Middle East

Defiance marks anniversary of uprising

BEIRUT: Opposition figures and anti-government activists marked the beginning of the fourth year of the Syrian uprising over the weekend, decrying the lack of promised foreign military support and vowing to press on until they achieve their objective of toppling the regime.

Although activists staged gatherings in villages and towns on the occasions of Friday’s nationwide protests, held under the slogan “This is a popular revolution, not a civil war,” they followed suit the following day, March 15, with another set of demonstrations to mark the uprising’s three-year anniversary.

Villages and towns from Deraa in the south to Idlib in the northwest, as well as the cities of Aleppo and Deir al-Zor, and the suburbs of the capital Damascus, all saw gatherings.

Thousands of people also took the streets of foreign capitals such as Paris, London and Washington Saturday.

Around 1,000 people marched to Downing Street in London waving “rebel” flags and denouncing the international community’s inaction.

“Gassed to death, starved to death, frozen to death ... You watched,” “Your silence is killing us,” and “Revolution until victory, Syrians deserve life,” read some of the banners.

A famous stencil by graffiti artist Bansky, reworked to depict a Syrian refugee girl with a heart-shaped balloon, was projected on Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square.

In a speech delivered in Istanbul, the head of the opposition-in-exile National Coalition, Ahmad Jarba, urged the backers of the uprising to provide it with the “means to fight” the regime.

Jarba renewed a call for weapons as the rebels take on both President Bashar Assad’s regime and extremist jihadists, from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

“We renew our request to the friends of the Syrian people to immediately keep their promises that were made before and during Geneva [peace talks] to do with qualitative weapons,” he said.

“We remind them that the time they are trying to buy today will tomorrow be a sword on the neck of the region and peace and security in the world ... The time has come for the free world to help the Syrians to escape their isolation. They should provide the means to fight Bashar Assad, and the jihadists that he has done so much to attract.”

In the Idlib town of Kafranbel, which has become famous for its colorful and sarcastic protest posters and banners, activists not only staged demonstrations, but also inaugurated a cultural festival – the first such event, they said, in rebel-held areas.

The festival, which started Saturday, was launched under the slogan “the revolution that faced the military dictatorship is now also facing religious extremism.”

Kafranbel was attacked by fighters from ISIS earlier this year.

Commemorations started with an exhibition by Heba al-Ansari, an artist from the town, about the lives of children affected by the war.

The organizers said it was the “first display in public inside the liberated areas in Syria.”

As part of the commemorations, which continue until Tuesday, there will also be a “street cinema” in the town, with documentaries about Syria to be screened at three open-air locations.

Meanwhile, many Facebook pages of anti-regime “coordinating committees” were full of bitter, defiant commentary on the occasion of the anniversary – reflecting both the resignation that foreign backers remain hesitant to help the opposition achieve victory, and the belief that in the end, the regime would fall.

As usual, they didn’t spare rebel groups or opposition leaders from their criticism. A group of activists in Azaz, Aleppo, posted a photograph of a chaotic scene at the Bab al-Salameh border crossing.

“Is this what the revolution is about? Was it for the sake of money and influence for some interlopers, [trampling] over the bodies of martyrs?’ they asked.

Meanwhile, some anti-regime activists staged their own, independent actions to mark the anniversary, in keeping with the nature of the uprising – spontaneous in the eyes of defenders, and fragmented in the eyes of detractors.

In Aleppo, young activists made and distributed in regime-held areas small cards bearing pro-uprising slogans, such as “we won’t kneel until we have taken the title ‘country of 1 million martyrs’” from its current Arab holder, Algeria.

A Damascus-based activist, wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, declared he and his colleagues had launched their own, “011” campaign, to both emphasize the peaceful protest actions at the outset of the uprising, and condemn any coming presidential election held in the war-torn country.

He posted a YouTube video detailing their efforts, which consisted of posting small Syrian flags – upside-down – on walls in the capital, to express his belief that the regime will eventually fall.

“Maybe we’re not carrying Kalashnikovs and toppling the regime, and it won’t do anything to the regime, or even bother the regime,” he said. “The important thing is to show that the revolution lives in us.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 17, 2014, on page 8.




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