Phoenix rises from ashes of barrel bomb

Syrian regime's use of barrel bombs on civilians has killed and maimed thousands of civilians and it is still using these crude, unguided devices in attacks UN considers war crime

Photo by: TRTWorld
Photo by: TRTWorld

Majeda and her siblings busy coloring

A Barrel Bomb or Barmin - as it is widely called by Syrians - is a crude, almost medieval device.

Pieces of scrap metal, such as ball bearings, leftover shrapnel or any metal that would otherwise be discarded, is tightly packed with high explosives into a metal barrel – often a discarded oil barrel.

Up to five of these metal containers are loaded on a helicopter and flown to areas held by the Syrian opposition.

These barrels are then dropped on cities, such as Syria’s largest city, Aleppo.

One such crude device landed near six-year-old Majeda in the al Haidariya district of Aleppo two years ago, on the afternoon of February 9, 2014.

‘We were trying to escape to the countryside when it happened’; Majeda’s father Mohammed Omar told us in the Turkish city of Gaziantep where he now lives with his family earlier this year.

He’d been out of work for months now, struggling to make ends meet for his family and unable to pay the rent.

‘I haven’t paid the landlord for four months now and he’s threatening to throw us out’, whispered Mohammed. Sitting in the far corner, were three of Mohammed’s five children, busy coloring scraps of drawing paper, our team had brought for them.

The first thing you notice about Majeda is her big smile. She doesn’t talk much, but her brothers follow her every move, almost instinctively. When she picks a green pencil, they follow in color of choice.

Seeing Majeda, one almost forgets the pain she and her family went through two years ago.

‘We were escaping Aleppo because the regime was intensifying its attacks in and around the city’, said Mohammed. He told us the family was at a bus stop in the al Haidariya district when a regime helicopter airdropped its deadly cargo.

‘We could see the ‘’barmin’’ fall and tried to run away from where it was headed, but there was no escape’, said Zaliha Abdulkader, Majeda’s mother.

She told us there was a large explosion and the area was covered in dust. ‘Everything slowed down and then was moving fast at the same time’, said Zaliha.

‘I could hear Mariam’s (the elder daughter) shouts, but Majeda, who was next to me was quiet. She didn’t cry’, said the mother with tears in her eyes.

Majeda and her brother pose for a picture as their mother looks from behind [TRTWorld]

Zaliha soon realized that Majeda was bleeding from her right leg that was still attached to her body. ‘But Mariam’s leg was torn apart’, she said.

The injured were first rushed to a field hospital on the outskirts of Aleppo where Majeda’s injured leg was removed and Mariam’s bleeding was controlled.

They were then shifted further north to a medical facility in the town of Azaz, near the Turkish border.

‘Those who survive barrel bomb attacks suffer from long term psychological problems’ said Doctor Mohammad Abo Hilal, who has been treated Syrian children suffering from war trauma.

‘Young children don’t have a grip on reality; they don’t have an understanding of death or loss, so if they lose a limb they might think it will come back again’ he told us in Gaziantep. But older children respond to loss differently said Doctor Abo Hilal.  ‘Some will be resilient and will accept it, but there is a percentage of them, who will have a deep psychological problems’, he said.

Mariam, who is six years older than Majeda, vividly remembers the day she lost her leg. But she refused to speak to us about the event.

When we approached the family for an interview, she even refused to see us at first and was angry with her parents for ‘displaying the family’s misfortune in public’ her mother told us later.

‘I want to be an Arabic teacher when I grow up’ said Majeda. The soft-spoken girl smiled as she grabbed her crutches and raced ahead of us, down the slope.

Her parents who were following her closely behind said, ‘she doesn’t see her missing leg as an impediment and that gives us hope’. 

Authors: Ali Mustafa, Cagri Gunal and Haluk Ensar Arvas