A protest for freedom in Homs
Eyewitness: Ibn Homs
Written by: Iman Muhammad
Translation: Rose, Enas, Ala
The “Clock Massacre”
People across the world celebrate different events however the people of Homs celebrate memories of massacres because these dates are symbols of victory and pride – not for the martyrs who departed this world, but for those who lived through it spirit and soul.
I will write about the protest on 18-04-2011 as was described to me by a Homsi man who was present there, how he felt and lived through it.
Bab Sba’ – A neighborhood full of brave men inside old Homs. Bab Sba’ is a neighborhood that rose against the brutal regime and tired the forces through their greatness. It is the neighborhood that was from the first to rise. However, the regime only knows violence and brutality thus leading to so many deaths, injuries and arrests from this neighborhood.
The youth of Homs were angry, frustrated and ready to burst. They swore that whatever they would do from then onwards would be to support and strengthen the revolution.
There was a suppressed anger, tears held back and locked away for years…A funeral came for the martyrs…To take place from Almreijeh Mosque…Bullets was the obvious weapon they would face…But the decision was one and clear, we will attend the funeral…And that is exactly what they did.
The young men gathered in the college. It was nearly empty due to the harsh and complicated conditions Homs was in. They set off to Alkhaldiyeh district, then to Jouret Al Shayyah district… They had their breakfast as fast as they could, and then headed rapidly to Almreijeh mosque.
They were surprised that the mosque had no worshipers in it. They investigated the issue and were told that the funeral had been moved to Al Jame’e Al Kabeer mosque. A taxi car drove them to Al Souk area, and they joined the revolutionaries there. They were stunned by the massive number of people and how tons were arriving to the area by each passing minute. The mosque and nearby streets were then filled with demonstrators.
Everyone from Homs and its suburbs attended the demonstration. They came from Rastan, Talbiseh… Brotherhood spoke up and hearts united for the sake of the freedom God wants. The revolution began from His mosques; the revolution returns to His mosques by every drop of martyrs’ blood.
They prayed midday prayers, the martyrs were brought to the mosque, and their corpses lined up side by side. These martyrs were friends in lifetime, and will be brothers in heaven.
Sheikhs in Homs (amongst them Sheikh Mahmoud Aldalati, Sheikh Sahel Junaid, Sheikh Ismail Al Majthoub, Sheikh Anas Suwaid) took turns in delivering speeches, announcing and reiterating the names of the martyrs whilst the loud crowds cheered for them. It was a revolutionary wedding that even the sky’s angels had attended. They prayed the funeral prayers, and then the ground shook by the chants of “God is the Greatest!”… Chants Homs has never bore to see on its ground.
There were hundreds of thousands of revolutionaries… Men, youth, and children… All united for one aim: they united by their admiration of martyrdom and by their fury and anger for the 8 innocent civilians killed in Homs.
They passed by a police branch, where the regime had made it a center for its security and shabeeha (thugs) forces. Due to the massive floods of the brave revolutionaries, regime security forces had to hide so they’d prevent direct confrontation with the furious protesters.
The revolutionaries told them that “we shall be done with the funeral and then come back to you…!”
Heading to the cemetery, they passed by Al Hamdeyye district, the Christian district in Homs. It was a beautiful scene when rice was being sprinkled all over the revolutionaries as they passed by. The women’s voices were echoing in this unity amongst religions, which is known to be part of Homs’s families and life but not part of the regime’s…
The crowds arrived to Al Kateeb and extended all the way to the police command center. They waited for the martyrs to be buried in a tense and worried atmosphere. The slander of the regime is infamous and very much known; everyone expected a barbaric attack to target them.
The burial was peacefully over. A demonstration was not planned until the crowds heard Homs’s revolutionaries chanting “To the Clock. To the Clock!”… Out of worry, Sheikhs tried to convince the young men not to attend the demonstration, but they refused and insisted on going. Sheikhs couldn’t do anything but succumb to the demands of the young men.
The “flood of the crowds” flooded again after the last goodbye to the martyrs. A convoy was buried forever in the ground of immortality… The other convoy insisted on making its life worthy and meaningful. They insisted that they either be martyred or emerge victoriously.
The Clock square was completely empty. No security or police presence. No signs of the presence of anything or anyone that has to do with Assad regime. Homs was there, with its people solely. Activists, educators, and scientists were present. Male and female revolutionaries were present, all arriving from every single district in the city of Homs. The people of Homs’s suburbs also arrived there, and the chants began to become louder. The taste of freedom began to taste sweeter and sweeter in the heart of every revolutionary. The protesters chanted amongst them:” Demonstrating, demonstrating, the regime we shall be toppling!”
