In just one day, in the Syrian district of al-Khalidya in Homs, at least 337 civilians were killed according to Al Arabiya, ahead of the U.N. Security Council resolution expected to condemn the violent crackdown against protesters and dissidents that began in March last year.
The Syrian regime’s shelling and mortars destroyed buildings including a hospital in Khalidiya; other reports suggested that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad had used nail bombs against civilians.
The death toll that day extended well beyond al-Khalidya as reports emerged that more than 400 were killed and at least 1,300 injured across the country.
And to add salt on Syrians’ wound, the brutal regime denied its involvement in the Homs massacre, saying quite simply that it held gunmen responsible for the violence.
The day ended with a cruel blow when Russia and China – not surprisingly ̶ voted against a United Nations resolution thereby denying Syrians their dreams of a reformist government.
Various international players may appear to be backed in a corner for their relentless support towards Syria. Russia’s power obsessive Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has his country’s interests at heart ─ be it commercial or military ─ when he sides with Syria, a country whose business sector is already monopolized by the goons and beneficiaries of the Assad regime. It is not in the interest of Russia, which is internally grappling with Islamist separatists, to see a whole new Syria with a new administration.
China too, equally laden with ethnic and minority issues, does not want to set a precedence for any kind of foreign intervention in Syria.
Syria also has the backing of the mullahs in Iran, and through the Islamic republic’s proxy, Hezbollah, to crush the protest movement. Reports have recently surfaced about Iranian republican guards being on the ground in Syria.
On Saturday a spokesman of the Syrian Youth Alliance and director of the London-based Levant Institute, Obaida al-Nahas, was reported by Al Arabiya as saying that the quelling of Syrians was done with the help of Iranian and Russian arms. He also alluded to that foreign backing when he said that the Syrian regime was given the “green light” to crush the dissidents.
The Homs massacre ahead of the U.N. vote shows that the Syrian regime can flex its muscles because it enjoys support from Iran, Russia and China.
The Syrian regime has its own support base too as evidenced last month when Bashar al-Assad joined a supporters’ rally. These supporters give a psychological boost to the regime.
The tall, blond and green eyed hugely-famous Syrian actress, Raghda, who is loved by many Arabs showed her true colors during a Lebanese show when she defended the Assad regime. Another Arab celebrity, Lebanon’s George Irdahi, a Christian who is host of the Arabic version of “Who wants to be a millionaire?” supports Assad because he says he fears a rise of Islamists.
One wonders about the conscience of these supporters after the Homs massacre?
Despite the Syrian military and security apparatus’ loyalty to the regime, which is largely down to the top brass being Alawite like Assad, there are those in the ranks that do not have the stamina to continue to kill, hence the defections.
And hence the creation of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) which has seen Assad troops join the opposition fighters despite the risks of being killed for defecting.
Saturday’s massacre in Homs is likely to cause more defections in an army that may not have the stomach to continue with the killing of the people it once vowed to protect.
What the world saw on Saturday was not unlike the 1982 Hama massacre where thousands of Sunni Syrians were killed by Bashar’s father, Haffez al-Assad. The Homs massacre is part of a long-drawn out struggle by Syrians against tyranny but this time it has media support to ensure its memory is kept alive.
Massacres in the Syrian and the Arab consciousness are not new but Saturday’s Homs massacre will not be forgotten like past incidents of violence; this despite the complex nature of Syrian politics and the foreign so-called stake holders involved.
Many massacres in the Arab region did not shape foreign policies towards the Middle East. For example, the massacre in the 1980s against the Kurds by the Saddam Hussein led Iraqi government resulted in the U.S. realizing for the Kurds a semi-autonomous state, but not a wholly independent one.
The ongoing grave massacres against Palestinians have not translated into a Palestinian nation or even a friendlier foreign policy towards its cause.
There are several massacres that were never reported in the international media and thus do not exist in peoples’ memories.
Take the uprising in Iraq in 1991 when Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south revolted against the Baath regime. It was a phantom like incident which went unnoticed by the world at large. Many Arabs would only come to know of the crushing of their Iraqi brethren in 2003 when mass graves of those dissidents, women and children, were discovered.
This time, though, it will be different.
We live in a time where access to social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook has been made easy and keeps us up to date. More importantly, we live in the era of the so-called Arab Spring which has created a region that is psychologically different, psychologically free to say “No.”
As the story of struggle unfolds in Syria, the vivid bloody images will create yet another consciousness. Those who were aligned with the regime will see more of its hands tainted with blood and will re-think their support.
(Dina al-Shibeeb is a journalist at Al Arabiya, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)