Abdul Baset al Sarout had long been in the crosshairs of the Syrian regime for his songs of freedom.
A Syrian footballer who mesmerised tens of thousands of countrymen with his songs of revolution has died after being injured in northern Hama on June 8.
Soon after the news of his injury spread across northern Syria, a large crowd of people gathered outside Defne Hospital in neighbouring Turkey's Reyhanli district, praying for his recovering and hoping to catch a glimpse of him.
But 27-year-old Abdul Baset al Sarout succumbed to his injuries. Outside the emergency ward of the Turkish hospital, the hope for his survival was quickly replaced by grief as men and women silently shed tears, waiting to bid farewell to one of their most dignified heroes, whose revolutionary chants have echoed across the war-torn country for six years.
From the age of 19, al Sarout was instrumental in writing and singing soul-stirring revolutionary songs that inspired much of the Syrian struggle against Bashar al Assad's regime. His activism and armed resistance put him on the radar of Assad's secret service and the regime put a bounty of $35,000 on his head.
“It’s a tragedy and a complete trauma," said a man from the crowd of people at the hospital. "I can’t believe that he has gone forever.”
Born and raised in al Bayada, a small town of 100,000 Bedouin people in northeastern part of Homs, al Sarout dropped out of his high school to pursue a career in football. As a teenager, he started learning ironworks so as to support himself in the near future. In his spare time, he wrote poems and sang them on special occasions.
By 2011, when he turned 19, Homs became the epicentre of Syrian civil war, and young, talented men like al Sarout felt compelled to rebel against the Assad regime. But in the following years, as Assad suppressed most of the armed rebellion with the help of Russia and Iran, al Sarout lost several members of his family including four brothers, five uncles and two nephews.
The years of relentless air campaign led by the regime pushed tens of thousands of people from the city of Homs towards rural areas. Al Sarout also moved to the north of Homs in 2014 under a ceasefire deal. He was accompanied by his mother as well as his other two surviving brothers and two nephews.
For a Syria free from Assad's rule, one of al Sarout's childhood friends told TRT World that he had no regrets about giving up his dream of becoming a professional footballer and brushing aside his achievements as former goalkeeper for Syria’s youth national team and the country's famous al Karama football club.
Despite the Assad regime recapturing most of the rebel strongholds and launching his final assault on the last one in Idlib, al Sarout did not want to give up.
In February 2018, when the Assad regime engaged in bloodletting in Ghouta province, al Sarout's video made rounds on Twitter, in which he called on all the fighting groups to retaliate against Assad from different fronts.
To engage Assad on other fronts and ease pressure from Ghouta, al Sarout said "it's not enough to condemn or denounce or issue statements."
"You can only ease pressure on them by opening other fronts in Daraa, Hama countryside, al-Ghab plain, Aleppo countryside etc," he added.
Abdul Baset Sarout calling on all factions to open all fronts to ease the pressure off Ghouta pic.twitter.com/tHQgFkZh24— Malcolmite (@Malcolmite) February 20, 2018
Although he was an athlete and offered a place in the Free Syrian National team, which was formed in Turkey, he refused to join it.
“We offered him to be the goalkeeper of the Free Syria National team but he didn’t accept since his priority was to fight until the liberation of Homs,” says Orwa Kanawati, a former sports reporter targeted by the regime, who now works for the Syrian Committee for Youth in Sport, a committee devoted to the welfare of Syrian sportsmen in exile.
Al Sarout was 19 when the Syrian uprising against the Assad regime started in 2011, altering his life, like many other countrymen, until he breathed his last.
“He was one of thousands of Syrians who took to the streets demanding for their rights,” Orwa said. “He was forced to take up arms to defend his people in response to the atrocities committed by Assad's troops. It wasn’t his choice.”
With the news of his death confirmed by the hospital authorities, his friends began recalling his deeds and praising his resilience as a fighter.
“He was courageous, generous and he had a good sense of humour,” said Mustafa Muhamad, one of al Sarout's friends. “The regime and others always tried to demonise him by portraying him as an evil man, but he remained steadfast in his fight against the regime.”
At the beginning of the Syrian uprising, the Assad regime attacked artists whose work was critical of the regime. And the singers who sang the songs of revolution became its primary target.
Forces loyal to Assad conducted numerous day and night raids, detaining several hundred singers and accusing them of “incitement against the state or harming the national security”.
In 2011, Assad's forces detained Ibrahim Qashoush, the singer of famous revolutionary song "Yalla Erhal Ya Bashar", and allegedly slit his throat during the interrogation.
Against all odds, al Sarout continued to make music, posing a serious challenge to the Assad regime.
Even though his death was reported by many media outlets, many Syrians refused to accept it until Jameel al Saleh, the commander of the rebel faction Jaish al Izza, confirmed it on Twitter, describing him as a "martyr" who died "fighting for the sake of God".
Initially, al Sarout's relatives and friends tried to hide the news of his death from his mother, who lives in northeastern Turkish city of Trabzon.
“We told his mother that he's just received light injury and that he's getting better,” Hadi al Abdallah, a prominent Syrian activist told TRT World.
Al Sarout's friends were unsure about how she'll receive the death of her fifth child but as she arrived in the hospital and saw her son's friends in grief, she knew something tragic had happened to her son.
“She was quick to realise her son was dead,” al Abdallah says. “We tried to comfort her and prayed to lord that may he relieve her from suffering."
Later in the day, al Sarout's body was sent to Syria for burial. He was lowered into the grave next to his kin.
“He was a hero, a symbol of steadfastness. He wished to die for Syria and he did,” says al Abdallah. “There's a funeral procession in Syria and he was buried with dignity.”