had with our horses. During  our great escape from the neighborhood, some people remained, but most left. Those who remained told us later what happened to our horses. Before leaving, some men released their horses wanting for them exactly what Hameedo wanted his birds, and that was to stay away from the place, or to fight weapons with his beautiful birds. Many of the fine Arabian bloodstock horses were forced out, in manners we have never done in hundreds of year, a manner that does not at all represent our feelings towards our horses.

Yet, many horses remained, and the barley stores were left opened for them in hope that they can survive. Some believed that they will see their horses again upon their return, but these people did not know that barbarians don’t leave anything behind, and they would not leave our cultural heritage, the habits of our grandfathers, and they knew the symbolism of horses to us.

They did not kill the horses because they knew of their cultural values, and they knew that the loss of our horses will be forever painful to us, which is what they want. None of the survivors tell that they have seen horses among the corpses, because the barbarians have carried the horses to another place. I swear that after the end of the massacre, and the return of those who survived it to the city, the people of my city went looking for their horses as if they were looking for their own children. If any one mentioned that a beautiful horse or mare was seen in another governorate, they would go to investigate whether it was one of our beautiful horses. We never saw any, and did not found an answer until the golden horseman showed up, and then the people of Hama knew to where the horses disappeared. His father was never a horseman, nor was his grandfather. While he may have learned riding with our horses, not everyone understands the language of horses, because it teaches ethics, and it only befits us. Bassel al-assad, you never were a horseman, and this is not how horsemanship is.

To be continued

source

Part 1

31st anniversary of the Hama massacre

Hama 1982

[youtube http://youtu.be/CXhLaaGmb4A?]

Robert Fisk remembers ‘Hama massacre of 1982’

[youtube http://youtu.be/X8dSFeWxRnI?]

“I guess I am sorry I saw it in many ways”

Reagan was President at the time

Stories from Hama: Memories of Painter Khaled Al-Khani. Part 2

Feb 2 : 30th anniversary of the massacre

Posted by

Introduction to Part 2.

We continue with the memories of renowned Syrian painter from Hama, Khaled Al-Khani. In this segment, Khaled mixes his memories of events he witnessed, as a six-year-old child, with those he heard during the great escape from the massacre of 1982 and in subsequent years.

Khaled tells horrific tales of images, feelings, sounds, smells that have remained with him and with most survivors of the Hama massacre until today. But above all, these are also stories of both those who perished in the bombardments and mass executions as well of those who survived to share the pain and the long-lasting scars that can only be left by excessive brutality and deliberate savagery.  The material is not for the weak heart or sensitive reader.

Today, Thursday, 2 February, 2012, and at 9:00 PM Damascus time, Orient TV is airing a 30 minute film by Journalist Emma Sulieman “Why do I paint Um-Ibrahim” “لماذا ارسم أم ابراهيم”. The promo for the film can be viewed here. Orient TV has a direct online broadcast as well.(http://orient-tv.net/orient_live.php)

Part 1 of Stories from Hama, Memories of Painter Khaled Al-Khani.

Stories from Hama: Memories of Painter Khaled Al-Khani. Part 2.

After our great escape from the massacre of Hama; a human history event resembling no other massacre but itself, and after fleeing from the images, the sounds, the smell of blood, the taste of stale bread, and the voices of women being raped and men and children grappling with death having been shot, and  after the destruction of our city as if an earthquake had befallen it, we reached the point of no return, and we headed to the countryside,  barefoot and half naked. They displaced us from our homes, killed whomever they wanted killed, and launched us on a journey even more painful than what has preceded it.

