In 2012, the International Amnesty Organization interviewed some of the people who survived the Hama massacre and prepared a detailed report. The account of Maha Musa, one of the witnesses whose opinions were included in the report, made clear the atrocity of what happened on the night of Feb. 2, 1982. Musa, who said, “During the siege, my grandfather died of natural causes associated with old age. As we were stuck inside our home, we started to think how we would bury him. When we explained the situation to the soldiers standing guard in the street, they told us to leave the corpse in front of the door. But we couldn't do that either, the street dogs would have mangled the body,” was saying that they were only able to bury the body after some weeks had passed. Maha Musa, whose uncle was also arrested and killed in prison by torture, is currently residing in London – his pain still fresh.
Abdulhadi Revani, another witness, was saying that during the siege he could leave the house twice only: In the first, they buried a pregnant woman who had died – with difficulty under the bombing – and in the second, the streets were filled with dead bodies. According the Revani's statements, by the end of the third week of the siege, the soldiers of the Syrian army called on the people to join the protest that was organized in the city square to support the regime. Those who did not get out of their homes within the announced time period were gathered one by one and executed by firing squad.
For long years, the people of Syria were even afraid to mention the Hama massacre. The massacre was coded among the people simply as “incidents.” Everybody knew what was being referred to with statements such as, “He got lost in the incidents,” “He was killed in the incidents,” “Before the incidents,” et cetera.
When I went to visit Syria for the first time in 2001, they had introduced me to an old man who had survived the massacre and settled in Damascus. I foolishly hoped that I could listen to some of his memories in relation to his experiences, but it was as if he was in an entirely different world. He was even avoiding everyday dialogue with people, let alone talking about the things he had witnessed.
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The 1982 Hama massacre was actually a clear example of the kind of administration understanding the Syrian regime had, explaining the kind of reaction it would show in the case of any kind of uprising. The treatment the people of Hama were deemed worthy of was years later deemed worthy of the people of Aleppo as well. Unfortunately this was no surprise. One who read history and the geography in depth could see that it would turn out this way.
The Hama massacre was also a period in which the deep and multi-dimensional links between Iran and Syria were revealed. Upon Damascus' siding with Tehran in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), the Islamic Republic of Iran administration had turned a blind eye to the Hama massacre. Just as Syria was neither condemned nor criticized by Iran when the dimension of the massacre was revealed, ties with the Hafez al-Assad regime were further strengthened. This was an example showing the kind of state Iran was and Iran's attitude in a possible attempt in Syria. Hence, in the developments that took place after 2011, Iran behaved exactly the same way it did in 1982. As a matter of fact, it did more: It even sent soldiers to Syria.
Another fact the Hama massacre pointed to was the depth of the relationship of Syrian Sunnis with the Nusayri regime. Defense Minister Mustafa Talas, who oversaw the bombing of the city, was a Sunni from Homs. While numerous Sunni soldiers were actively on duty in the siege, Sunni scholars like Said Ramadan al-Bouti had taken a position against the Muslim Brotherhood. It would have been no surprise for the Sunni faction to support the regime in the same way in a future uprising. It was no surprise when it happened either.
As Turkey, taking a stance in the uprising that has been ongoing since 2011, were we aware of all this?
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So many Hamas have taken place in the Syria leg of the Arab Spring since 2011. In fact, so much so that the massacre in 1982 has been long forgotten and eyes and hearts became used to new ones. The human tragedies that would probably continue for decades passed unnoticed amid diplomatic efforts, Astana talks, statements, comments, reports.
Just as we failed to take a lesson from recent and old history, the incidents in Syria show that even today many people have long become disconnected from the cause-effect relationship through different explanations. There are contradicting, inconsistent explanations on matters such as how the revolt started, what happened and who intervened where and how.
In order to avoid a repeat of the same mistakes, the future generations must take a lesson from these days. Yet, while even we, today, are unable to calmly evaluate the incidents taking place in front of our eyes, how will those after us manage to achieve this?