Click to Listen: How the Uprising Began
At the beginning of the uprising it was in Damascus. One of the police officers hit one of the citizens and the people in that street stood up and said “We cannot be humiliated.” and they demanded the head of the police the…officer in command said this should not have happened. And sure enough, the head of the police came over and said this is wrong and that officer will be punished for what he has done. And the people felt really good all over he country because this was very unusual for that to happen. And we thought that, ‘No we cannot do it’ but then we thought, “No, it can be done and that’s cool.”
Then a few teenagers in a city called Darrar wrote on the walls statements against the government….policeman and so on, they were able to capture these kids. They were tortured. They were raped. And their families were humiliated. And that’s what really started the Rape Uprising.
Really, the government had helped the uprising without knowing because they pushed them so far, you know, to the wall, and they only thing they can do is fight back. And that’s what they did.
At the beginning it was all peaceful. For months and months it was peaceful. In my city we felt like, “Yeah, probably this is not going to last long. They (the rebels) will give up.” But they didn’t because you know, the more you kill, the more you torture, the more the people become determined that yeah, we need to change what is happening. Everything started to spread from city to city, from town to town.
You have to know in Syria there are different religions…Christian, Muslim…the Christians have different denominations. The Muslims have different denominations. So the government, the leader of the country, is a Muslim from the Alawite sect which is like ten, 15 percent of the population. They are the backbone of the government; they are the backbone of the army. So when he army was asked to fight the demonstrators, many of them refused and they were killed because they refused. They were killed right away. On the spot.
Many of these soldiers start to spilt, leave the army, and run with the people with their arms and everything.
Obviously those officers who are pro-government become more brutal and they want to go in and kill everyone unless you hand over these soldiers who spilt. These soldiers, they are protected by the civilians, which should be the other way around. And that’s really how people started to fight back. They don’t have arms on their own but those who are splitting from the army, they have their weapons and they felt like, “Why should we leave? You know what? The civilians shouldn’t pay the price for our decision and be killed and they have no arms. Can’t we fight back?”
They start to gather, as groups – small groups – and they start to fight back.
I wish this didn’t happen. I still believe that, you know, peacefully, things would have got much better, but unfortunately, as I said, that’s how it happened. But these soldiers, who have arms, like the civilians around them are paying the price for not handing them over. So they felt like they had to defend themselves; they shouldn’t depend on the civilians, and the fight started and it has escalated and got worse and worse and now it’s all over the country.
At the beginning we were very happy with the peaceful demonstrations, but not everybody. Most of the people were so scared of the change. And as I said many of the people were on the edge of poverty… that means starvation.
More brutal images coming on the Internet, and Facebook and stories and so on…the people start to shift and become against the government. Most of the fight, obviously, happens in cities. And there is no red lines for the government so they will bomb and use tanks, they will use airplanes, scud missiles; everything goes. And whenever there is a fight, a crossfire, these homes are either destroyed or so unsafe that people have to move.
Two years of the fighting now, one-quarter of the population has been displaced. About 1 million, 200 thousand have left the country as refugees. And about three-quarter million inside the country, but they are not living in their homes.
When I left, I left my home for my nurse to live in because her home was gone. Even my office – one of my cousins is living in my office because his house is not safe anymore.
As I said I was here for a while in the states and my kids were born here, and still, because of my extended family, all my in-laws and my family are back home in the same city. We don’t move much back home. We are born in the city, we stay in that city, we die in that city. So all my family, my family and my wife’s family, are like 10 to 15 minutes drive from our home. So it didn’t make sense to us to stay here and everybody else is over there. So we moved back.
My dad passed away before I moved back and I know for my mom it meant the world that I’m back and that I’m next to her, especially that my dad passed away. It was my mom who urged me to leave the country. She told me “I’ll be the saddest one when you leave, but please leave.”
I had mixed feelings because I was pro-change but I felt like if it was just me, I wouldn’t leave. But if anything happens to my kids I probably would never forgive myself. I don’t think I would be able to survive. I still have mixed feelings but I felt like for my family this is what I should do. But every time I get a phone call back home I’m worried that they might tell me someone is missing, or someone has been shot, or kidnapped, or in prison.
So it hasn’t been going well, but this is the price we are paying for not speaking up sooner.
Part 3: More insight
Dr. Kayali explained other aspects of Syrian culture and history that led to the uprising. He said that although the population of his home nation is about 23 million, an equal number of Syrians, 23 million, have emigrated over time to escape two generations of the Assad regime. He said young adults are so discouraged that when asked about plans for the future they reply, “To leave the country and do this, leave the country and do that…”.
The doctor also said older Syrians remember the brutality of Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current dictator, but younger generations didn’t experience those years. They have no memory of the punishment of the past. He thinks their lack of memory, plus the access to information, news of the world, and communication paths on the Internet, helped younger adults believe it was possible to imitate the social changes they saw in Tunisia and Egypt.