Hope was drawing the most magnificent images by its brushes. The demonstration was more of a dreamy idea, but in that square, it began to be shaped and crystallized until it became a reality… A concrete, true, reality… The demonstration couldn’t be any better.
Nearby roads were cut off and barriers were stationed around the square. Some volunteer protesters checked the IDs of every man coming in, just for security and safety reasons.
More people flooded in. Freedom is like a magnet; it attracts the people that have been silenced for too long, oppressed by dictatorships and authoritarianism… The chance is now available to speak up about the duty, to scream in the face of the suppresser, to prove all these identities that have been concealed by a tyrannical iron fist. Speeches were then delivered from the Clock’s platform; a woman takes a turn, then an activist, then a Sheikh, then a enthusiastic young man… The people of Homs have created the most beautiful images of brotherhood, collaboration, and compassion. Then, the sun saluted Homs and allowed sunset to come. Preparations for another type of prayer began to take place, for a prayer very well done, for a Quran recited smoothly on the crowds… All along the understanding of the true essence of freedom the way God the most almighty wants it, not like what tyrants want it.
The tents were built for us to sleep. One of the tents read “The tent of a united Syria” and another read “A tent to mourn the martyrs”. Roles were given to the youth. Some were put as the guards; others were in charge of handing out the food. Some were put as protectors of the women in case the regime attacked, others were put as in charge of the banners and posters and decorations. It was wonderful, felt like a wedding as it brought together every side of Homs with all its beauty into one square!
Everyone prayed Isha together as the Sheikh ended with a prayer that shook the square, people were aching and upset inside only for them then to break into Takbeers “God is Great” “God is Great” then breaking into the chants, the sound of desperation so evidence “The people want the topple of the regime”! The people carried on chanting for their country including dignity, freedom, peace, love and unity. As the sounds calmed down, volunteers began bringing food, water, fruits and sweets to the protesters – each volunteer trying to cover the most people – the generosity of Homsis so evident.
After this, preparations for sleep were made.
Many tents were built and blankets were delivered for those staying. Everyone wanted to stay the night. This young man left for a small while to his friends home to discuss in private what the regime could be planning, it was evident they would attack. The police were present nearby watching closely what was taking place, in silence. There were reports Asef Shawkat and the Interior Minister, Alsha’ar were present in the Albaath party building, in Homs inside Insha’at neighborhood, on the road to Tripoli..
The youth climbed into the car and made their way to the building to investigate and find out what was going on. The time was 10pm. The youth spotted several expensive cars coming together from Damascus. The movement and atmosphere was not like usual. There was a huge number of security and protective vehicles – this led to a call being made in the square for women to leave for their safety, some refused but many left and returned the next day.
The decision was made…We would not leave the square or the protest…We would not let go so easily! But, we needed to think properly and be careful. We started to plan how to create field hospitals in case of an attack. Homes needed to be prepared for when we escaped and needed to hide.
We began collecting all the medical aid we could, first aid packages and anything that could be found. The people were warned of what may be coming. Upon our return to the square, the numbers were much less. We could feel the danger so close, the feeling a massacre was to take place was inevitable.
The shabeeha [thugs] and regime forces spread around the Clock Square through its side roads however did not attack or enter. They were in vast numbers – quite unexpected to be honest, we began to count and prepare for the attack.
The Sheikh Mohamad Aldalati spoke to a high ranking security officer, the officer agreed for his forces to remain separate from the protesters behind their checkpoints as a protective barrier between them and the shabeeha [regime thugs].
The agreement was in fact put into practice, but their looks were of death and swearing from their side and our side. The young man returned to the square with his friends, they were fully aware now the attack was not just being planned by local regime forces but was in fact ordered by Maher Al-Assad himself – his order was to empty the square, or else.
The Sheikh’s in the square continued to read out the messages they were receiving from the presidential palace through loud speakers so the protesters could remain updated on what the situation was like. The youth would respond loudly and firmly with “God is Great” and the 1 main aim “The people want the topple of the regime!” .. Once the Sheikh’s noticed people would not go back, they decided to remain and informed the protesters they were “one and with them”.
