On June 27th, 1980, two hand grenades were thrown at Assad while he was in Damascus and the reprisal was swift: less than 24 hours later, the president’s brother, Rifaat Assad, master-minded the mass execution of between 600 and 1000 people who were already being held as political prisoners.
The following year, in November, a car bomb, detonated by the Brotherhood in Damascus, killed 64 people. Within weeks, Rifaat again went into action, placing some 3000 undercover agents in Hama in preparation for an all-out attack on the city which began on Tuesday February 2 1982, a cold wet night when 500 security men, many of them members of the feared Mukhabarat, the Syrian secret service, were sent into the old part of Hama where they gunned down an estimated 50 people whom they suspected of being in the Brotherhood.
A jihad was announced and a call to arms went out via the microphones on the minarets and although a three-week urban battle raged throughout the small alley ways, underground tunnels and souks of the city, the Brotherhood were no match for the weaponry Rifaat had at his disposal. Helicopters hovered over the city while tanks bombarded it, steam rollers flattened it and cyanide gas was pumped in to it. Something like one third of homes were destroyed leaving 50.000 without shelter.
Those who died were left where they fell and later cemented in when workmen were sent to rebuild the city in an attempt to eradicate the scorch marks of battle and wipe away the blood of soldiers, policemen, insurgents and citizens. Erasing the memory was a different matter.
The politics of Syria are not those which pass for democracy in Europe. Assad’s supporters claim that his Machiavellian aim was to make the country a modern, secular state unhindered by religious strictures, hence its official title: Syrian Arab Republic. His critics point out that his methods, which included torture, were indefensible and that in any case calling the country Arab ignores the presence and rights of its Kurdish citizens.
One way or the other, it was the people who suffered and as I walk around the town, I can see evidence of it everywhere. New office buildings have risen from the rubble. In between, lie great empty spaces where once were homes. New shop fronts border the streets but walk behind them and you see dereliction: a house pockmarked by mortar shells, beside it a half destroyed building, beyond that, a piece of waste land the huge gaping hole gouged out of its centre filled with nothing other than reminders of what had happened twenty-five years ago.
Extract from my book: My Home is Your Home A Journey Round Syria http://wp.me/p1Frlu-2K