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Rami Jarrah Headshot

Syria: Not Until We Are Free

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It was one year ago that Syrians rose in a joint nationwide call for freedom and democracy, anti government demonstrations surged across the country only for Assad, the president to answer those calls with what he termed as: "crushing them with an iron fist."

Anyone who was suspected of taking part was subject to arrest, interrogation, torture or even just being shot in the street. Men, women, children, even the disabled, all were given a fair percentage in the endless list of victims. Syria, once described as the Kingdom of Silence due to its inability to join the Arab Spring early on had now become one of the bloodiest uprisings of our time. The fear barrier was finally broken.

I remember the first day very clearly it was named 'The Syrian Day of Rage'. Just as I left the house headed to Omayyad mosque where a call for a mass demonstration had been announced on Facebook I remember a quick shiver racing down my spine, I had seen what the Syrian regime was capable of, and knew but ignored the fact that with my taking part, I could lose everything or anyone I ever loved, I was terrified.

I managed to park a few hundred meters away from the mosque. Just before getting out of the car I took out my phone and watched a video of my wife and newly born daughter. I was now hesitating, but it was time to go.

As I arrived I made my way through the courtyard to the inner side of the mosque where a few hundred people were attending the Friday speech before prayers. As hundreds more poured in I sat down and began to listen to what the Sheikh was saying. "The west is trying to fiddle with our country, they are the ones telling you to rise", it was only expected that the government would send this man to try to diminish any possibility of a demonstration going through.

Prayers took about 10 minutes and were finally over. Everyone was now staring around as an old man walked across the carpet and climbed up onto the steps by the sheikh, he stared at everyone in silence, a group of people stood up and shuffled towards him and just then with a loud voice he said: "My sons are prisoners and I want freedom."

At that very moment an extraordinary roar of commotion and chants broke out. I stood up quickly and ran towards the crowd and finally joined the chants. "Freedom", I screamed with all my will. The atmosphere was intense, an unexplainable rush of adrenaline pushed me to grip my fist and chant even louder. We funnelled towards the main door and just as we made it a stampede of secret police with batons and tasers came smashing in.

Hundreds of protesters were beaten and dragged across the courtyard as more and more security forces came storming in. With streaks of blood left across the courtyard floor, the government had managed to disperse the protest. But it had begun; we had made our voices known. As one protester from that day put it: "the moment I chanted freedom was the moment I'd found my dignity."

Protest after protest the Syrian regime continued its violent crackdown on civilians and now, one year on the revolution continues. The government, unable to silence the demands, have resulted to polluting the peaceful uprising with propaganda. They talk about armed terrorists whose sole mission is to demolish and cause instability in Syria. "The terrorists are killing the civilians" they say. "We are protecting them." A joke really, but one that is being taken very seriously by the international community.

The Assad regime, with its allies, has managed to prevent any sort of solution to the crisis or protection of Syrian nationals. Assad has sent a very clear message to his people: either I rule Syria or I burn Syria, you choose.

At this moment, cities across the country are subject to bombardment by regime forces. Very recently, the Baba Amr area of Homs was under siege for 27 days, all electricity, water and communications were shut down whilst army tanks surrounded the area and shelled residential homes. The government claimed that they were taking out the terrorist elements were only really crushing the pro-democracy movement.

The only protection or resistance the people of Baba Amr had were the defected soldiers who refused to kill civilians and joined the call for democracy. Over 10,000 people have been killed by the Syrian government, some shot dead in demonstrations by snipers, some under the rubble of their shelled homes, some under torture. This in addition to over 100,000 detainees, 40,000 of which have not been released and thousands are missing. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) have not even condemned Bashar Al-Assad to this day.

With this happening and no hope of any outside help, the only thing that keeps me optimistic are the Syrian people themselves and their determination. When they are asked if this is ever going to stop? The answer always remains; "not until we are free".

Please visit the Unite For Syria Facebook page here, follow the #UniteForSyria Hashtag on Twitter and watch the Unite For Syria video on YouTube.