The Sheikh’s first asked the women to leave immediately knowing what the regime forces would do. However 1 woman stood up firmly and said:
“We have been made aware the 4th division is coming into Homs, whoever is afraid let them leave to their houses, however we [the women] will remain as we are not afraid”
The fear has disappeared; it was long gone and would not come back. It was as though the fear from such a regime for many years no longer held any meaning. It felt like victory was near. Everyone was wishing they could die in the way of God…For the sake of a better Syria where the citizen is treated well and with dignity.
After a long struggle of us convincing the females to leave, they did for their safety as we knew how the regime would take and use them if caught. Several other people left as their numbers were almost 100 000 as they flooded the streets to go home.
The situation at exactly 1am inside the square:
The number decreased by a large amount and we began preparing to sleep as well as cleaning the square, some ate and others sang. The young men decided to leave the square, many had sisters who were out all day and their whereabouts were unknown, and others had parents fearing the worst for their son’s safeties. They left the square leaving behind the young men who were at around 5000 in total … As they walked away it felt as though they had let everyone down, a feeling of being a traitor for leaving everyone behind. It felt as though they had turned their back on those staying the night.
As they left Aldablan, a young man stopped them – they felt he was from Baba Amr neighborhood – He begged them not to leave the protest, however one of the young men hugged him and said “we will leave now but we will return, we won’t leave you”.
The young man returned to his house at around 1am and made sure his sisters were okay and told them about the protest. He then called his friends in the Alber Hospital to explain his worries and what could take place so they were prepared.
1:50am – Tuesday 19/04/2011
The gunfire could be heard from every corner of Homs, there was gunfire in Baba Amr, Alkhaldiyeh, Bab Sba’, Bab Dreib [in almost all of old Homs], Albayada and Deir Balbeh….And most certainly in Clock Square!
The young men went onto the roof and could see the bombs falling onto the square and bullets raining onto the protesters. The sounds of Takbeer “God is Great” filled the skies, the young man ran down into his house and started to call to check on his friends. Everyone was panicked and angry and confused. They did not know how to help. When he thought to leave to the Alber Hospital, his friend reminded him they couldn’t due to the severe shooting outside. All he could do was blame himself, sitting in silence as he had left the square when his friends did not. He thought that maybe if people had not left, if the numbers were greater, perhaps the regime may not have done this? Or been able to? But there was no point looking back now…
In the area around the Clock Square:
The families opened their homes to anyone escaping from the square; it truly was beautiful how well everyone worked together and cared for one another. Every parent considered the youth to be their own. They opened their closed shops to hide the injuries who would be abducted if found. The death toll began to rise, Homs was bleeding heavily, everyone tried to deal with the large number of injuries which kept rising as the regime continued to brutally fire onto the peaceful protesters.
The young man could not do anything but cry, he felt helpless, completely helpless.
Very heavy gunfire continued to target the protesters for more than an hour. A lot of the young men who demonstrated at The Clock were martyred. They were amongst those who thought they were dealing with humans from their flesh and blood and rebuffed the thought of leaving the area…Amongst those who thought that the regime’s shabeeha would actually allow civilians to chant and would understand the meaning of their demonstration…
The situation at the square was very ambiguous…Just waiting for the next day is a killer feeling. The cars of the parents of the martyrs were driving at a hysterical speed, trying to drive as fast as they could, to probably be able to save the lives of their beloved… Families were observing from the distance, expecting news of a martyred or wounded son, father, etc…
In the early morning, news was reported that tanks arrived to the square and that the security presence was indescribable. Young men were only able to check the square in the afternoon. They all went out in one car and headed to the square, just to be stunned that armoured tanks actually were stationed in the Clock square. They saw the bullet covers on ground; windows of banks, shops, offices, and “Bete” restaurant all destroyed…All completely destroyed. They also noticed that the ground had been cleaned so regime’s forces would cover up the evidences of their crimes. The presence of the civilians of Homs was probably 1% compared to the usual everyday life on streets.
After a few days, he saw his friend who was one of those who remained steadfast until the very end. The friend told him that the shabeeha (thugs) forces opened fire heavily and randomly, targeting them. Protesters then ran and dispersed in all directions, chanting “God is the Greatest”. Gunfire was following them around in main streets and other roads. First, gunfire was fired in the air, then it became at a low altitude, then it started flying over the heads of the protesters and in every other direction. The friend also told him that a lot of young men were martyred that day.
He told him that he ran until he left Aldablan and headed to Al Ghouta, then to Al Qarabees and Alkhaldiyeh district. There, he reached his home after 2 hours of running. He expected that any bullet would target him and kill him immediately… In Alkhaldiyeh district, the man’s family and other civilians were fretfully looking for him everywhere. When his mother found him, she hugged him and worryingly and said:”Oh dear, I thought you got martyred.”
