It's been one year now since we took to the streets on the first 'Day of Rage' in Syria calling for change. Since then, it's been a long, painful, but rewarding journey, and we have achieved things that would have been impossible before the Arab Spring.
Having seen the power of protesters in Tahrir Square, I was determined that we could do the same in Syria. I remember celebrating the day Mubarak resigned with my friends, and we were singing about how we would be dancing inside Assad's palace within a few weeks. TVs all over the Middle East, the world in fact, were tuned into the news, watching the massive crowds in Tahrir square chanting for freedom. The whole Arab world was amazed that protests could bring down the 30-year dictatorship of Mubarak in just a few weeks, and we were determined to do the same. We knew it would cost a lot of lives, I remember a friend telling me: "'It will be a thousand times worse than Egypt. Do you see what Gaddafi is doing in Libya?'
The response of the government to our protests has been a brutal crackdown which has resulted in thousands dead and tens of thousands arrested, injured and displaced. The violent crackdown has reached levels of insanity, where entire neighborhoods are put under siege and shelled for weeks for simply holding protests. The world watched silently as the neighbourhood of Baba Amr was shelled under a total seige for under a month, even with journalists present, live streams and continous reports and videos coming out of the neighbourhood.
Now the large, bustling neigbourhood of Baba Amr stands empty and deserted, most of its residents were either killed from shelling or fled as Valerie Amos found out on her visit there. Baba Amr used to be very busy every day before the shelling and invasion, with huge protests full of energy and joy, people would sing and dance for hours calling for the fall of the regime. Now it's silent and deserted.
I have lost a lot of close friends and family during the crackdown. Great people that were unique and cannot be replaced. No words can explain the feeling of losing a friend in a single moment. Years of friendship, experiences, happy times, great conversations, all gone in a second. I wish I could tell the friends and family that have died how much I miss them, but it's impossible. Sometimes me and my friends post on messages to Facebook walls of our dead loved ones, but we know it's pointless, it will never bring them back. They are gone now, and nothing can ever replace them. We continue to protest so they do not die in vain.
One of those great people who had his life unfairly cut short is Mazhar Tayyara, he was a citizen journalist in Homs. He was killed on 4 February rescuing the wounded after a night of very heavy shelling in his neigbourhood. He was really happy and optimistic of the future and helped unite different groups together in Homs, organising joint Muslim and Christian demonstrations. To us he is a great friend and a hero, but to many governments and the UN he is just another statistic, one more number added to the rapidly rising death count.
The regime has failed to understand after a year of supressing protests that we will never surrender. In a neigbourhood called Khaldiyah in Homs, people continued to protest even as the area was being shelled. Smoke was rising from nearby buildings that were shelled, but people continued to sing and chant for freedom. In Zabadani, a suburb of Damascus that was placed under seige and shelling for days and then occupied by the army, people still continue to protest.
I was detained last Friday after security forces carried out random arrests. During my detention what struck me the most is that the security forces accused me of being in an 'illegal protest.' The constituional referendum that the goverment claimed would make protests fully legal meant nothing to them. Any reforms made by a regime that shells its own people with tanks and mortars is worthless.
I'm confident of the road ahead. We will not stop protesting any time soon, we have lost too much. The government will never be able to stabilise the country and the tide has began to turn in the large cities such as Aleppo and Damascus, where people have begun to openly speak out against the government, something that has never happened before on this scale. The regime can only keep these cities under control by deploying hundreds of security forces and militia known as "Shabiha", who roam the streets carrying Kalashinkov rifles in an attempt to supress protests. Often when there is a protest in an area, they will go around smashing shop windows and cars. The government still plays the line that Damascus is "fine", even though there are long power cuts, economic strain, strikes, fuel shortages, random raids and arrests and occasional gunshots at night.
I don't know when Assad will fall; no one does. What I do know is that our determination for freedom that has cost us thousands of lives will be remembered for decades to come. Us youths, who were marginalised for years by our governments, are suddenly toppling dictators across the world and writing the history of our countries.