In the village, we were received with the utmost hospitality and  honor, which goes to show the fact that all of the Syrian people knew of the corrupt regime’s lies. We remained as refugees in that village, where we finished the second school semester.  My father was martyred. His properties were either stolen or destroyed. We stayed there until the start of the following school year when we returned to Hama and lived with one of my maternal aunts through an act of nurturing and pain sharing. Later, one of our relatives managed to find my lost paternal aunt, about whom we had no information whatsoever, in the countryside. I remember that I did not expect to ever see her like that. She was a queen, but all had changed. I hugged her for hours, while my siblings and our mother (all of us) sobbed hysterically. My aunt later told of the arrest of my father in the shelter we passed by and that she never saw him alive after that but had learned of his death from some people. We sobbed and sobbed. Sobbing first, before even greeting each others, became the norm in Hama when people met face to face as they exchanged visits. For years, the house we stayed at was a home for many displaced because of the complete destruction of several neighborhoods such as Al-Baroudyyeh, Al-Kilanyyia, Al-Zanbaqa and Shimali, (الباروديه، الكيلانية، الزنبقة، شمالي ) and many more. There was barely a house in Hama which did not have martyrs and detainees, and this at the least.

We went back to our schools after tremendous suffering, humiliation, oppression, and hunger. I swear to you that in my grade (second grade), there were only two kids who were not orphaned. So, just imagine how much we suffered in order to overcome our internal crisis, and we still have not done that to date.

Then the regime (and it does not even deserve being called a regime), inflicted new torments. It never stopped arresting people. Many of the generation slightly older than mine were arrested and many remain disappeared until now. Their names are well-known to the people of Hama.  To further torment the people of Hama, and to prove that we were humiliated, broken, and stepped all over, the ruling gang started releasing some of the prisoners who were not liquidated in Tadmor only on their self-proclaimed national holidays that had no connection whatsoever to their actual deeds; days like the “corrective movement” and the “birth of the party” and so on.

Over the years, the people of Hama became used to that. On each of these occasions, they flocked to the southern entrance of the city (i.e., Homs highway، طريق حمص) and the scene would go as follows:

Women, children and men, or for that matter, all of the people of the city , stop buses and cars coming from Homs’s direction  and search  while shouting, each, the name of their own disappeared with nonstop crying. The scene lasts throughout the day in a chaotic and crushed state with the search for the disappeared continuing in mind-boggling and logic defying ways. Sometimes the people may find their disappeared; may be three or four only, and the entire city would return demoralized with their voices too subdued to even express their inner pain. Those who find their prisoners are not more fortunate than those who do not, for most of the surviving prisoners are very weak and powerless, and I swear that they brake the heart more than those who perished.

We know a man who was released from prison and we went to greet him. Praise to God, he was in a good mental state because they had taken him out of Tadmor prison into Sydnaya prison for recuperation six months before his release. I swear that his skeleton was clearly visible and his color was inhumanly white because he had not seen the sun for years. He told me everything about their imprisonment in Tadmor, and one of strangest stories was about a prisoner in his cell who started displaying symptoms of ruptured appendix and suffered great pain for days. They knew that  they could not ask for help from the warden who used to monitor them from a hole in the ceiling because if they asked for help and informed the warden of their friend’s pain, the jailers’ solution would have been to liquidate him with the utmost expediency. The prisoners therefore decided to operate on their friend in the dormitory in complete silence. Imagine that! the prisoner’s abdomen was cut open using a piece of tin while some prisoners held him to prevent him from moving and others closed his mouth with a piece of cloth. The surgery was carried out by a doctor who made the surgical needle from the same tin, and I am not sure what kind of threads he used to sew the wound. The operation was performed without making a single sound. This was a reality of fear and repression and a clarity of  fate inside the prisons of the corrupt regime.

*****

I will tell some harrowing images that can only reflect the logic of the barbarians who violated my city in 1982.

While inside the washing room in Omar Ibn-Alkhattab mosque, the door opened and five adolescent girls were let in, and what a scene….. The lower halves of their clothes were full of blood, and while we the children did not pay attention to this sign, which was beyond our comprehension, some of the women, seeing this, fell down in seizures. We did not understand the rising crescendo of Surat-Yassin (سورة يسين), the Takbeer (تكبير), and the increasingly louder crying, but we joined everyone crying in a way I have never encountered again in my life because nothing like this could have happened any where else, and God willing, never will such happen anywhere else again.