She took off his shirt and burnt it so the regime’s forces wouldn’t recognize him from his shirt. His arrival to his house was a true miracle.
Another friend left Aldablan to Al Ghouta then Al Qarabees and went to hide in the orchards of Al Ghouta located near Nizar Qabbani’s street. He waited for sunrise until he was able to safely go back home.
A third friend told him that when the shabeeha (thugs) came, they were primarily aiming to arrest the Sheikhs without killing them, so they wouldn’t infuriate the people.
One of the injured protesters that were present there did not move at all so the regime’s forces would actually believe that he was already dead. He told his friend everything he has witnessed.
He saw the regime’s forces carrying the corpses at the entrance of Aldablan street (near Rainbow and Yaafi sweets shops), where they brought garbage trucks and loaded them in there. He was one of those carried and loaded in the truck with all the other corpses. He is the only one who stayed alive to tell this miserable story. Some of the corpses were taken to the military hospital, others were taken to the National Hospital, and a number of them were taken and buried in mass grave in a village located near Homs. The civilians didn’t find the mass grave until they smelled the odor of the decayed corpses. The regime’s forces then instantly came, took the corpses, and buried them in an unknown location (to cover up their crime).
The young man was taken as a dead body to the military hospital with the rest of the bodies. He was in fact alive and discovered that one person was still alive and so treated him, after which he was detained. Once he was freed he came out to tell of the tragedy, he said that the number of dead bodies that were with him were over two hundred and he didn’t know until now how, why, or for what reason he had been kept alive, but it is the will of God which supersedes the will of all of man.
I asked many times and questioned a lot about the exact number of martyrs that fell in that massacre, the majority confirmed that there had been dozens, while some others said that there had been less than that, but they had not seen with their own eyes the dead bodies, since they had ran away from the treacherous gun shots. The truth is hidden, but the number of missing people is very high.
The fourth brigade celebrated on the remains of the sit-in, and the shabeeha danced and chanted praises to their God Bashar. They desecrated the Square with their feet and desecrated the clock with their graffiti of slogans of enslavement. Some of them took photos of the Square to boast their bravery in front of their children, and I don’t know how a child can accept a criminal as a father, a lying father who knows no mercy. The celebrations lasted until daybreak with gunshots; they thought that they had forced Homs into submission, that they had suppressed the revolution in it and that Homs would never rise again after that.
The event was wrapped in mystery, and many rumours spread about what had happened at the clock, along with it came a dark atmosphere with sorrow and sadness over Homs and its people, so they declared mourning and closed the markets and the shops, and the mourning period lasted nearly a week. The apparent mourning took the form of anger in every Homsi, that anger which was reignited and remained to take revenge from the offenders, to tire the regime, make the shabeeha weep and to make Homs the official capital of the revolution.
The next evening, the youth walked through the streets of Homs choking on the feelings of pain and grief as they witnessed the families searching for their sons and not knowing their outcome. There were some who knew and considered their sons martyrs, while there were others who couldn’t even bring themselves to even ask about their sons, fearing for their arrest and detainment. Until now the fate of a large number of the youths remains unknown.
Until this moment, and after the passing of one year from the sit-in, the Freedom Square remains an area out of bounds in Homs, an area that is completely surrounded by the regime’s thugs, one that scares them, which they are always afraid the youths of freedom will descend upon at any moment to liberate.
From that moment the clock has become a symbol of freedom in Syria, because it continuously represents the coming victory for the revolutionaries, providing them with a small image of the paradise that they are striving for, and they have all become certain that it is worth it.
That day was one of victory and pride in Homs, despite the pain and anguish, every free Homsi swears to Allah that they will achieve it, not just in the Square, nor just in Homs, but in the whole of Syria.
Those who attended the prayer the day of the sit-in unanimously agree that:
“I felt a kind of humility I had never ever felt before, even when I had visited Makkah or Madina!”
It is the same feeling of a sincere believer in his Lord, while he stands up for something right for the satisfaction of Allah and His Messenger.
That is the same feeling that is continuously renewed with every attack that falls on Homs and is thwarted by its proud people with their renewed faith, and the hearts now know exactly what their goal is.
These are some clips that were captured that day:
**Moments before the sit-in at the funeral of the free heroes from Alkabeer Mosque
**Beautiful moments from the protest:
**The moment when the traitor regime forces stormed the protest: