In the beginning of the Syrian revolution, as documented by many sources, people gathered in squares and chanted for freedom, equality and dignity. The Syrian government responded with violence; starting with tear gas and riot police batons – just once or maybe twice, to live ammunition and ending with barrel bombs and chemical weapons.
People continued protesting in novel ways to get around this violence, the idea of flash protests or “Mozaharat Tayara” as they are called in Arabic was born. People would gather in one street and chant for 5 minutes, then disperse quickly before the arrival of security forces.
Nevertheless, the need to retaliate against the regime’s violence grew bigger with every martyr that fell in these squares, with every person killed under torture in regime prisons and with every destroyed house.
People organized local armed groups that were tasked with protecting the demonstrations, and it grew from there to full-fledged battalions that would attack and seize regime security establishments.
Until the end of 2012, almost 60% of Syria was liberated by the Free Syrian Army brigades and battalions. People organized local councils and committees in their neighborhoods and towns to manage their needs.
Who failed the people?
“The word of protest organizers and community leaders was still stronger than that of those with guns. That changed drastically because of the international community’s failure to support these local councils” and instead supporting different armed battalions and brigades.
And by the beginning of 2013, the rules of war became the law in liberated areas. Those with guns have the power, and they took over control of liberated cities and towns.
At the time I was supporting the Free Syrian Army, I would celebrate with my friends when we see the news of a new town or neighborhood is liberated.
We were always wary of the consequences though, the rise of militias and armed factions was showing terrible signs already. Prisons and checkpoints within liberated areas became a norm,
“Guns were no longer there to protect and defend the people against an oppressive regime, but turned against the people they claimed to protect.”
The Aazer campaign to deliver aid to the Atmeh refugee camp, and previous fund-raising solidarity campaigns were born out of the need to support local councils and civil activities in the face of militarization. Or at least that is how I rationalized it to myself
During my visit to Atmeh refugee camp and its neighboring villages, I realized that medicine is available in Syria, but it sits in storage. I understood then what the phrase “warlord” or those profiting from war meant.
The refugee camp workers in Atmeh had funding from more than one organization , but the day to day medicine was not covered. They felt helpless, they just needed money to buy it from these warehouses and distribute it freely to the people in the refugee camp. And the amount of money Aazer raised was not huge – 12,000 USD as far as I remember, but was able to cover the needs of the pharmacy for one year.
This could be seen as supporting warlords or war profiteers in a way, but if more solidarity campaigns like that could be organized through the Aazer platfrom, medicine can be made available for free. And those making the profit will make it, we cannot stop them, but we can at least end their blackmailing of the civilian population.
And soon enough, the civilian population will not be at the mercy of warlords as more solidarity calls continue supporting and responding to the needs of communities as raised by community workers on the ground.
And this is my lesson that I wanted to share with you, Collective solidarity can be the answer to militarization this way. I may be dreaming, but it all starts with a dream. And one step at a time, stone on top of the other, and dreams can be realized.
Sharing our stories say something about what it means to be human. We’ll get in touch to hear yours.