MOUSAB.SMOKE.finfeat.AP120528022458 (1)

Mousab Alhamadee introduced himself to us as a media liaison for the opposition Local Coordination Committees (LCC) of Syria. He purportedly lives in Hama and writes about a friend he calls Ali, who is from Apamea, a town near Hama. You can read his account further below.

The Syrian government restricts international reporters from entering the country. To get stories out of Syria, we are inviting Syrians on both sides of the conflict to tell the world how they cope with street violence, human tragedies, political chaos and economic loss in their daily lives. Syria Witness reports cannot be independently verified and, for reasons of personal their safety, some contributors do not use their real names.  Some texts are edited to improve clarity and style, but no changes to content are made.

To read more on-the-street reports, go to our Syria Witness page on Tumblr.  To read more of our Syria coverage, click here. Submit inquiries or your own Syria Witness entries to syriawitness(at)gmail.com. For safety reasons, we strongly urge you to use a browser-based e-mail (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail) and be sure https is in the URL.

By Mousab Alhamadee, Hama, June 6, 2012 

The shelling of Apamea hadn’t stopped for 17 days. It seemed by the end of the week that Assad’s army was determined to storm the city to the end. Apamea is the home of Ali, a friend of mine. This is his story.

Ninety percent of his countrymen have fled the ancient city, and Ali realized he had no more time to lose.

The Syrian military had acquired a very bad reputation because of the scorched-earth tactics they had applied in other revolting towns and cities. Taking into consideration the experience of other Syrian cities and towns where the invading national army swept in with tanks, snipers and then the dreaded shabiha (militiamen), most of Apamea fled from the city, taking with them their money, jewelry and every precious thing. Some of them have even taken some of the furniture from their homes.

I hope when I can travel abroad, I will be able to publish [my manuscripts] in a more open-minded society – Ali

As for Ali, he belongs to the middle class of Apamea. Before the revolution, he lived on a small salary and dwelled in a small rented flat. That is why, when he decided to flee, he had nothing to take with him but his books.

A man who refused to loan his books because they were like his children

Ali is a man of intellect. Some people like to call him a philosopher, especially when some of the books that he translated became popular in Apamea. Ali himself is also the author of some manuscripts that couldn’t be published in Syria. I remember that I asked him once about these manuscripts: Would he keep them hidden in his drawers?

“Of course, this will make me miserable,” he said, “but I hope when I can travel abroad, I will be able to publish them in a more open-minded society.”

MOUSAB.BIKERS.fin .AP120603021029 SYRIA WITNESS: He Saved His Books from Being Burned

Free Syrian Army soldiers ride a motorcycle on the outskirts of Idlib, Syria, Sunday, June 3, 2011. (AP)

He always thought Syrian society was haunted with theological thought that, as he believes is the biggest obstacle to the country’s development.

He loves his books to the degree that he once hung a notice on his personal library with some lines of poetry warning his guests not to ask to borrow any of his books, arguing that these books are his children and children are impossible to be lend.

His book collection consists of more than a thousand titles, about half of them in English. They reflect his personality and his academic study: Most of his English books revolve around literature and literary theory, while the Arabic books are mostly about history and philosophy of religion.

When he heard the story of a poor poet in Idlib whose library was burnt – among other things in the house – by the troops of the regime, he grew hysterical about the fate of his books, especially because Ali knew that he was already one of those opposition members who are very wanted by the regime.

A solution to Ali’s literary dilemma

Thinking and thinking for those 17 days, he finally discovered how he could hide his books before he and his neighbors evacuated the city.

One of Ali’s cousins is the head of municipal council of Apamea. Coordinating secretly with his cousin, Ali put all his books in 23 cardboard boxes and hid them in the stores of the municipal council building. Ali was sure that even if the regime army burned all the houses of Apamea, it would not burn government edifices.

After 20 days of shelling, and when Ali, his wife and child – with about 99 percent of the population – had fled to other towns and villages, the Free Syrian Army withdrew from Apamea while the regime army moved in, burning all of the houses that had been missed in the shelling.

Ali and his small family stopped at the edge of Apamea and watched the fires in the town.  He tried to hide his tears from his wife when he saw clouds of smoke in the sky of the city in which he was born and had lived most of his life.

When Ali came back to Apamea after the withdrawal of the regime army three days later, he was horribly shocked at the view of ruin and devastation in the city and inside his home; It was a view so ugly that only the sight of his books, safe in their boxes in the stores of the municipal building, gave him hope for the future.

Shelling of historic castle at Apamea

 SYRIA WITNESS: He Saved His Books from Being Burned

David Arnold

David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.

  • Gaedamali

    The Syrian army is a group of savages who do not know the value of books or a historical castle like Apamea. Once during the military service of a highly educated Syria scholar, the officer in charge told him that even if he has an HIV he will be treated like the others, in a response to that scholar when he tried to explain that he holds a Master degree. Simply because the officer thought that master degree is a kind of disease nothing more.