The adolescent girls were taken to a small back part of the washing room after the scene of their blood filled our hearts. The older women tried to help the bleeding that was staining the place (how indecent are you as you demonstrated and confirmed your savagery, O’ barbarians). Then, and in a scene that causes the soul a great disturbance and horribly breaches serenity with  pain shared until today, some women began to take off their underwear and hand them to the girls. Us children were shell-shocked, as we could not understand what was happening in front of our eyes, why were women taking off their underwear to cover our violated virtues? The women, who joined forces even managed to stop the horrible bleeding. At first, some women asked for assistance from the soldiers, but the soldiers refused, laughed, and mocked us with excessive vulgarity as if they were not born to mothers but sprang out of cold stones and as if they have never known God, but only bullying coercion. The women tried to embrace the wounded girls to ease their panic, and only after long hours, our minds achieved the contentment of the restless and tired soul, mainly as one form of survival instinct. We, the children, began to playfully approach the wounded girls to alleviate their pain. I  still remember their faces, they looked horrified as if they came out of a barn full of rabid wolves

The girls told the women what happened to them. They refused to respond to the wolves’ demand, and the wolves hit them with brutality far beneath human imagination. Beating them, verbally assaulting and stripping them by tearing their clothes, they violated the young girls’ hymens with most inhuman barbaric means.  Sex was not their only motive, they were sick with infinite sadism that violated the girls’ souls before their bodies, these were the monstrous beasts who yoked our necks.

****

In the same place, one woman told about her elderly handicapped grandmother, who had sent them off in hope that they will survive this dark blood bath and stayed behind with her wheel-less walker.

They were in the Al’aseeda (العصيدة) neighborhood right after the army had bombed it with artillery and had entered it as killers immediately executing many men and horribly mutilating their bodies in the worst possible means. Never hesitant to murder even children, the soldiers arrested those left alive. I swear, I know a man who was a child then, and I saw and spoke with him s few weeks ago, and he told me of the state of the bodies of his maternal uncles, and that when they fled, they had to step over the bodies of their loved ones to get out. What a way to say good-by, and what a horrible death. He has been carrying his pain with him to the day, and he told me “I’m afraid of their might, and I can’t resist my fear. Forever they raped my peace of mind”. He naively asked me, “we will be victorious over them, won’t we?” I laughed, me who hasn’t laughed in months and confirmed our victory while hesitantly smiling. But I know that we will be celebrating our victory.

Grandmother (um Ibrahim) decided to get everyone from the neighborhood out, and herein, everyone means only children and women. She walked with them supported by her walker under snipers’ bullets and artillery shells, climbing uphill until they reached the beginning of the “Hadher, حاضر” neighborhood.  Um Ibrahim became tired and she could not walk anymore so she stayed in the house of one of my paternal aunts and her husband after she sent them to their unknown destiny like a flock of swallows among beasts. Grandmother Um Ibrahim had no other choice, and she was well aware that these killers are not human and that everyone must escape the blood bath that threatened them every moment. In the wash room,  when the women talked about Um Ibrahim and how she shouted at them sending them off to their escape, every one read Al-Fatiha, “الفاتحة” for her soul thinking that she was wiped by the barbarism she decided to confront.  But Um Ibrahim was stronger than the canon, and as my aunt and her husband decided to escape from the ever rising death, she released them and stayed in their home decidedly defiant.

