“I hope that the world can do something in order for us to get back to our villages and homes…is that possible?”
Ten years have passed since the spark of the Syrian revolution ignited, several pages have turned, each containing stories of pain and suffering. A people confronted with the bullets of tyranny, writing with blood the first words of the revolution's tale that narrates a struggle between right and wrong.
On March 15, 2011, the Syrian people stood up to the face of tyranny and broke the bars of silence behind which their freedom was being held. The genie had been let out of the bottle and will not return.
On March 15, 2021 in the centre of the Northern Syrian city of Azaz, people once again gathered on the streets to raise their voices and protest.
Free Syria flags hung everywhere and those original revolutionary chants "the people want the fall of the regime" sung out in the air.
Within days of the start of the peaceful movement, Bashar al Assad's prison cells were filled with hundreds of peaceful demonstrators demanding the restoration of their dignity and their right to human life.
The decade-long war that’s followed has been brutal. Hundreds of thousands have died, were detained or disappeared.
Still, in the early days of the revolution many Syrians dreamed of a breakthrough, a chance to see light at the end of the tunnel, but instead the Assad regime cracked down harder, putting people in prison for defying the regime and subjecting them to some of the most severe forms of torture documented this century.
In Molham camp, not far from Syria’s Azaz, volunteers there are trying to provide better housing for Syrians displaced by war.
To date, more than half the Syrian population has been displaced internally in Syria or had to flee the country and are now living abroad, often in dire circumstances.
To get to Molham camp you drive past an endless sea of blue and white tents, that make up the vast majority of unofficial displacement camps in the area.
We stopped along the way and met some of the children from the camps who were eager to tell us what they were learning at school and how they wanted to be teachers, one wanted to be a doctor another an engineer.
Small children, in desperate circumstances, with big dreams.
The accommodation in Molham is higher quality, brick walls and a roof over their heads.
Ahmad Hamra lost both of his legs in a bombing in Aleppo four years ago. When we meet him, he’s cementing in a small plant in front of his new accommodation.
“We are tired,” he says, “the regime have spent ten years of war and bombing. All my family were killed, all of them were martyred by war planes in Aleppo. My father, my mother and my only brother, all of them were martyred. I’m the only one left, but I lost my legs.”
Ahmad’s story of loss is familiar to millions of Syrians who have faced a decade of bombardment, detention and siege.
In over ten years of reporting the war, I’ve spoken to people who were starving and so desperate during the siege of Eastern Ghouta, they told us that they were forced to eat leaves.
I’ve been inside Idlib and witnessed the terrifying silence that comes and how everyone looks to the sky when there’s the sound of an airplane overhead.
To this day, Idlib comes under air attack by the regime and Russia.
Futaim Hammadeh and her family fled Idlib “Our homes were destroyed by warplanes, when warplanes were roaring in the sky my son was a kid and used to shiver and cry from their sound. Many people were killed, all of them were tragedies.”
But despite the well documented killings carried out by the Assad regime, effective intervention was absent from the start. Arab League Monitors, UN monitors, Kofi Annan’s peace plan - all failed.
Calls from Syrians and their supporters for serious intervention, after the chemical attacks on Khan Skeikhoun, demanded a no-fly zone over Idlib where today civilians are still at risk from the Assad regime's barrel bombs - all ignored.
Yusuf Al-Hajjii expresses the anger many Syrians have at the lack of effective intervention, “the intervention of western countries wasn't enough, we saw nothing from the western countries.”
There have been many complicating factors throughout the war in Syria.
The rise of ISIS (Daesh), whose barbaric killings were stained in black ink on the bright pages of the revolution.
But still, despite ten years of apathy from the international community, Syrians are calling on the world to intervene.
“I hope that the world can do something in order for us to get back to our villages and homes," Futaim tells us, “is that possible?”
In Molham camp and during the Azaz protest young children were making victory signs.
Small moments of hope, yes. But it’s small victories like this that are a message to the Assad regime - you haven’t won yet.
It was those voices that have proven to be Syrians' most effective weapon - words that shook a dictatorship and scared the regime.
But the price paid by the Syrian people for demanding those basic human rights, freedom and dignity, has been a desperately high one.
Bashir Abazid was one of the original group of boys that were detained by the regime accused of writing anti-regime graffiti in Daraa - ‘Your turn doctor’. He was just 15 years old at the time of his detention.
Bashir tells us how detained in Assad’s prisons “we were statistics. We were identified by numbers, not names.”
The conditions were so bad inside the prison Bashir tells us ‘I would have preferred to die than stay alive”.
Put in solitary confinement he says “I didn’t want my captors to open the door, because that meant more torture, humiliation and beatings.”
When Bashir was released, the story of what had happened to him and his friends (who have been called the Freedom Boys) had ignited the revolution.
He says now “many Syrians ask me if I have any regrets after seeing what’s happened to the country. The situation there is dire. But what happened is not our fault. We regret nothing. The people took to the streets peacefully. We held olive branches and chanted for Syria and for freedom. The Assad regime fired live bullets at peaceful protesters. Those killers are the ones who should have regrets.”
So many Syrians we’ve spoken to inside and outside the county have told us they still believe in the revolution, still believe the regime will lose and Assad will fall.
But everyone, every single person we speak to, says exactly what Ahmad Anferse told us on the tenth anniversary of the war, “every person wants to go back home.”