The civil war in Syria began with this boy.
Bashir Abazed is boring, he goes to school in Daraa, Syria. He and a few friends spray critical slogans on a house wall for fun and thus trigger the Syrian revolution.
Source: The World
B ashir Abazed is boring. The sun is shining, it is a warm day in February 2011. Bashir is 15 years old, he goes to school in Daraa, Syria. A time of upheaval has just begun. President Ben Ali has been overthrown in Tunisia. Egypt had its first “Day of Wrath”. People take to the streets, the Arab world is restless. Dictators who had ruled for decades suddenly turn into hated men. The “Arab Spring” has begun.
Just not in Syria. Here, where Assad rules like his father before him, the population seems to have come to terms with their fate. But it seethes beneath the surface. And Bashir in Daraa is boring.
Bashir’s boredom will change the history of his country. It will trigger a war that has been going on for a good two years. He didn’t plan it. It was not intentional. But if he could today, he wouldn’t undo it.
Teenagers don’t like Assad very much.
Daraa, Bashir’s hometown, in the south of the country, lies in a rural area. The majority of the population is Sunni, but loyal to President Assad’s ruling Baath Party. Bashir and his friends hang out on the football pitch. They talk about the television news, about the upheaval that is taking place in other countries. The teenagers don’t like Assad very much.
They keep getting in trouble with the security forces. Assad’s men don’t like the boys meeting in public places and hanging out. Bashir and his buddies are regularly persecuted, sometimes even beaten. “So we thought we’d do something, too,” says Bashir. “As in Egypt and Tunisia,” he says.
“In the afternoon we bought spray cans and met in the evening to write on the school wall in the dark.” The five friends spray: “Down with the president” and “Your turn, doctor” – that’s what the doctor Assad is called in Syria.
Bashir must smile when he tells that story. Although his situation isn’t laughing anymore. Bashir is no longer in Syria, but in Jordan. He sits in the living room of the house his family has fled to. Three mattresses lie on the floor, empty walls, a television set in the corner. Bashir and his family live in poverty as Syrian refugees. All because of this one day in February.
The militias are questioning students
The school janitor discovered the graffiti. Criticism of the ruler Assad is only expressed in secret. The graffiti, readable for all, are considered an insult to the president. The caretaker informs the police. The militias ask students: “Was that you? Do you know the culprit? One of the five sprayers gets scared. He confesses – and gives the names of his clique. Bashir learns about it.
He goes into hiding with relatives for two days and two nights. What have you done, ask those who hide him. Bashir tells them the truth. Tell them about the graffiti he sprayed. Only through their disbelief and concern for him does it really become clear to him what he has done.
The police pick Bashir up at two in the morning. He is interrogated for 33 days. Every day, from morning to night. It sets blows. Before he is beaten, the guards rip his clothes off. Pour buckets of cold water over him, tie his hands on his back. “They have squeezed me into a tractor tyre. Feet and head forward. Then they rolled the tire through the room.
They’ve attached clamps to my fingers and toes. Then they went through electric shocks. And whipped me with the cables.” Bashir talks about his torture as if it had been rolled off him. No trembling in his voice, no pain in his face. Sometimes Bashir even smiles. In the next room his mother cries.
Bashir’s family has 750 members
The teenager was tortured during the day, interrogated at night. Every night, from ten o’clock in the evening until morning prayer. His torturers kept asking about the Muslim Brotherhood. Were you one of them? Are you supported from abroad? Bashir laughs again when he remembers: “I said I am a Muslim. I have brothers. That’s all I know about your Muslim brothers.” In truth, he didn’t even know what the Muslim Brothers were. Bashir had never heard of them.
While Bashir is in Assad’s torture cellar, the boy’s family is worried. The child has disappeared, no one knows where he is going or what he is accused of. The same happens to the parents of the other sprayers. They are all imprisoned and their families do not know where or why. But they hear the rumours. The children’s toenails are torn out, they say. They are terribly beaten.
Bashir’s family has 750 members. They are a powerful clan in Daraa. The other boys also come from important families. The fathers go out together to claim back their children. The fate of the boys is already uncertain for ten days.
Bashir’s father and the parents of his friends go to the security headquarters in Daraa. Their boss, Atef Najeeb, is a relative of Assad. He tells them: “Forget that you had these children. Go home. Make new children. And if you can’t do that, bring us your wives and we’ll make you new children.”
A deadly cycle
The parents return home humiliated, desperate and angry. The fathers decide to use the next Friday prayer to claim their children. After the mosque door closes, there are only 30 men shouting: “Allahu Akbar. God is great. We want our children back.” But the crowd is growing.
More and more relatives and friends of the desperate fathers stream in from the surrounding houses and quarters. They run from one mosque to the next, singing, demanding, protesting.
It doesn’t take long and Atef Najeeb and 300 of his security guards show up. One of the protesters throws a stone, Najeeb’s men open fire. Two men are killed immediately, several are injured. The funeral of the two men becomes a new demonstration with even more participants – and even more dead.
A lethal cycle begins that spreads to other cities. The spark has ignited. Assad tries to extinguish it. He sends a delegation to express his condolences to the families of the victims. The head of the security forces, Atef Najeeb, has to leave. The children are released.
He must continue the revolution.
It’s Sunday, March 20, 2011. Bashir gets out of his cell and into a car. He says, “I thought I was going to my execution.” He recognizes his hometown, the streets are full of people. Suddenly he sees his cousin, his uncles and his mother. “Then my shackles were removed and I was free,” he says.
Bashir doesn’t understand why so many people are on the streets cheering with his family about his release. He does not know that many people have already given their lives. He does not know what he has started. “At that time I was simply frustrated and bored. I hated Assad and his security forces. I wanted to do something. I would never have thought that my graffiti would have such consequences,” he says today.
Thousands of people all over the country are now taking to the streets. Bashir and his brothers also become fighters. He says he feels responsible for the revolution, the dead who died for him. He must carry on with the revolution. He does so until March of this year, when his older brother Yassir is shot by a sniper. The family flees to Jordan.
Yassir dies of gunshot wounds in a Jordanian hospital. Bashir, his parents and siblings stay in the neighbouring country.
“The government is to blame, Assad”
Only four kilometres separate them from their homeland. Every few hours in the distance you can hear the dull impact of the grenades. Two years have passed since the day Bashir was boring. 1.5 million Syrians are on the run, more than 100,000 died.
If he could turn back the story – would he do everything the same way again? “What I did wasn’t important,” he says. He doesn’t regret this day, he doesn’t regret the words he wrote on the wall: “It’s your turn, doctor.”
It would’ve been like that anyway, he thinks. “The government is to blame, Assad. He did not respond to us, he did not care about us.