For a week, Um-Ibrahim remained in my aunt’s house with all doors wide open. The soldiers entered the house, went out, stole and demolished its contents, all the while Um-Ibrahim screamed in their faces scaring them and shaking their fake sense of bravery.  She did not bow to the killers. Instead, she defended the house with her courage as a symbol of righteous defense of the entire violated city. Her steadfastness humiliated them and their leaders, and they started obeying her dictates and discovered that she was the victor with her walker. They decided to blow up the houses of the entire neighborhood intending for her to witness the level of their inhumanity. So they took her out of the house to the middle of the street, and she sat on a chair in the middle of the bloodied street for three days throughout which, Um Ibrahim, in this wilderness, never negotiated or even maneuvered. She announced her presence like a palm tree, a flagpole and a flag, never asking for help from anyone. Some soldiers, taken by her glory, started to help her in her physical needs. Um Ibrahim swore that she never feared them because they were too small for her vision to a point where they became invisible to her. She insisted that God sent her all what she needed while she stayed to tell the killers that we will return, exact justice, honor our martyrs with individual headstones refusing to leave them to a mass grave, and that “contrary to your belief, you will never be victorious”. In the end, it was by God’s mercy that some people, also on their own escape journey, found her and carried her; she who refused to be carried, to the villages with the other dispossessed.

…. to be continued 

Online gallery of Khaled Al-Khani where the echos of  Hama  resonate in his creative work

Hama ’82 : memories and testimonies


Thank you for this beautiful but painful entry. This February is the month to finally face up to the crimes that happened to Hama, while we were sleeping, while we were young, while we were silent. It is time to read the words of the survivors and listen after we ignored them for decades. It’s time to weep for Hama, to weep for our past and present. It is time as a nation, to collectively mourn Hama openly, without fear, for the first time since 1982. Maybe by the end of the month, we will be able to let go of some of the guilt and move forward, knowing while Assad repeats the sins of his father, we are not repeating the sins of our silent fathers.

A very harrowing account. It can’t have been easy to recall such painful memories.

Such evil can never be permitted to exist. How can anyone in their right mind even contemplate compromising or having a dialog with the entity that created such barbarity.

Two elderly members of my family in their sixties were gunned down in their home in Hama in 1982. Their children recognized the father from his wedding ring, this how bad his body was.
The level of hatred is manifest in the extreme brutality that followed that is also accounted by the book from Tadmur to Harvard. In this book the account is very similar to one of my relations who was imprisoned for more than a decade and once released had to walk in his slippers the 20 km to Damascus and when he showed up his family did not recognize him for so emaciated he was and they thought that this was a vagrant coming in for begging.
Once a person was taken into custody the sentence was death and the trial was to either confirm or commute the sentence.

Dear Amal
Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Your words do reflect what I was thinking as I was trying to finalize the translation of this installment. I had originally intended to have all of Khaled’s memories translated into a single post, but as I proceeded the feeling of guilt you so eloquently identified became overwhelming, and the only way to cope with it for me was to finish this segment and get it out, for I wanted the world to read Khaled’s words as soon as possible.

Yes, it is time to weep for Hama, as well as for the more than 6000 murdered by orders of the person who insisted on inheriting his father’s legacy as a butcher of Syria. And as we weep, and work, each within our best towards freeing ourselves and Syria, we forge a new country. A country that has finally learned to grief and to move positively.

The most distinguishing difference between those who support this revolution and those who have for months now only found reasons to stand against it is rather simple. We trust Syria and Syrians, they don’t. Poet Hala Mohammad now ends every post she writes by saying: Syria, I trust you. I think she is not being poetic only, but prophetic.

Words cannot describe the emotions I felt and feel from reading this post. I hope we Syrians can really learn our history no matter how dark it is, and insure that it never repeats its ugly face, and only enforce the great values that we all know and love.

And by the way OTW, the sentence “Syria, I trust you” is one of the most beautiful sentence I have ever read, and I believe in it with more conviction than anything else.

Thank you for this blog, I am learning so much about my Country, things that either I wanted to forget about, or was not aware of.

I still maintain that RIFAAT AL ASSAD was the main person responsible for Hama. Hafez may have ordered it, but Rifaat planned it and executed it. He was there in Hama throughout the Operation. He cannot be allowed to go scot-free, he is a killer, a killer in the same way the Mukahabarat Chief of Homs was a killer during the Clock Square Massacre. Anybody agrees with me ? It is criminal, no worse than criminal to trivialize the crimes of Rifaat just because he has distanced himself from the regime.

