The University of Aleppo has become home to thousands of Syrian families fleeing violence in the country’s largest city. Before the school turned into a refugee center, it was the scene of violent protests. Ahmad al-Halabi, our source in Syria, says he witnessed the anti-government protests during the Spring of 2011. Al-Halabi, which is not his real name, says he is a 25 year old who works near the school. Read his story below.
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Ahmad al-Halabi, in Aleppo, August 2, 2012
When you enter the University of Aleppo, you see the academic building for medicine, then the one for arts and humanities, and then agriculture. When the first protests happened on April 13, 2011, students came out of these buildings, chanting that all Syrian people are the same. After 10 to 20 minutes, security forces arrived and the students had to flee. I could see them running.
Video purports to show first University of Aleppo demonstration
I never joined them. I just watched. I didn’t dare join because it’s dangerous. The security forces may catch you or someone could give them your name, and the shabiha [mercenaries] and other supporters of the regime would come for you. So I was afraid, but I watched many of them.
It became too dangerous to protest outside, so the students continued their protests inside because the security forces were not allowed to enter the academic buildings – Ahmad in Aleppo
After the first time, the protests grew. There were students from all different academic areas including education, pharmacy and sciences. Each time, the number of security forces would increase. They began waiting in front of the buildings, expecting the students to start protests. It became too dangerous to protest outside, so the students continued their protests inside because the security forces were not allowed to enter the academic buildings.
I remember the electrical engineering building was the hot spot and every day you could hear people demonstrating inside, chanting for the fall of the regime and for the release of those taken by the security forces. Many students were detained for days away from their parents and away from the world.
On May 3, 2012, in the middle of the night, security forces entered a dormitory and began shooting students. [At least four] students died that night.
Video purports to record soldiers firing on students at university campus
Most of the protests were broken up by gunshots. It’s very disturbing to hear such sounds to break up the students.
I really hate what has happened inside the university – Ahmad in Aleppo
Students from many different places and backgrounds participated in the protests. They came not just from Aleppo, but also from the countryside. The protesters at the university were only students. Their parents, university staff and people in the town did not get involved.
I remember there were many Facebook pages the students used to coordinate with each other. They used them to decide where they should go during and after a demonstration.
The University of Aleppo is really big. It is in western Aleppo and I think around 30,000 students were living in the dorms before the university closed.
The protests ended when exams were completed on June 15, 2012, and the students went home.
I really hate what has happened inside the university. I don’t know if there will be a next time because the university is now closed until further notice. Nobody knows when it will open and when the situation in Aleppo will get better.
Correction: Our story previously said exams were completed on May 15, 2012. The correct date is June 15, 2012.
Christina Howerton is a junior reporter and intern at VOA. She is completing her Master’s in International Media at American University in Washington, DC. With interests in new media, international relations and the Middle East and a background in journalism, she works with VOA's Middle East Voices team to report on issues and events in the region.