It had been one month and one week since the Syrian revolution began and prospects were as high as ever. Demonstrations had been called all over the country, and a massive demonstration had just been dispersed in the Midan district in central Damascus, where thousands of protesters could not defy the ferocious attack by security forces. What we thought would be “The March,” had come to an end when we realized that the government was willing to do anything and at any cost to prevent it.
This is a video of the demonstration in Midan, which was quickly dispersed by security forces using teargas and batons to beat up the protesters.
Leaving the area devastated by the outcome, I checked my Twitter account and was amazed to read that tens of thousands were at that moment starting marches from a number of Damascene suburbs towards Al-Abasiyeen square. There were protesters from Duma, Harasta, Arbeen, Saqba and many other suburbs of the capital, and they had come together making their way to the square for a sit-in. A friend and I quickly rushed to the car, which was parked about 2 km away from where we were. Speeding through empty streets of Damascus, we soon made it to an area named Zablatani which is about 1 km before Al-Abasiyeen sqaure. We were stopped and searched at a checkpoint in an unusual location, and we noticed that hundreds of armed men in plain clothes accompanied by uniformed security forces had surrounded the area. Just as the serious-looking man searching me returned our ID’s, we decided to stop here and see what all the commotion was about, instead of continuing to our initial destination. It took us a while to find a place to park the car, as even on Fridays the area remained busy, because of the proximity of the Qasa’a shopping district, a mainly Christian-populated area. Hiding my phone, because I had already filmed the protest in Midan, we approached the commotion.
Then I heard it: the roaring sound of protesters from a far distance ahead. It seemed as if the massive crowd had found too many obstacles in their original route and diverted towards the location where we were now standing. Suddenly the atmosphere became very tense, the numbers of security forces multiplied and scattered around the entrance of Al-Thawra building, a 25-floor government construction that stood closest to where the protesters seemed to be marching. Hundreds of residents of the area stood around us, and we could now see the large crowd that was headed towards us. I remember at this very moment thinking that the security forces were NOT going to fire at them in broad daylight in central Damascus. So this was it, this was our moment, I thought, and as soon as they arrive we would join them and continue the march into central Damascus. But this was not what Damascus was about to witness. “One Hand, One Hand,” their voices echoed as they came closer, then one of the members of the security forces at the foot of the building screamed upwards “GET THEM!” Suddenly, we saw dozens of armed men on the rooftop of the building with no hesitation open fire directly at the protesters. The forces on the ground then came out facing the protesters and followed through with random firing. The huge crowd dropped to the floor.
This video footage filmed by a protester who was in the large crowd marching towards central Damascus.
I could not believe what I was witnessing. It was inhumane. The protesters were screaming, but I could not make out what was said. Amazingly, the march continued, but now they were running towards us. At that moment, 3 vehicles pulled up in front of us with snipers aiming and shooting directly at the crowd. The men on the rooftop could not be seen anymore. Security forces then turned around to attack a group of passersby standing near us who were filming the incident; taking their mobiles, they beat them brutally and dragged them onto public green buses. We were then forced back into the Qasa’a main street, as the assault intensified. Some protesters had managed to make it out into the main street where we were just standing and were hunted down by the herd of armed men using shot guns to fire at them. The gunfire was now coming in our direction. Taking shelter behind a large truck, I had lost my friend and was looking around to see where he might be. Armed governmental bodies stormed past me firing randomly, and although I could not see their target, it was now obvious that they had no intention of letting anyone into the central part of the city.
No longer able to see what was happening, the sound of constant gunfire went on for another 15 minutes. The street was now empty, as I could no longer hear the people’s commotion. I slowly got up and walked on the pavement looking in the direction of the protesters. Now all that could be seen was a plague of governmental vehicles and green buses, hundreds of regime thugs surrounding them. I caught a glimpse of people being thrown on the buses. At this moment I was reunited with my friend, who had nothing to say but motioned to the opposite direction indicating that we should start walking. Walking away we cried like little children, feeling useless and helpless I had no doubt I was going to be told it was not my fault and that there was nothing I could have done. But to have seen the massacre of innocent people right in front of my eyes, and standing only a few meters away from the murderers that were doing it, I could not help but assure myself that I was a coward. On that day, the 22nd of April 2011, freedom was stabbed in the back.
WE WILL NOT FORGET THE BRAVE MEN THAT STOOD UP IN THE FACE OF TERROR AND CARRIED THEIR DEAD TOWARDS THEIR FREEDOM.
video footage of a remaining sniper on the top of the Al Thawra building
video footage of the protesters trying to get those wounded and killed to safety
And so we have it, a march by the people to the center of the capital. Isn’t this what we are all talking about? That Damascenes should stand up together and march to one location? Well this event took place 5 months ago and remains a scar. The government made its point loud and clear, that any group of people, regardless how many, who may get the idea of taking part in such a movement again, would be in grave danger.
The next day, thousands took to the streets in mourning of those who were killed on Friday. An estimated 125 people died on that day alone across the country as a result of security forces attacking the peaceful demonstrations.