And what about Tadmur massacre ? that was done purely on the initiative of Rifaat, Hafez was recuperating in hospital at that time ( if u did’nt know the MB had tried to assassinate him at the Airport, the Tadmur Massacre was in retaliation for that).

I know u guys will label me a mukhabarati intent on obfuscating Bashar’s crimes. But I prefer calling a spade a spade, and Hama 82 was much worse than what has happened in the last 10 months ; and I prefer Rifaat to be in the dock along with his nephew(s).

Dear Observer
I hear your grief for your relatives. I have few of my close relatives who spent a lifetime in Tadmur, and when I finally had the chance to talk to one of them, he told me, there were times when we envied those who perished.

I believe there is not a single person in Syria in the 80s who did not have a distant relative or kinsman killed or imprisoned ( inclduing many regime bigwigs).

OTW,many thanks for this testimony.
In order to illustrate it ,here are photos from the past of the rased neighborhoods by assad’s militia which are on the left bank on the pictures .Can be seen the Sufi lodge of the Kilani and the Kilani neighborhood and al Hader further.

http://www.usj.edu.lb/delore/imag/gphotos/hama.jpg

http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/matpc/07100/07192v.jpg

As I read this horrific description of what happened in Hama, all these images came back to me. It was the fall of 1980. My eldest brother had finished his high school and left to Europe with my mother to enroll in university there. We were left with my father. We went to private school in Aleppo. It was a Friday. My older brother was in eleventh grade and his school was only half day on Fridays. I was in tenth grade and my little brother was in third grade. We also had a shorter school day on Fridays. When the school day was over and all the girls were boarding the buses to go home, the principal showed up with a very tense look on her face and ordered all the girls on our bus down. We could not understand why we were asked to stay in school and why only us. We heard that a parent had called the school, talked to the principal and down right ordered her to keep our bus from leaving. I later found out that the parent was actually no other than my own father.
Our old apartment was in a nice neighborhood in Aleppo. Unfortunately, the back of our building shared a wall with the intelligence service branch of “Amn al Dawleh”, the state security. All you had to do was walk a few meters to the end of our street, turn right and walk a few more meters to find yourself in front of their entrance. We did not even dare walk down that street. We were told by our parents to avoid it at all cost. It was completely blocked off for cars, but theoretically, a pedestrian could use that street. In reality, only those who were unfortunate enough to live on that street walked it and they were constantly harassed.
My brother had returned from school right before the call for Friday prayers. Considering he was sixteen at the time and with two distant cousins already in prison, my parents had forbidden him from even thinking about attending the Friday prayer. It simply was not allowed and God knows he tried. Right after Friday prayer, there was the sermon and then the congregation decided to walk from the mosque to the intelligence service branch behind our apartment. Apparently, there were detainees in that branch and the people were demanding their release. The men walked the 15 minute distance to the branch in a peaceful demonstration. From what my father was told later by members of the intelligence service, the men approached the branch entrance demanding the release of the prisoners. The branch chief came out and asked them to leave, but they were not backing down. He warned them that if they kept getting closer to the gate, they will be shot. They did not heed his threats. As the men started marching closer and closer to the gate, all hell broke loose. The unarmed men were faced with what amounted to a firing squad aiming directly at them. My father and brother were inside our apartment, but too close for comfort. They ended up on the floor in the middle of an interior corridor feeling like there was war outside our doors. All my father could think about was my bus and my little brother’s bus coming back to drop us off and getting hit by stray bullets. He crawled to the phone, called the principal and told her to halt the buses. She argued, he yelled: “Can’t you hear the war through the phone. This is not a joke. You will get the kids killed. Stop the buses.” She wondered what to do with the kids. He assured her that the parents would much rather pick their kids up when it was safe. Please just keep them at school until we could come. She did. My father called again and asked to talk to me. He told me to walk to my little brother’s school and keep him with me until he could pick us up. My brother’s school was in the same campus as my school. I walked there with my best friend, who also had a sister there. We picked both up and walked them back to our school. We were all so very scared and had no idea what was going on. My father finally came. He was in the car with two young men wearing camouflage vests. When I got into the car, I stepped on something. I looked down to see two machine guns on the floor of the car. They acted as a foot rest for all four kids until we approached our area. We had to go through three check points. Without the two men in the car, we could have never been allowed to go through. The area was simply off limits to anyone. We dropped my friend and her sister off at their house and proceeded to ours, where my brother was left home alone and near hysterical. It was a mixture of fright and excitement. He recounted the events for me without stopping to take a breath. A few minutes later, we went to our balcony and collected a big bucked full of shells. There were a few bullet holes on the walls of our apartment, luckily, no glass shattered.
The next morning, our cook arrived to our house shaking. I opened the door for her. She rushed in and told my father that across from the branch in one of the gardens there was a big pile covered with tarp. As she got closer, she could see human legs covered with blood peeking through the sides of the tarp. She told my father that there were too many and started sobbing.

