Hind Kabawat writes: The church bells in Daraya, a Damascus suburb that has seen some of the worst fighting in the war, no longer ring. To understand the tragic trajectory of Syria today one must look at how this town, doggedly held by rebels for the past four years, a mere half-hour drive to Bashar al-Assad’s palace, has transformed over the years.
Before the uprising, Daraya was a sleepy middle-class suburb for Damascus residents. By 2011, it had become an epicenter of peaceful protests, as thousands marched in the streets calling for Assad to step down from power. As a member of the Syrian Christian community, I was overwhelmed with excitement to join this grassroots people’s movement that called for democracy, freedom and rights for all Syrians, no matter our differences.
Syrians were united then. The church bells rang in Daraya in solidarity with the protesters. From their balconies in the narrow streets, Syrian Christians showered protesters below with rice and flowers. They marched hand in hand.
A holy war, this was not.
By 2012, the Assad regime intensified its armed crackdown against the unarmed protesters in Daraya. A terrible massacre occurred there on Aug. 24, 2012, as Assad’s regime sent troops, secret police, and members of the elite 4th Division to prevent residents from fleeing the city by any means necessary. Families were executed in their homes, whole buildings of women and children were machine-gunned in the streets, and residents were even decapitated — long before the so-called Islamic State even existed.
The state-run media launched an aggressive propaganda campaign claiming Muslims were massacring Christians, aiming to stoke fear of the opposition in the Christian community. As regime soldiers went door to door, searching for people to murder, it was the Christian community of Daraya that opened theirs to protect those fleeing the atrocities. One Catholic church treated the injured and prepared food for them.
Assad attempted to break Daraya with chemical weapons in 2013, launching a horrific sarin gas attack that killed over 1,000 across the Damascus suburbs — many were children still in their pajamas when the nighttime attack happened. Images of asphyxiated children lined up on the ground are etched in our memories of that night. The international community was on the verge of holding Assad accountable for that atrocity, but the Russians intervened at the eleventh hour with a negotiated settlement. Before the ink was dry, Assad instituted a brutal starvation siege upon Daraya and neighboring Moadamiya. [Continue reading…]