When the martyrs were still alive

When the martyrs were still alive, they had a dream, there was still hope. They thought that the international community who lectured us about freedom, democracy and dignity, would jump to help us build a new country, where all are equal under the rule of law.

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This photo was taken by late Niraz Saeed during the siege inside Al Yarmouk camp

On June 5th 2014, I was invited to speak at an event in the United Nations about the death, the starvation, and the siege of my camp. Al Yarmouk camp.

That day I called Niraz, asked him what should I do? What should I say? He said, I don’t know, I really don’t, maybe a truce? I told him to ask the people around him.  He left, met the activists inside the camp, and came up with a paper proposing a truce with the regime under the protection of the United Nations.

An hour before the event, I told the delegate of the Syrian Coalition that civil activists in the camp sent a paper to me and asked me to present it during the event. Against my wishes, the coalition asked me not to present it. The organizers of the event even refused to print a copy of the paper in an effort to prevent me from giving it to the moderator.

Five minutes before the event began, I saw a guy setting up the sound system in the hall and asked him if he could help me print the paper. He pleasantly said yes. I took the printed paper carefully, looked around to see if anyone had seen me, and hid it among a pile of papers I was carrying.

When it was my turn to speak before about 60 missions to the UN, I remember saying: “It has been 3 years of daily death, half of the country has been destroyed, half of the Syrian population is either in Assad’s prisons,  or IDPs, or refugees. If this crisis lasts another 3 years, the rest of Syria will be destroyed and the rest of the population will either be murdered or displaced.  Based on this prediction, the civil activists inside Al Yarmouk camp sent you this paper, asking you to help them secure a truce with the Syrian regime.” I handed the paper to the moderator who happened to be the head of the Danish mission.

The hall exploded in opposition to my words. The speakers and commentators focused on ruining any possibility for a truce. The Syrian coalition, the French, the Saudis and others were calling for war.

Frantic, representatives of the Syrian coalition started to call their allies inside Al Yarmouk camp, asking them to refuse any truce, promising them more money and support.  The money didn’t come, neither did any kind of support. Instead, Jabhat al Nusra (known today as Hayat Tahrir al Sham) carried out targeted killings of those actors that had bravely called for a truce.

Four years later, the other half of the camp has been destroyed, the rest of the population was either killed or displaced to the north, and the rest of the activists were assassinated, imprisoned, or lucky enough to have escaped to the north.

Four years later, the international community hasn’t removed Al Assad or protected the civilians. It also hasn’t declared war or helped to secure peace.

Four years later, I have no idea what to be, happy for the martyrs that closed their eyes and slept forever, or sad that their dreams didn’t come true.

“I stayed here for a reason, I knew in advance what might happen to me. It would be ok with me if I found a smuggler who could take me to Turkey, and it’s ok with me if I leave legally through an agreement, but it’s not okay with me to confess to being an armed fighter or become someone that gives information about others under siege..  I’m a civilian, I’m not an armed fighter, and I’m not sorry..”

This was one of my last conversations with Niraz before he was detained. These words and this story is not specific to Niraz or Al Yarmouk. It is the story of many peaceful activists and civilians like him. And the story of Syria. The story of the revolution, why it started, and why it should continue.

Nidal Betare 

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