This is a historical overview of a story that remains unfinished
The regime in Syria is like a ghoul that frightens children to sleep, yet it is a real ghoul, not a figment of mothers' imaginations. It owns prisons and cemeteries that can hold adults and children along with their mothers and toys. It can imprison entire cities. This ghoul has ruled Syria since 1963.
Like the other Syrian cities, Deir Ezzor had sufficient reasons to revolt. Still, it had particular accounts with the Assad family, as it was the wealthiest city in economic resources. It has been so neglected that it has always been considered "forgotten." The forgotten Deir Ezzor represents a particular case in the revolution, having passed through all the phases and witnessed the formation of all the parties, including local coordination committees, the Free Syrian Army, and Islamic groups. It was subjected to all the regime's practices, including arrests, field executions, massacres, bombing, siege, displacement, and starvation.
The children of Daraa rejected the story of the ghoul and started the Syrian revolution movement on February 27, 2011. The regime's response was clear: it would continue to follow the methods of Hafez al Assad, father of the regime. What was not resolved by force would be solved by excessive violence. The people started their revolution on March 15, 2011, declaring that though rebellion was costly to them, compliance was no longer feasible. The debate between the possible and the impossible had been resolved; the impossible had become possible.
On March 18, 2011, the first Friday of the Syrian revolution, regime forces killed four civilians in Daraa. The news spread on social media like a flame from a matchstick in straw. In the main stadium in Deir Ezzor, the fervor was greater than any football fanaticism. The masses were boiling with anger about what had happened in Daraa, and they left the football match to demonstrate their wrath, including by burning a car that belonged to the Military Security Branch.
March 25, 2011, is considered the day Deir Ezzor officially joined the protests, raising banners in support of Daraa and demanding freedom in a demonstration that emerged from the Othman Mosque. This site later became a symbol of the city's revolution, one the regime viewed as a personal enemy because it hosted the first demonstration and later the first open sit-in on May 6, 2011. The latter protest, against the arrest of several activists from Deir Ezzor, lasted three days.
On April 21, 2011, Bashar al-Assad canceled the emergency law that had been in force since 1963. Hence Friday, April 22, bore its name in the true sense: Good Friday. On that day, Military Security took a step back for several hours, assuming the status of an observer, and the crowds of protesters reached the city squares, numbering in the tens of thousands. Throughout Syria, including Deir Ezzor and nearby towns such as Mayadin and Al-Bukamal, protestors smashed statues of Assad the father, and his two sons. They raised the ceiling of their demands and adopted the slogan "The people want to overthrow the regime." In the gathering following Good Friday, Security tightened its grip and intensified its arrests, and the demonstrators grew fiercer.
On June 3, 2011, it would have been possible for everyone to go to bed in peace. Still, the killing machine did not want that, and the regime's survival instinct dominated over rational trials and intelligent behavior. On the Friday that was named "Children of Freedom" in recognition of the children of Daraa, the first martyr in the Deir Ezzor demonstrations was the child Moath Al-Rakkad. His martyrdom turned the tables on Military Security, and the streets became the protesters' right. They had earned it with the blood of their martyrs. Security could no longer disperse any protest or sit-in or thwart any funeral despite cutting down martyrs with every attempt.
From August 1–7, 2011, military crowds arrived daily in Deir Ezzor. On the morning of August 8, 2011, the regime stormed Deir Ezzor and the city of Hama with 200 tanks, claiming a need to eliminate "terrorist gangs" that were terrorizing civilians. On August 10, 2011, the Syrian army began bombing the minaret of the Othman Mosque in retaliation for the demonstrations that occurred inside it. In addition, the number of civilian deaths rose in numerous neighborhoods. Security launched an arrest campaign under the protection of the army in both the countryside and the city, affecting at least 20,000 civilians.
Syrians have bad memories of their army dating back to 1982. They awoke to its arrival in the city in 2011, which weakened the protest movement. This army seemed like it was designed to kill citizens and citizens alone.
The October 15, 2011, murder of the activist Ziad al-Obeidi, a reporter for the Syrian Center for Human Rights, and the throwing of his body from the balcony of his house; the murder of the child Muhammad al-Mulla Issa on November 13, 2011; and other incidents of killing caused outrage. They renewed the ongoing demonstrations.
The security forces began to raid the Free Syrian Army groups nonstop. On March 18, 2012, Security, along with a unit of military armored vehicles, committed a huge massacre in the Rusafa neighborhood, killing 20 Free Syrian Army fighters and throwing their bodies from the rooftops.
It repeated this massacre in other areas, which led to the Free Syrian Army's entry with light weapons into an open battle with regime forces. The Free Syrian Army controlled the inner neighborhoods, and the regime took the Al-Qusour and Al-Jura neighborhoods as a center for launching its operations. Artillery shelling began in the city on June 22 and led to a rate of 50 civilian deaths per day or more. The army laid siege to the inner neighborhoods, and the regime began using warplanes to suppress opposition. On September 16, 2012, the city witnessed a significant exodus.
On September 24, 2012, the regime's special forces in the Syrian army, the Republican Guards, arrived in Deir Ezzor. Civilians used to call them "death brigades." These forces were supervised by Maher al-Assad, the younger brother of Bashar al-Assad. They started by storming neighborhoods that were mainly under the regime's control and massacring at least 200 civilians. Entire families, including their children and women, were reported dead. The Republican Guards continued their work in the inner neighborhoods with a scorched-earth policy.
The city became empty of everything except destruction, fighters, some activists, a few citizens who could not afford the expenses of travel and displacement, and some who refused to leave their homes. Resistance by the Free Syrian Army continued in the face of systematic destruction and continuous bombardment, and amid their battles, the fronts alternated between inflammation and calm.
Those who were present in the city tried to coexist with the state of war and revived the city by forming a local council to manage city affairs. Later, in July 2014, ISIS opened a front against the Free Syrian Army from within its area of control and extended its arm over the city center, capturing the city of Deir Ezzor and the river. They massacred many civilians, such as those they murdered in the Shaitat massacre of mid-August 2014, which left hundreds dead and dozens missing.
The period of ISIS was long, heavy, very black, and abundant in innocent blood. It did harm the Deir Ezzor revolution as much as the regime did in the first three years of the revolution, so it erased the opposition factions from the city and detained many activists and leaders of the Free Syrian Army, as its publications show, for example, but not limited to issuing The Devil's Revelation Video on June 25, 2015, which showed the execution of five of the city's first media activists with brutal methods such as bombing and suffocation.
In addition, on September 13, 2016, the organization slaughtered 19 young men from Deir Ezzor on the first day of Eid al-Adha inside the city's slaughterhouse on charges of dealing with the international coalition to send fear and propaganda messages to the civilians.
Fearing the regime forces, those in the countryside east of the river witnessed a significant displacement toward the west of the river, under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces backed by the coalition forces resisting ISIS. Many civilians died as they were crossing the river, massacred by Russian airplanes between September and October 2017.
The conflict between the various forces—the coalition, Syrian Democratic Forces, Russia, Iran, and the regime—in Deir Ezzor is still pivotal and has a significant influence on the entire region's stability. Any subsequent failure to establish stability will allow ISIS to return to the area in force.
It would be unfair not to mention that Deir Ezzor constituted a global political embarrassment for the regime when two of its sons defected from high political positions to join the resistance. The first was Syrian Ambassador to Iraq Nawaf Al-Fares in July 2012, and the second was Prime Minister Riad Al-Hijab in August 2012.
Closes on 28/05/2022
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