Yisser Bittar, a Syrian-American, tells us that since she was a little girl she used to travel to Homs every year to visit relatives. Due to the civil war and intense fighting in the city, she was unable to visit last year, but says that she and six other Syrian-Americans managed in December to travel to a village north of Aleppo in a region controlled by the Free Syrian Army. Read her account further below.
Middle East Voices’ “Syria Witness” series features personal accounts by citizen-journalists inside Syria about the grim challenges of survival in a war zone. These activists are often the only available street-level information source about life in a country whose government restricts independent reporting.
With Syrian expatriates having begun to enter areas of Syria now under rebel control, we have expanded the series to include their accounts.
Syria Witness reports cannot be independently verified and, for their personal safety, some contributors do not use their real names. Accounts may be edited for reasons of clarity and style, but no changes to content are made.
By Yisser Bittar
If you don’t think it, you hear it. If you don’t hear it, you see it. Seeing it is easy, because it is written on the walls.
Liberated Syria is a Syria enveloped by the love of a freedom, the love of a country and the love of the possibilities of what is yet to come. The future of Syria is written on the walls and the future of Syria is in the hands of Syrians in liberated regions.
The graffiti is everywhere. The revolutionary flag is around every corner. The flag represents the future of Syria. Its presence on the walls of Syria’s villages and towns is a symbol of the efforts of the people. The words calling for freedom and justice are on every winding street.
These words of persistence and conviction cover the walls of mosques.
We drove down the winding roads of a village in the northern suburbs of Aleppo. People there asked that I not name the village because they didn’t want the government to know where we were.
The writing is on the walls in Syria.
We had come there to assess the level of destruction in the village, the peoples’ humanitarian needs, and and to bring them $4,000 worth of flour – enough for the entire village for about one day.
“[T]he justice practiced [at the local hospital] by the doctors, nurses and staff is a small example of the slogans for justice scrawled on the walls throughout the village.” – Yisser Bittar
We first met with the doctors of one of the most well-known, well-run makeshift hospitals in the suburbs of Aleppo. The hospital was one of a handful of buildings with electricity provided by a generator. Volunteers operated the hospital and accepted patients from many suburbs and from the city of Aleppo itself.
They treated Syrian government soldiers and members of the Free Syrian Army alike; the justice practiced there by the doctors, nurses and staff is a small example of the slogans for justice scrawled on the walls throughout the village.
Another graffiti sample read: “With our persistence we say it, with our blood we write it, and we will continue until the fall of the regime.”
The geographic location of this village gave the revolutionaries advantages: The village is buried between mountains that protect Free Syrian Army fighters from regime forces. This allowed for the battalions of the Free Syrian Army to organize, achieve major gains and shoot down two Sukhoi fighter jets.
“As we walked through village streets, we saw a desire to work.” – Yisser Bittar
But the effects of the air strikes the area sustained were also apparent: Homes were reduced to rubble. But the locals were saying that the loss of their homes was worth it because, as they said, “we will be victorious.”
We saw evidence of this conviction throughout the village with another piece of graffiti proclaiming: “We will remain here.”
As we walked through village streets, we saw a desire to work, live and laugh. Men gathered near open stores, women sat with their neighbors, children ran to the olive groves to gather wood for heating and cooking. We felt that among the villagers there was a strong desire to survive.
“At first, he wasn’t sure he could trust this group of Syrian-Americans. Eventually, he decided we were there to help them….” – Yisser Bittar
We met with one of the leaders of the village’s new civil administrative council, their representative to the larger Aleppo Revolutionary Transitional Council. He was 28-year-old, with a bright smile and a wisdom and patience beyond his years. At first, he wasn’t sure he could trust this group of Syrian-Americans. Eventually, he decided we were there to help them and sat down to discuss the role of the council in his village and how its seven branches addressed the security and humanitarian needs of the village.
The next day, the young council president explained to us how they formed their committees based on the peoples’ need to continue life in Syria.
The council members will be held accountable by the citizens of the village, he said, because it was the people who had called on them to take on their positions.
In spite of Bashar al-Assad’s attempts to destroy their lives, the people of this village and many others in Syria are looking to live. We saw scrawled on the walls of the village.
The graffiti pictured at the top of this post reads “Freedom Forever.” Image – courtesy of Somaiya Sibai.
NOTE: To become a Syria Witness and tell your own inside-Syria story, contact David Arnold, coordinator of our Syria Witness project at syriawitness(at)gmail.com. For safety reasons, we strongly urge you to use a browser-based e-mail (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail) and be sure “https” appears in the URL. You can also invite Arnold to Skype at davidarnold70.
David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.