The Hama massacre occurred in February 1982, when an uprising in the city was brutally crushed under the orders of the president Hafez al-Assad. The attack was led by Hafez Assad’s brother Rifaat. The town was besieged for 27 days in order to quell an uprising by Sunni Muslim groups, including Muslim Brotherhood, against al-Assad’s government. Years have gone by, and we still don’t know the exact number of victims, but it is estimated that at least 10,000 Syrian citizens were killed, and there are even some estimates that put the number at 40,000. The number of missing has never been acknowledged by the Syrian leadership.
Robert Fisk was one of the rare journalists who witnessed the massacre. As always – Fisk warns us it wasn’t a black and white story, but of course – we must see it as a horrible event that can’t be justified. He also remembers how the Western governments were happy with the way Hafez al-Assad crushed the Muslim uprising. And then – almost thirty years later – we saw the West rising for justice in Syria, rising against al-Assad (this time Bashar, Hafez’s son). And in the last four years that attitude has been changing with all the unrest around the Middle East, the Western governments are still not very sure about their relationship with Bashar al-Assad. It’s an on and off thing, depending on various interests and changing circumstances. When international community starts talking about Syria, we can be sure the motifs are never justice and human rights, that is the lesson we learned.
Thanks to the NPR and a former Hama resident, Abu Aljude, there are some images that reveal the horror that took place in Hama thirty-three years ago. In an article written on the 30th anniversary of Hama massacre, Deborah Amos writes:
“In the weeks and months that followed, news of the events in Hama dribbled out. But there were virtually no photos or any international reaction. Yet Hama stands as a defining moment in the Middle East. It is regarded as perhaps the single deadliest act by any Arab government against its own people in the modern Middle East, a shadow that haunts the Assad regime to this day.
And now, three decades later, photos from Hama in 1982 are beginning to circulate on the Internet. One of the people compiling photos of Hama is Abu Aljude, who was a 16-year-old living in Hama at the time of the slaughter. ‘It took three weeks. We stayed in school overnight because we couldn’t walk back home. We walked over dead bodies. There were bodies in the streets,’ says Abu Aljude, now a medical technical expert living in California.
‘I wonder if dying then is less painful than surviving it and living the memories,’ he says.”
Within Syria, for decades now, mention of the massacre has been very much suppressed, although the general contours of the events—and various partisan versions, on all sides—are well known throughout the country. When the massacre is publicly referenced, it is only as the ‘event’ or ‘incident’ at Hama. The same thing is with the international community – there is still no general verdict saying the ‘event’ in Hama was indeed a massacre. That is why the ghost of Hama massacre still lingers on.
//all photos via NPR, courtesy of Abu Aljude//