“Where is the Truth in Conflicting Reports? Not in the Middle but at the Extremes,” by a Foreigner in Syria
Posted by Joshua on Monday, June 20th, 2011
“Where is the Truth? Not in the Middle but at the Extremes,”
by a Foreigner in Syria (who has lived, studied and traveled there for years.)
For Syria Comment
June 20 2011
The stories people are hearing from their friends and family certainly give cause to question the narrative being carried by the international media.
Cartoon in Jamahir Newspaper June 12, 2001, Sent by author
“Eye Witness to al-Jazeera: ‘By God, my dear brother, they have cut off water, electricity, medicine, and milk for the kids. Oh God, help us.'”
Two sources I consider very trustworthy have related similar stories about the insecurity of the main highway south just outside of Aleppo, before the army reasserted control last week: the younger brother of a colleague who was on his way home to Aleppo on a two-day furlough from his mandatory army service received a bullet in the foot when his civilian bus was forced to stop at a impromptu nighttime checkpoint which local vigilantes had set up using farm machinery near Khan Shaykhun. The army was able to rescue them but two soldiers on the bus who were still in uniform were apparently killed.
And just before that, a group of Palestinians from the Nayrab camp who were returning from the Nakba Day march on the Golan border with the bodies of two fallen comrades were stopped by locals on the highway at Maarrat al-Nu’man. (The Nakba demonstration had been carefully planned by local organizing committees precisely with a view to avoiding casualties and was thus not merely the result of the PFLP-GC manipulating Palestinian youth, but that’s another issue…) The vigilantes demanded the caskets to be opened, then checked the names of the victims against a list of known martyrs, and finally told the Palestinians that they would allow them to proceed only because they knew they were not involved in the Syrian uprising—had these been the bodies of fallen Syrian army soldiers or security forces they would have chopped them up on the spot.
Incidents like this do occur—and are the work of pro-regime shabiha irregulars who will not hesitate to sacrifice the one or other army conscript or policeman to illustrate that the regime is under siege by armed groups, as an equally trustworthy friend has assured me. Where is the truth in all this? Probably not somewhere “in the middle” as one might think but everywhere at once, at the extremes. The regime is shooting at unarmed demonstrators with tanks and helicopters and making a mockery of its own promises to lift the state of emergency and release prisoners, but unless one subscribes to the most radical conspiracy theories, one also has to assume there are armed elements, homegrown perhaps but why not with outside help, who are bringing in or seizing weapons, attacking government buildings and killing security forces.
It is at any rate hard to believe that Jisr al-Shughur, a town of some 40,000 people and more in the surrounding villages, a key regional centre with a long history of turmoil (one easily forgets that it’s here where it all started in 1980) would speak with a single voice for or against the uprising, for or against the regime.
Those shown welcoming the army are as real as those who have fled for their lives to Turkey. These are powerful, competing images which both sides are consciously deploying; it’s when Syria army deserters (whatever their numbers) claim on camera that they were receiving orders from Iranian or Hezbollah officers and Angelina Jolie is welcomed to Altinözü with carefully written banners in English and Turkish that one must ask how much of this is being crafted for western and Gulf media consumption. (Incidentally, how often has the “Angel of Mercy” dropped by Sitt Zaynab or Jaramana this past decade?)
But all this is really of little concern to Aleppo. While many people have family ties in villages to the north and the east, few I’ve talked to seem to have any real sympathies for what is happening in the Jisr al-Shughur area or elsewhere. I’m still assured on a daily basis that the real meaning of hurriyya is when a woman can walk outside at 2 in the morning. On the other hand the mood seems to be turning more pessimistic, from “nothing will happen here and everything will be fine” to “in sha’ Allah nothing will happen here and everything will be fine.”
Aleppo continues to live in somewhat of a bubble, as an increasing number of residents themselves are cynically acknowledging. There are still isolated demonstrations in some of the more conservative neighbourhoods—last Friday there was even one dead near the Mabna al-Idhaa on the western outskirts which the authorities quickly attributed to prior health issues in an attempt to play down the potential for violence here—but these are being overshadowed by the arrival at the citadel of the famous 2-km Syrian flag previously displayed in Mezze and, after a lull of several weeks, a now almost nightly repetition of boisterous joyriding by flag-waving youths and siren-wailing municipal vehicles to show support for the regime.
My critical friend (most of them are not) thinks it will get much worse, that people are seething under the surface. I myself heard my first unsolicited criticism of Rami Makhlouf and the overall economic situation in the past few days. You don’t see as many pictures of Hasan Nasrallah on cars as you used to.
But the Republic of Aleppo is still very far from a revolution; it promises to be a long spring yet.