And in very high definition as high that we can perceive interesting architectural details ,such as the monumental iwan in a house near the zawiya.
http://lcweb2.loc.gov/master/pnp/matpc/07100/07192u.tif

Dear Sheila
Thanks for sharing .This is the first time I hear this incident with such details. There will be  trials, and people know the names of the chiefs of these dungeons of horror. Even if they are retired, and living with their sons and daughters in some nice western country, cases will be filed. We have to do it.

Dear Shami
Old timer and the always reliable walking heritage encyclopedia, that high-res image made my day. Never knew how superb was the architectural heritage of Hama. The destruction of such wonderful neighborhood should also be counted as a crime against humanity. DO you have more photos, please either post the link or email it to me at modotwblog@yahoo.com.

OTW:

“….and when I finally had the chance to talk to one of them, he told me, there were times when we envied those who perished.”

Your lucky to have been able to converse with your relatives. My cousin was not able to talk for years. Even when he spoke his brain was fried. He still thinks the mukhabarat are watching him from across the street through the 4th floor window of his room.

His crime: His name and phone # was found in one of the his friends / student pocket phone book (who later turned out to be a brother of MB). Pathetic! No trial, just a conviction of 16 year old teenager and 20 year prison sentence.

Dear 7ee6anis
As Husam, observer, Sheila, and I did, please do tell your stories, even if it is a single paragraph. Part of our cross-generational grief is telling stories, sharing photos (as Shami just did).

The next segment will be longer, and i am afraid, even more horrific.

OTW,

I am not sure I will be able to read your next post, too troubling and depressing to read. I mean, I find the more I read and follow the news the more I can’t function. What am I to do, drop my life and children and join the revolution on the ground in Syria? Anything short of that is cowardice. I feel helpless.

the hama massacre happened before i was born, though my mother does tell me stories about how hamwis fleeing hama ,reached homs bare foot. i cringe at the thought of how they were isolated back then, no youtube,aljazeera,bbc, twitter, facebook to document their crimes. how did they live?!?!? : they didnt. They were brutally murdered and forgotten until now…………..

Dear SGID
Thanks for sharing, part of what I am trying to do is to help the world understand what really happened. I now realize many people, thanks to Husam that many people will not be able to read everything, but it is my generation’s duty to make sure that your generation is informed of our mistakes. When you depose the fool dictator, if possible, make sure that you never ever trust a “leader”, never ever place a fuzzy concept, no matter how sublime it sounds, above the value of individual life.

Dear OTW,they are from the library of congress digital collection, you will find many photos ,many available in high res ,not only of Hama ,but also from the other syrian cities ,taken during the Ottoman late era and the french mandate time.

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/

OTW, I will continue reading, for now I must stop.

