Abdulwahab Tahhan was a production manager for The Suffering Grasses and was living in a refugee camp at the Syrian-Turkish border when he wrote this article. Summarizing the difficulty of resolving the conflict, Tahhan writes, “It’s certainly understandable that they would use whatever weapons they can to defend themselves. And it’s equally true that, when they do, they support the regime’s claims that the opposition and the FSA are ‘armed gangs.'” Below is his article in its entirety. You can also learn about Tahhan’s perspective by reading an article profiling him here.
Activists, FSA members – some armed – find refuge in the eastern Turkish city of Antakya
By Abdulwahab TahhanMore than 15 Syrian illegal refugees stay at this site in Antakya, donated to them by a rich refugee. Like most Syrians who live in Antakya, these refugees do not have passports, or registration with the Turkish government. If any are killed or harmed in Turkey, nobody will know about it because they are officially still in Syria.Gathered in a room to smoke and drink tea, they discuss the situation. All agree that the people of Homs, Hama, Idlib, Deir Elzoor, and small villages around Damascus, are heroes and “true men”. Conversely those from other cities are traitors, rats and cowards.At 6pm, the news broadcasts of protests in Al-Raqa city. “Takbeer!” and then everyone in the room shouts ” Allahu Akbar” which is a shout of victory based on Islamic traditions. One of the younger FSA members, shouts and three bearded young men respond, “Allahu-Akbar!” (God is great). According to the news bulletin, 12 people were killed and scores injured after Friday prayers. Those called cowards and traitors for carrying on with their lives have suddenly become heroes, but only in their tombs. When they were alive, they were considered cowards and traitors because they didn’t protest against the regime, but now they’re heroes, but they’re dead, not alive anymore. In a few hours the entire population of Al-Raqa has changed from “cowards” to“heroes”.The city of Al-Raga is now besieged, international access roads blocked, as Assad’s army prepares to launch a campaign. A bearded, middle-aged man says, “May Allah protect them”. They start making excuses for why it took them so long to protest against the regime. “There are a lot of security forces in the city.” Apparently they’ve always wanted to protest but couldn’t. Today they felt like they could not handle it anymore so they resisted. they couldn’t stand seeing their fellow people in other cities being killed, detained and tortured so they decided to protest against the regime. They believe this will help the people of Homs because some security forces will then relocate to Al-Raqa. Then they reminisce on how it all started in Idlib.“We were about 20 people who started everything in Idlib” Says Waleed, 38, and visibly exhausted. “But most of us were killed in Idlib and now are only four or five.“ Waleed was shot in the leg in June, but did not go to a hospital because then he would be arrested. “One of the activists is a doctor, and he took care of me, he takes care of everyone for free.”To show me what they do, a bearded young man plays a video on his cell phone. “This is how we protest in Idlib.” This man is not from the FSA; his job is to film the protests, but not any protest – only ones that carry the black flag of Al-Qaeda. Waleed says that people in these protests are being paid to carry the flag of Al-Qaeda. Al Qaeda wants to be in Syria so they pay money to young men in order to carry the black flag of Al Qaeda so Al Qaeda can prove their claims of being in Syria. However, the man responsible denies this, saying, “this is the only way to win, and we are doing it for the sake of Allah, not for money.”All these men live in the same place, but do not share the same beliefs. Waleed wants a secular country, whereas Abu Ahmed wants Islamic rule “because everybody will be happy – it’s justice itself.” Idlib is now besieged but it is run by the FSA. “We take a group of people and investigate them, and if they are clear we set them free. If guilty, we kill them on the spot.”Waleed tells a story of how he and other FSA fighters arrested a regime officer, took him to a safe house and asked him to call those closest to him. The officer called his brother. They ordered the officer to ask his brother questions about directives from the regime to shoot people. When his brother affirmed, they slaughtered the officer, decapitated him and sent his head to a security branch. A while ago two check points in Idlib were destroyed by cars packed with explosives and driven by suicide bombers. All the soldiers at the checkpoints were killed, and now every soldier is being targeted according to the revolutionists. “Why haven’t they defected yet? They are either supporting or against the regime.”But can soldiers defect so easily? Khaled, a Syrian army defector and subsequently of the FAS, had to wait two months for a 24-hour leave to defect. Khaled was serving in Rastan, Homs and when he defected, went to Idlib in order to join the FSA. He stayed there for a couple of days, but they did not have weapons, so he decided to come to Turkey. At the Turkish borders he was registered as a defector and taken to a special camp for defectors and their families. Once you enter this camp you cannot leave, not even to the supermarket. The only way to leave the camp is to be deported back to Syria. After staying for three weeks, Khaled decided to go back to Idlib in the hope of seeing progress in the FSA. Khaled, along with 7 others, was taken by car to the Syrian border.They were told to go back to where they came from as they had requested. When refugees enter the Turkish borders, they are registered according to the point they entered from, some enter from Aleppo, others from Idlib, so when the Turkish government deport the defectors, they send them back to the point they entered from. Khaled went back to Idlib but the situation was the same: no weapons and a lack of organization among FSA members. He stayed for 5 days but decided to return to Turkey. But this time he slipped through a hole in a border fence to avoid being caught and taken to the defectors camp.Khaled does not like the defectors’ camp. “The situation there is perfect for fundamentalists because people are desperate to get weapons and would welcome anyone who gives them what they want.” But who exactly are these people? The question remains, can desperate people be trusted with arms? Meanwhile, with the Assad regime’s forces besieging cities, arresting and killing randomly, what other solutions do they have? It’s certainly understandable that they would use whatever weapons they can to defend themselves. And it’s equally true that, when they do, they support the regime’s claims that the opposition and the FSA are “armed gangs.”
Abdulwahab Tahhan, who was living in a refugee camp on the Syrian-Turkish border at the time of this writing, was a production manager for the film The Suffering Grasses. Click here to read an article about Tahhan published in the The Global Mail.