The al-Assad’s Syria: A history of violence
Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – The al-Assad regime, whether we are talking about the regime of Hafez al-Assad the father, or Bashar al-Assad the son, has a brutal history of violence and massacres which stretches back more than 40 years.
Dozens of massacres which resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Syrian citizens have occurred over the years, most prominently the Hama massacre of 1982 and the Tadmor Prison massacre of 1980, amongst others. This is a phenomenon that has come to the fore once more following the outbreak of the Syrian revolution more than one year ago, and we have seen many massacres being carried out since that time.
Amnesty International issued a report on the first anniversary of the Syrian revolution which revealed that torture and mistreatment against the Syrian opposition had reached “unprecedented levels” and represented a “systematic attack” on civilians. In a report entitled “I wanted to die: Syria’s torture survivors speak out”, Amnesty International revealed that “people are almost invariably beaten and otherwise tortured and ill-treated during arrest, often during the subsequent transportation to detention centres, and routinely upon arrival at the detention centres and afterwards” adding that “among the victims are children aged under 18.” As for why the Syrian authorities are carrying out such practices, the Amnesty International report claimed that “the torture and other ill-treatment appear intended to punish, to intimidate, to coerce “confessions” and perhaps to send a warning to others as to what they may expect should they also be arrested.”
Human Rights Watch issued a report in July 2010 entitled “A Wasted Decade: Human Rights in Syria during Bashar al-Assad’s First Ten Years in Power”, stressing that “Bashar al-Assad inherited a country with a legacy of abusive practices, but to date he has not taken any concrete steps to acknowledge and address these abuses or shed light on the fate of thousands of people who have disappeared since the 1980s.”
Comparing the massacres that took place during the era of Hafez al-Assad, to those currently taking place during the Bashar al-Assad era, the leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammad Riad Al-Shaqfa, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “he [Bashar al-Assad] is truly his father’s son…they [Hafez and Bashar al-Assad] are of the same type. They have the same attitude…to killing, massacres and crimes. This is a regime of monsters pretending to be humans.”
He added “what al-Assad the father did over decades is being carried out by al-Assad the son today, and Tadmor and Saidnaya prisons are witnesses to this fact. All of the massacres that were carried out by the regime against the Syrian people during the revolution reflect this.”
The following are just a few examples of the massacres that have been carried out by al-Assad regime forces over the past 40 years.
The Hama massacre:
The Hama massacre began on 2 February 1982 when Syrian military units began a campaign against the city, following accusations that the city was sheltering Muslim Brotherhood affiliated gunmen. The Hafez al-Assad regime eventually pursued a “scorched earth” operation against the city, shelling it for several weeks, before sending in troops and tanks. Many Hama residents were killed or arrested during this period; human rights organizations called for an international investigation into the events of the Hama massacre and for those responsible for this to be held to account.
Reports indicate that between 20 and 40 thousand Hama residents were killed over a period of more than three weeks, whilst approximately 15 thousand people were later arrested and have since completely disappeared, their fate remains unknown today, more than 20 years later. The Syrian security and military forces also destroyed numerous buildings, including mosques and churches, which led to a huge displacement of Hama residents.
The Hamas massacre has been described as perhaps “the single deadliest act by any Arab government against its own people in the modern Middle East.” The Syrian armed forces in Hama were led by Rifaat al-Assad, the younger brother of former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad.
Tadmor Prison massacre:
The Tadmor Prison massacre took place on 2 February 1980. This was perhaps the second bloodiest massacre to have occurred during the Hafez al-Assad era, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of prisons, the majority of whom were members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
This incident remains shrouded in secrecy, and so the exact death toll remains unknown, although reports indicate that this between 600 and 1,000 prisoners were killed. The massacre was reportedly in retaliation to a failed assassination attempt against Hafez al-Assad. Reports indicate that Syrian security forces, also under the direct supervision of Rifaat al-Assad, entered the prison and massacred unarmed prisoners in their cells.
Information indicates that the bodies of the prisoners were then transferred to pre-prepared mass graves in a valley east of Tadmor – indicating that this massacre was well-planned, and not the result of prison riots, as claimed by some regime supporters.
According to “Human Rights Watch”, “commandos from the Defense Brigade under the command of Rifaat al-Assad, Hafez al-Assad’s brother, killed an estimated 1,000 unarmed inmates, mostly Islamists, at Tadmor military prison, in retaliation for a failed assassination attempt against Hafez al-Assad.” The “Human Rights Watch” report also asserts that “the names of those killed were never made public.”