I heard the horrors of Hama a year later, from a lady, who lived through it. I could not sleep for days.. cannot recount what I heard, could not read Khaled’s account of that horrific February, 1982…..We met outside Syria.

But I will always remember her voice, her affirmation. The children will grow, you will see, she said with a nod. We never talked about Hama after. No one did.

I will never forget the savagery. I lived it, through her words.

For two decades Syria looked like a dungeon from the middle ages. The walls had ears, your closest relatives and friends might be informants, they were not. It was the “shock and owe” of Hama. The nation was subdued. The youth imprisoned or exiled, tortured or dead. Discussions were muted.

… his son Bassel died in a car accident. We all felt like perpetrators, what is awaiting Syrians now? The verdict was issued. It was God’s will. Later, the father died, till this day I did not wish mercy upon his soul. Never will.

At the same time, I will never forget my ignorance, my naivety and immaturity for quickly forgiving and forgetting that the butcher’s son, is from the same poisonous milieu. He is surrounded by the same old guard that committed Hama, that humiliated Syrians, physically and emotionally.

This murderous family and their guards has written their last chapter, solely.

OTW:

Thank you for doing your part. Our generation knows fully well what took place. That is why I am for equal representation and I don’t trust any “leader” but God. Syrians of all people know that in order to get anywhere in politics (in almost every country) you have to be scum.

SGID:

The Hamwis and the Homasneh were never forgotten. I don’t have any in my family, but they are always in our conversation as brave people. Facebook, twitter, etc…was not around, but God was. Hafez continues to be tormented in his grave to this day.

His brother Rifaat, pencilneck, and the clan…their day is coming.

My step mother had two brothers who were arrested in 1981. Their crime was that they prayed at the same mosque as an imam whom the regime didn’t like. She never heard from them again. It was heart breaking to see how hopeful she and her family would be everytime the regime announced an “amnesty”, hoping for any scrap of news about her brothers.

I was very, very young in 1982, and living in Homs. My memories of those times are hazy, but what I remember the most was the memory of so many women wearing black. No body needed to tell me that something terrible had happened, something no one dared speak about.

Ya Hafiz fiq wa shoof,serna ensibak 3al makshof

Sheila,

Can you provide us with an acount of the Artillery School massacre in Aleppo ? That event has always mystified me, as to how 3 to 4 untrained people armed with AKs could masdsacre 70 military cadets after storming the compound.

I have read this account in Arabic before and this is an excellent translation. It did not lose any of its strength. Well done. I was too young during the events of 80′s but I remember the fear and the tank parked in front of our home and the marks it left on the asphalt for months later. I remember hearing the gun shots. I remember growing up knowing about missing relatives and the hardships their families encountered. I remember relatives dismissed from government jobs merely for having the wrong family name. The fear was suffocating.

Dear Nusayyif,
I was a teenager at the time and my information is based on what I have heard from my parents and their friends. Remember that there was never an independent investigation of what exactly happened there. All we got was the official story. My recollection of the incident is that a Sunni officer from the Artillery School in Aleppo gathered the young cadets in the school gym and with the help of a few other officers, locked the doors, trapped them in and opened fire. They specifically targeted Alawii cadets. The death toll was at 32 or 34 cadets. Ibrahim Yousef was the main perpetrator. He managed to escape, but was later captured by the end of the MB uprising and hanged.
The perpetrators did not storm the compound. It was an inside job.
The reaction to the massacre was mixed. On one hand people were happy that somebody was finally standing up to this tyrannical government, on the other hand, people were horrified at the killing of these young men just because they belonged to the president’s sect.
By the way, I do not think that Zabadani is 3 hours from Damascus as you claim. If you drive fast, you can reach Aleppo in 3 hours.

Ibrahim Al-youssef was the duty officer for that night. Duty officers have absolute control of the cadets and no one would have had any reason to suspect his orders to gather the cadets. He managed to also sneak in external collaborators. As you said, what he did was a crime that was used by the regime later on to aggravate sectarian hatred.

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