Homs: Making Sense of the Tragedy
The people of Homs have tried to piece their lives back together after the large-scale military and security operations launched by the regime in its bid to put down what it calls “armed gangs.”
Some residents have returned to their city while others preferred to stay in Damascus and its surrounding countryside. Most of the city’s residents are now concentrated in al-Waar neighborhood and others that were not targeted by the bombardment in a major way.
As for the neighborhoods of Baba Amr, Inshaat, al-Khalidiyah, Juret al-Shiah and Bab Drib, they have come to represent a golden opportunity for construction companies after the missiles plowed into their streets and their buildings were leveled to the ground and deserted by their inhabitants.
Life in neighborhoods like al-Zahraa and al-Nuzha is more calm and organized but they are surrounded by heavy security reinforcements whereby entering and exiting these areas requires passing through checkpoints.
At these checkpoints, personal IDs and information about where the person is going and why are demanded. In the end, they might be allowed to go where they want to go, or they might be arrested, or turned back to where they came from.
If the checkpoints are at the entrances of these neighborhoods, they are regular army checkpoints, but if they are inside neighborhoods controlled by the opposition then they are manned by armed men of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Some areas that have fallen under the control of the FSA have been evacuated at the request of the armed groups as these areas became their new headquarters, requiring a lot of scrutiny upon entry and departure.
Homs like all other Syrian cities, is beset by an economic crisis that affects regime loyalists and oppositionists alike. Bread is hard to come by and those who seek it have to move between neighborhoods shadowed by the muzzles of firearms and armed men from both sides.
The same applies to the other demands of daily life. Gas has become a relatively forgotten commodity. In some areas, people have gotten used to using firewood or charcoal instead of the rare propane gas tanks. The people of Homs have come up with many inventive ways of continuing life as best they can.
Of course the people of Homs today are not able to walk down their streets as they used to do until the wee hours of the night and they are not able to go out to the villages in the countryside on weekends or celebrate summer festivities with Syrian expatriates, who will wait until the storm ends before they visit again.
As for hospitals, the situation is very dire. Public and private sector hospitals as well as field hospitals have suffered from a shortage of medical supplies and doctors who have either been kidnapped, disappeared, or killed by bullets. These bullets have also taken the lives of civilian protesters and armed men when they participate in the funeral processions of fellow activists.
The cycle of life and death is repeated in this manner. And while at the beginning of the revolution death used to strike on Fridays, it strikes now at all hours of the night and day. This is the new Homs.
Where to? This is the question that is repeated by the men, women and children of Homs in the loyalist and oppositionist camps. Focusing on the scene in Homs removes the sound of bullets for a second, revealing a picture that combines hatred and animosity with the love of life.
In Homs children draw pictures of massacres. The young speak of the horror of what has been happening before they play their games where they roleplay sniping, fighting and demonstrating. That is what Homs has taught them in the past year and a half.
Adults’ conversations are no less tragic. Sectarianism has seeped into their lives. People are now divided along sectarian lines - Sunni and Alawi - while they used to be loyalists and oppositionists, and calls for killing permeate the protests they go to.
Does the suffering of the people of Homs justify the degree of sectarian animosity some feel and the violence that has been committed? Does it justify the madness of bullets and the loss of their homes and children? Does it justify dragging Homs to the edge of the abyss?
Ask anyone in Homs, from the cab driver who chooses roads devoid of checkpoints belonging to the regular army or the FSA, to the doctor, student, activist, mother, child and fighter, all of them will say the same thing, that they are not fans of killing but what they have been through brought them to this point.
Kidnapping is now a daily event, sniping is a normal activity and the residents of Bab al-Sbaa are now not able to pass through the Akrama neighborhood. They say the most committed non violence advocate would turn to arms if he saw the daily scenes of death in the streets of the city.
Who would have thought that Homs would come to this? No one would accept tolerance or reconciliation anymore. Many of the wounded vow to take revenge on whoever tried to kill them. Who needs trials and a judicial system when you have vengeance, fighting and sectarian cleansing?
At the end of the day, what is the way out? People’s opinions there differ between those who insist on military intervention, those who support the FSA and believe in its ability to liberate the country, and those who call for dialogue – the latter being a minority. Everyone says, stop the killing, blood only begets more blood. Is it not time for the bloodshed to stop? The strange thing is that this question is posed by militants more than civilians, but they condition it on one development and that is the fall of the regime.
That is how the people of Homs live. They realize the extent of their tragedy with the rise of every morning’s sun. They laugh in the face of their adversity and they invent bitterly sarcastic solutions because humor is the only medicine that relieves the hysteria of daily death. They smile, prompting you to smile back even in the face of the horror.
Homs in Numbers
The province of Homs is the largest in terms of area (42,226 square kilometers) and third in terms of population after Damascus and Aleppo. It lies by the Assi River, in a fertile agricultural area called Sahl al-Ghab in the middle of the country connecting the southern provinces and cities with the coastal, northern and eastern provinces and cities. It is 162 kilometers to the north of the capital Damascus. It is rich in archaeological sites and is considered an important touristic site. It is a diverse city in terms of sects and has the largest concentration of Sunni and Alawi Muslims and Antiochian Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox Christians and other minorities. It also has Armenian and Turkmen minorities.
The province witnessed critical junctures in the Syrian uprising. Since March 2011, 5,151 people have died in Homs, 1,225 have been detained in Syrian prisons and about 70 percent of the city has been destroyed.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.