x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Syria's regime lives in fear of an anonymous boy's funeral

At the funeral of one teenage victim of the Syrian regime's brutality, the mourning was mingled with a powerful new motivating energy.

'I saw my dead son on the TV before I knew what had happened to him and before I was handed his corpse in the evening," a father told me last week, his eyes heavy with tears. "That was devastating."

The 16-year-old boy, whom I will call Yazan to protect his family's identity, was shot in the heart a week ago last Friday. He was returning home after prayer at Farouk Mosque, in the Damascus neighbourhood of Mezzeh not far from his home.

He was neither a terrorist nor an armed "thug", as the regime calls its opponents. Yazan had never even participated in the protests. On that day he was accompanied by his 27-year-old neighbour, whom I will call Taleb, when security forces stormed the neighbourhood to prevent any possible protest after prayers.

After Yazan was shot, Taleb tried to resuscitate him, and he was shot several times as well. Surrounded by many friends and acquaintances, the two bodies were held in one of the nearby houses so that the security forces couldn't take them away. Another man was killed the same day, and the deaths of all three instigated huge protests in the heart of Damascus the following day.

Fearing for his other children and relatives, Yazan's father doesn't dare say that his son was killed by security forces. He has been obliged under severe threat to sign a certificate saying that Yazan was killed by armed "terrorist" groups.

The father is deeply saddened and insulted that his son's death certificate registers him as a "murdered" instead of "martyred". It is a major difference in any Arab society, where the term martyr can often incite rage and be a motive for revenge.

Since the early months of the uprising, many stories have been heard - and confirmed - about the security forces' intimidation of victims' families, forcing them to declare that "terrorists" and "armed gangs" were responsible for the deaths of their loved ones. Authorities sometimes bargain or refuse to deliver the body to be buried by the family unless a large sum of money is paid.

In other cases, the bodies are not ever returned to their families for a proper burial. Funerals have become a source of fear and suspicion for the government since the first ones took place in the city of Deraa almost a year ago.

The families of Yazan and Taleb decided to bury them side by side in the same grave site rather than burying each one in his family's traditional cemetery. They wanted to honour their deaths together because they had died together. "Our hearts are bleeding for the loss, and our agony is doubled by dread," Yazan's cousin told me. "Many saw the assailants but we are helpless and we can't openly point them out."

Hundreds of women gathered at Yazan's parents' house between the Asr and Maghrib prayers, the time set aside for female mourners during the three-day condolence period. The minute I entered the house, my tears joined theirs at seeing the boy's mother and sisters weeping silently in front of the photo of Yazan on the wall.

In one voice, the women in the room chanted "There is no God but Allah" for several minutes and followed with Duaa prayers asking for protection of Syria and its women, children and men. Feeling among the mourners combined melancholy at the loss with the sense that at any moment a protest could break out. Whatever fear they might have had before had been broken.

During this uprising, some commentators have been disturbed by the religious overtones as protesters have chanted "Allahu Akbar", God is the greatest, but among these women the prayer was a sort of comfort.

The women kept flooding into the room to pay their condolences. The recorded reading of the Quran could not be played continuously because of the electricity cuts. But people's prayers, along with their weeping, built a crescendo of noise. The room was filled with a powerful and motivating energy despite the sorrow.

One woman next to me told me that two women, who had visited half an hour before I arrived, were affiliated with the regime and had come to determine if any protests would be triggered by the women mourners.

Later, I was generously given a chance to sit beside Yazan's mother to talk to her. I was overwhelmed and almost speechless upon seeing her courage. "God protects you all," she said.

As I left, the funeral of Taleb was being held at his family's house across the street and mourners from both families were exchanging sympathies. Looking at Taleb's photo, I had to ask myself: How many Syrians should we lose before the killing stops? For how long can Syrians inside the country afford the brutality, insecurity, sectarian strife and financial crisis? How many missions of revenge will be born after the killing of each person? How many traumatised and affected families will we have?

The death of the two foreign journalists in Homs last week shook the world and created more grievances. To some extent, their deaths have attracted more attention and shone a light on the inaction and empty rhetoric on the world stage.

Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik remained in the war zone although they knew that they were risking their lives. Their mission was to give a voice to the massacre, the tragedy and the personal trauma. Their deaths might accomplish a mission on behalf of the thousands of Syrians who have died, and the rest who are trying to survive.


The author writes from Damascus under the pseudonym of Jasmine Roman

On Twitter: @JasmineRoman01