One year later, Jordan arrested two figures with ties to the Tadmor prison massacre for involvement in a plot to assassinate former Jordanian Prime Minister Mudar Badran. The two Syrian figures, members of Rifaat al-Assad’s paramilitary “Defense Companies” reportedly gave details of the Tadmor prison massacre; there was an international outcry for the Syrian authorities to investigate and reveal what truly occurred at Tadmor military prison; however the Hafez al-Assad regime refused.
Faraj Beraqdar, a Syrian poet who spent five-years in Tadmor, described the prison as “the kingdom of death and madness.”
A number of massacres have occurred in Aleppo, most prominently the Eid al-Adha massacre of 11 August, 1980, during which around 100 Aleppo citizens were killed. In addition to this, more than 110 people were killed near the Aleppo castle the next day, whilst other reports put the death toll as high as 1,900.
The Hafez al-Assad regime also carried out massacres in Idlib, most prominently in Jisr Ash-Shughur – a center of the anti-Assad uprising in 2011 – where around 100 citizens were killed in 1980.
Massacres during the Syrian revolution:
Bashar al-Assad has been no less brutal than his father, Hafez al-Assad, with regards to using violence to crack down on dissent and opposition, and a number of terrible massacres have taken place in Syria in recent years, particularly following the outbreak of the Syrian revolution.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that 9,113 people have been killed since the beginning of the Syrian revolution; 6,645 civilians, 1,997 members of the Syrian security forces and 471 rebels.
Most recently, the Syria Observatory revealed that 23 mutilated corpses were found near the city of Idlib in northwest Syria; Idlib had been a center for the anti-regime protests but was seized by Syrian forces this week. Reports indicate that the victims were blindfolded and handcuffed before being executed. This is similar to a previous “massacre” of dozens of women and children in the flashpoint city of Homs last week.
However perhaps the greatest “massacre” to have occurred during the Syrian uprising was the al-Assad regime’s targeting of Homs. The Baba Amr district of Homs was seized by the Syrian opposition, in particular the Free Syrian Army [FSA], who managed to hold on to this district for approximately one month, before being pushed back by al-Assad’s relentless killing machine. Al-Assad regime forces shelled the Baba Amr district for weeks, inflicting heavy civilian damages. Opposition sources reported that more than 217 Homs residents alone were killed on 2 February, 2012, after intensification in the bombardment campaign. Reports indicated that 36 houses were completely destroyed, whilst the district hospital was also targeted. During this period, casualties in Homs often ranged into the hundreds every day, before the Syrian military eventually managed to regain control of the city in early March.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that 68 bodies were uncovered between the villages of Ram al-Enz and Ghajariyeh; the bodies were taken to the central hospital in Homs. Post-mortem examinations reveal that many of the victims were executed, either being gunned down or killed with “cutting” weapons. The Local Coordination Committee also reported that it had discovered the bodies of 64 men; hypothesizing that the victims were civilians who tried to flee the battle raging in Homs and who were abducted and executed by pro-government militia.
There have also been allegations of rapes and sexual assaults being committed by al-Assad regime forces. These accusations have served to increase the number of Syrian citizens fleeing the country and seeking refuge elsewhere, most prominently in Turkey.
Following the recapture of Homs earlier this month, the battle turned to Idlib, which in turn fell to al-Assad regime forces after three days of sustained tank, machine-gun and artillery fire. The al-Assad regime forces carried out another massacre here, opening fire on unarmed Idlib residents outside the city’s al-Bilal mosque, resulting in the deaths of approximately 45 people.
This massacre occurred just one day after 17 civilians, mostly women and children, were burned or hacked to death in the Karm el-Zeytoun district of Homs.
Therefore it is clear that Bashar al-Assad is following in his father’s footsteps with regards to massacres and violence, and he even managed to celebrate the Hama massacre of 1982 with one of his own. 4 February 2012 was one of the bloodiest days of the revolution, resulting in around 340 deaths. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, “Jawad”, a revolutionary activist in the city of Homs, described what happened on 4 February 2012 – the anniversary of the Hama massacre – as a “disaster”, revealing that the al-Assad forces carried out a sustained bombardment of Homs throughout the day. He also revealed that this bombardment campaign had destroyed homes with families in them, whilst attempts to recover dead bodies were also targeted and attacked by al-Assad regime forces.
There have been too many incidents of violence and massacres committed by the al-Assad regime forces since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution to mention, from Hama to Homs, Idlib to Deraa, and even Damascus. It is clear that Bashar al-Assad is following in his father’s footsteps and that he is prepared to do anything to cling to power. However despite this history of violence in the al-Assad’s Syria, whether we are talking about al-Assad the father or al-Assad the son, the Syrian people are steadfast in their desire for freedom and dignity; this unimaginable violence has not prevented them from taking to the street, day after day, to demand change.