Daraa will terrify the regime every day. We will keep reminding them that we are the ones who set fire to this regime, and only we will extinguish it with freedom and dignity.
We all know very well that when the buses come, we will have to make choices that are difficult, bitter, harsh and painful. It is not our first time seeing these green buses, and it won't be the last. They are always the regime's solution, and often the only solution for the trapped opponents of Bashar al Assad’s regime.
On August 24, my friend Talal said goodbye to his son Yasser, holding his hand while leaving Daraa al Balad as part of the agreement between the opposition and the regime to transfer those who refuse the "reconciliation", to Idlib.
Talal is one of the opposition fighters who defected from the Syrian army in 2012, refusing his officer’s orders to shoot protesters. He later joined opposition groups and fought the regime for years in Daraa. Yet now, it looks like he’s the one who has to say goodbye to his wife and two sons, Yasser and Sham. He may never see them again.
In southern Syria, I experienced this in 2018. This type of settlement deal happened in al Sanamayn in March 2020, and in Umm Batinah in May 2021, and today in Daraa al Balad in August 2021. Disputes between the people of Daraa and the regime forces were always burning here and there, and the regime always stipulated the buses as the only solution.
And when you leave Daraa you don't really leave, believe me. You leave your soul behind.
No matter how hard I try to describe it, it is harsher than words can express. Suddenly, you are faced with two options. You can take the buses towards northwest Syria - to overcrowded camps filled to the brim, where there is no room for even a single new displaced person, where people are suffering under continued Russian and regime bombardment.
Or, you can stay in Daraa, and wait for the regime’s revenge. Perhaps you will be arrested, or forcibly disappeared, or assassinated. And if you escape with your life, you have no choice but to live under the tyrannical rule of Assad.
Some could not stand the idea of living under his rule, being forced to see pictures of the criminal on every street corner, having to salute him and his officers. They decided to leave in 2018, after a Russia-mediated ‘reconciliation’ deal, while I, and others, chose to remain and stick to what we have believed in since 2011.
But this "battle" is not easy at all. It is a battle against fear, anxiety, disgust and despair. Many were defeated and left Daraa in succession. Daraa is that tree in autumn whose leaves die and fall slowly.
‘We will not forget’
Last May, the Assad regime organised presidential “elections”. Official media portrayed scenes straight out of a Syrian series - thousands celebrating the “victory” of Assad and thanking him for his “achievements”! What achievements?
Only the people of Daraa al Balad and those in Al Omari Mosque square - the birthplace of the revolution on March 18, 2011, decided to spoil these celebrations. The people of Daraa al Balad flew the flags of the Syrian revolution and raised their voices in anti-election slogans. The media saw that and circulated widely.
From that moment on, all of us in Daraa al Balad knew that the regime would take revenge on us. We knew that something was waiting for us soon.
Bombing, destruction and — eventually — the green buses followed soon after. The siege began in June. More than 38,000 people, mostly women and children, became displaced. For two months, the regime has been doing only one thing: forcing its opponents out of the area through those green buses or killing them in Daraa.
For two months, the remaining residents of Daraa al Balad have been waking up, looking for their food in the morning, asking each other what will happen tomorrow. And before night, they return to the shelters because they know that the bombing will start at night and will not stop before morning. And again the next day and the day after that.
Our secret weapon
In 2011, my friends and I established Daraa Martyrs Documentation, a human rights organisation. Even after 2018, we decided to continue documenting human rights violations in Daraa without hesitation. My colleagues and I needed a "weapon" to confront the war we live in our hearts. We are in a war in which we have to convince ourselves that we made the right decision by taking this risk.
Our office is our secret weapon. We wake up in the morning and ask ourselves, "How are we going to disturb the regime today?"
The answer is easy. This regime is afraid of evidence of its crimes, afraid that the world will know what is happening in Syria. It wants us to die quietly.
And we are telling the regime: Look at us. We are fighting you and you don't know who we are and how we do it. It is very dangerous to the point of death, but I feel the flavour of victory in my mouth every day.
When the regime started its siege, our task became even more challenging. We were used to working in dangerous conditions for years, but this time we felt that it was different.
Colleagues were split into teams to cover several places in and out of the besieged area to be able to contact colleagues outside Syria. Everyone has to submit their notes and documents every day, to not postpone the work by even one day, because who knows? The regime forces might attack us before we send the last day's work.
After every night’s bombing, we start work in the morning to assess the damage, check on those who are alive, and to ensure the safety of the injured. The days are too short before the return of the night and the attacks.
For days, the negotiating committees have been trying to reach a peaceful solution that prevents displacement and war, but it is clear to everyone that the regime is not negotiating to end the war - it came to take revenge on the place where it all began 10 years ago. Daraa al Balad is a major symbol for its people, and the regime wants to destroy it.
We, in the office, have to defend Daraa in our own way.
We refuse to let the world forget and forgive the regime for its crimes. We document every single crime, photograph it and record the names and details, and place them before the eyes and consciences of the world and in the records of history.
Our motto is "we will not forget, and we will not accept that anyone forgets".
Usually, I try not to lie to myself, I try not to get too hopeful, lest it get lost, but I am certain that we are not defeated yet. I consider what I have done during years of human rights work a victory. If I die today, I will be satisfied.
There is an Arabic song that says "We will stay here," in which the singer urges university graduates not to emigrate and stay in their homeland. This song is my friend.
"We will stay here," because if we leave, they will be here, and this place is ours, not theirs.
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