This post is part of a special series of articles by blogger and activist, Marcell Shehwaro, describing the realities of life in Syria during the ongoing armed conflict between forces loyal to the current regime, and those seeking to oust it.
Before the Idea
I realise this year how late we are in talking about the third anniversary of the Syrian revolution. It is as if delaying talk about it will change the depressing reality. We are marking the third year since the start of the revolution. A lot has changed in those three years, to the extent that you no longer recognise yourself, or your friends, or your family or your own home. Those who have managed to remain as they were—if you do manage to find a Syrian who has not changed—are lucky. Or perhaps very unlucky.
I've also noted the absence of the debate that Syrians love to engage in every year, about the exact date the revolution started. The question we ask ourselves jokingly is: Are you a supporter of the March 15 revolution, or the March 18 revolution? I will try to explain briefly the roots of this debate, which has not surfaced this year because of exhaustion, or perhaps because we have given up on pinpointing the exact date which ushered in the revolution.
Here's the argument put forward by proponents of the notion that the revolution started on March 15, 2011: On that day, a small protest took place in Al Hareeqa in Damascus. A number of protesters were arrested, which prompted a sit-in the following day, next to the Ministry of Interior, to demand their release.
Those who insist that the revolution started on March 18 (I am one of these), state that the revolution kicked off in Daraa on March 18, 2011, and that this was the point of no return. All that had happened before this date was merely a prelude, with relatively few participants, and which would have been stifled had it not been for the popular rebellion in Daraa on March 18.
This year we seem to have reached a consensus that the anniversary stretches from March 15 to 18. And in Aleppo, my city, the debate raged in the comment pages, between those who decided to stay put and those who decided to take a break in Turkey. We decided to prepare for this anniversary celebration 10 days earlier.
While Preparing for the Idea
A friend of mine who is always enthusiastic, and whom I envy for his passionate belief in the revolution, says: “We need to organise something across all of Syria.” As soon as he utters this, we realise how difficult it has become to say “all of Syria”. The concerns of those besieged in the Damascus countryside and Homs are completely different from the concerns of those in the liberated North, and is painfully distant from normal life in other parts of the country. Even the concerns of those in the liberated North are not the same as those in Aleppo, which is constantly bombarded; or Idlib, which is celebrating its recent liberation; or Al Raqqa, which is suffering under a new dictatorship—a faction which calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or as Syrians prefer to call it, Daesh.
Despite all this, we start a small group on Facebook to prepare for the third anniversary of the revolution, as we rarely meet in real life, thanks to electricity cuts and the difficulties in accessing the Internet from one region to the other. We insist on re-instilling the basic values of the revolution. Someone suggests the slogan “Rights, Humanity, Justice.” Nowadays, however, there are some who oppose the revolution simply because of the word “freedom”, so we insist on including it. We decide on “Freedom, Justice, Dignity” as our motto for this anniversary, which expresses, essentially, the values we held at beginning of the movement.
We acknowledge that there are many reasons the slogan has changed over three years, and how linguistics have interfered to deny the revolution its values. Among them are politics, and money and a desire to appease the Western media by adopting its vocabulary. Because we are the children of this revolution, we decided that we needed to remind people that what is happening in Syria today is not a crisis, or a conflict, or a civil war, or a clash between two forces. What is happening is a revolution: a dream for change, rights, humanity, freedom, justice and dignity. These are the reasons we chose this year's slogan.
A Rebellion for Freedom, Justice and Dignity
On the first day our slogan will be “Freedom”. We will paint the word in different languages on a public wall in Aleppo, to tell the world which is witnessing our blood being spilled that whatever price we pay, we still believe in freedom.
On the second day, we will focus on “Justice”, and put up a memorial with photographs of 500 martyrs killed in Aleppo. We will also take flowers to the graves of martyrs, which have filled up our cemeteries.
On the third day, we will celebrate “Dignity”. We will collect letters from the front-lines of the Free Syria Army, from the medical camps, from activists, from people on the street. They will be letters of support, from one part of Syria to another.
And on the last day, we will erect revolution traffic lights which remind people that “Calling People Apostates is a Critical Juncture”, “Revolution is a One-Way Street”, and “The Road Ahead is Monitored by Media Cameras,” among others.
All the tiny details we have prepared are painful to contemplate. It hurts to search for old slogans which were a dream for most Syrians, before violence changed us. The photographs of martyrs are heart-wrenching. How have they already become numbers, after being covered in blood and when the pain felt by their families is far from over? It is exhausting to write to Syrians of whose suffering and challenges we know very little. It is worrying that they have actually started to divide us.
It hurts to try and bring back the happiness that disappeared after the year one, the intensity of preparations for the second anniversary and to consider how much we have lost by the time of this third anniversary.
I am proud that after all this violence, we have not lost our minds, and that we still adhere to very high values. We may perhaps be worn down from the debates, the back-stabbing and the horrible errors being committed. But I am proud of the movement, mistakes and all, and just as I have written, in the local dialect, to the fighters who have become exhausted and given up:
“The road of the revolution is asfull of pride and freedom as the number of people we have lost, and the energy and dreams that have vanished. I am writing to you to remind you of that moment, when we raised our hands at the protest, and swore to complete the road together and bring a better future to this country.
“I am writing to tell you that you, perhaps, may not have felt the importance of your presence with us as I have. Remember that each of us was leaning on the other for support, and any one of us leaving leaves all our backs exposed. Remember that we have a duty towards the families of martyrs.
“Perhaps last year in particular was a shock, which reminded us that for our freedom to grow, we had to pay a dear price, and that our ability to live in the liberated areas was paid for by the blood of young people, who received the first bullets, shot at the demonstrations. Today, we are able to move freely in Aleppo, without a dictator, thanks to the sacrifices of Abu Younis, Sultan, Saif, Amin and other young people.
“We still have a lot to fight for, Abdulwahab, Abu Mariam, Luay Abu El Joud and Nour, and many many more to return.
“We still have a long way to go for people to stop being martyred in Syria, like Tuti, who was killed from torture.
“Yes, the road is very long. But just as we wrote, on the walls of my city, a quote by [Palestinian poet] Mahmoud Darwish:
“We are still alive and will persevere. And our dream remains alive, no matter what.”