Like the majority of Syrian provinces, the once-calm Damascus Countryside witnessed its first anti-government demonstrations in March 2011. The protests were sparked by the government forces’ arrest and torture of at least 15 children who had painted pro-freedom graffiti on their school walls in the southern city of Deraa. At the early stages of the Damascus Countryside’s uprising, demonstrations marched out of the main mosques of Douma, Harasta and Al-Tal, the largest populated suburbs of Syrian capital.
Few days earlier, I recall, I had met with a number of enthusiastic youths. We decided then it was time to follow the examples of other Arab Spring countries, and voice out our demands for democracy and change. Under the then-imposed Emergency Law, we agreed that mosques were the most convenient spots to gather for protests, especially following Friday prayers.
As planned, we went to the grand prayer of the next Friday. At Al-Tal Grand Mosque, there were many new faces; people who had never attended a prayer before. Outside, a group of non-practicing young men and women, including a number of Christians, waited for the prayer to end. As soon as the prayer was over, we stepped outside and merged all together into the first anti-Baath and anti-Assad demonstration in that district. That was the moment when we broke the fear barrier once and for all. As hesitant bystanders joined the crowd, the number of protesters soon reached around two thousands.
I could see the feeling of freedom in the faces of the demonstrators. “Freedom, freedom… Allah, Syria, freedom,” the crowd chanted spontaneously. Many young demonstrators shed tears of joy. Women were watching us from their balconies, while many young locals came down to join the protest.
Our joy didn’t last for long, however; the scene turned all gloomy when the confrontation with the government security forces started. They attacked us first with teargas, and fired gunshots in the air. Then, they savagely raided the crowd with batons and belts. Whoever they could catch, they would ruthlessly bludgeon with stun batons. Dozens of protesters were injured and arrested. A young lady passed away of injury few days later, to become the first martyr of Al-Tal district.
On that day, I chatted with dozens of protesters during and after the demonstration. Most of them believed that the dawn of freedom was about to break. They thought the free world, which happened to support the freedom ambitions of Egyptians, Tunisians and Libyans, would not leave Syrians to face the Assad’s killing machine on their own.
In the beginning, the protests asked for democracy and greater freedoms. But as more and more peaceful protesters were slaughtered by government forces, people demanded the regime’s overthrow. They insisted, at the same time, on the unity of the Syrian people in its rightful ambitions for freedom and dignity.
In the first months of the revolution, Syrian activists labeled each Friday with a special title. The name was circulated over Facebook pages and incorporated into the slogans and banners used in the demonstrations. “Azadi,” “Saleh al-Ali,” “Protection of Civilians,” “No-Fly Zone,” and many other names were given to Fridays. Syrians were trying to send a message to the world and awaken the conscience of the international community. They wanted to be heard by the so-called free world, which has long prided itself for supporting freedom and democracy, the main two slogans raised by the Syrian revolution at the time.
The peaceful uprising continued, and thousands of protesters were killed as the regime stepped up its brutal repression of the demonstrations. The NATO’s rapid intervention on behalf of the Libyan revolution encouraged Syrians to carry on against all odds. Hopes were high that the free world and Arab governments would not let Syrians down, and would finally put Assad on a very short leash. Time was crucial; the Assad’s army had already started using air force and heavy weaponry to crush millions of anti-government protesters who flooded the streets of Homs and Hama.
However, the international community, including the so-called “Friends of Syria Group,” showed no sign of serious action to stop the massacres on the ground. Consequently, the once-peaceful uprising turned into an armed one. Deviating from their previously stated principles, the revolutionaries started raising religious slogans – a natural response to the international negligence of their calamity. Hopes were diminishing that an Arab or international intervention would come to stop the mass killing and repression of Syrians. As a result, Syria turned into a fertile ground for Islamic radicalism, especially when the regime welcomed radical Shiite factions from Lebanon, Iran and Iraq to spearhead its fight against the revolution.
The outcome has been a dramatic change in the slogans of the revolution. We no longer hear the chants of Qashoush and the chants which for long revolved around “Syria wants freedom;” “Syrians are one people;” “Allah, Syria, freedom;” and “the people wants to topple the regime.” Instead, we see the black flags of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and of al-Qaeda fluttering over large portions of the Syrian land.
The free world, including the Obama Administration, has watched Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons against Syrians as many as five times. The United Nations and the US Administration confirmed the attacks and that Assad was the perpetrator. However, nothing more than getting rid of the crime weapon has been done, while the criminal, Assad, has been left to continue slaughtering the men, women and children of Syria.
Assad’s helicopters have been dropping TNT barrels on Aleppo for two weeks now. More than 50 people are killed every day in the city of such attacks. The regime’s air fighters are raiding the suburbs of Damascus nearly every day. However, such crimes are now going with no condemnation from the free world.
In the meantime, all kinds of pressure are being exerted on the Syrian opposition to negotiate a joint government with the criminals. With no preset timeline or any guarantees to finally end the corrupt, tyrannical regime, the super powers are pushing the opposition into a negotiation process which would give Assad more time in power. Allied with radical Lebanese, Iraqi and Iranian Shiite militias, which are more fanatic than ISIS and al-Qaeda, Assad would continue the mass killings of Syrians, hoping he would suppress their longing for freedom and justice.
Under all this injustice, I wonder how easy for us, Syrians, to restore our civilization in the battle against a monster of radicalism and repression. This remains a question to answer by each Syrian, and by the conscience of all the free people around the world.
 the Kurdish for freedom
 a historical Alwite leader of the Syrian revolution against the French Mandate
 Ibrahim al-Qashoush is a man from the province of Hama noted for singing and authoring songs mocking Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and the ruling Ba'ath party during peaceful anti-government rallies. Qashoush was found dead in the Orontes River in July 2011. His throat was cut and his vocal cords were ripped out. After his murder, fellow protesters hailed Qashoush as the "nightingale of the revolution"