Despite the falling barrels and the open wounds, the people of Idlib came out once again, in the revolution’s third anniversary, and wrote: “Freedom forever, for every Syrian.”
Such statement, which evidences the will of Syrians to achieve their freedom despite everything they have lost, becomes even more powerful coming from Idlib. The town had been instrumental in shaping the Syrian uprising since its early days. Both on the military front, and on civic resistance front the area had become central to the Syrian struggle because it was liberated very early on in the course of the uprising.
“Some of us are from the Free Syrian Army, but most are civil society activists,” campaign organizer Zeina Erhayem says in an interview with SyriaUntold. “We were brought together by the revolution and our love for this country.” Erhayem came up with idea that a governorate-wide event, to commemorate the third anniversary of the Syrian revolution, would be a significant step in reclaiming the initiative. “In the past two years, commemorations, through demonstrations or other activities, were organized by each town independently,” says Erhayem.
Her work, made easier by her being in Turkey, started with establishing contact with as many activists, journalists and friends based inside and outside the country. Erhayem, a journalist, also used her professional network to organize consultations weeks in advance. The campaign was organized as a community effort whereby “every decision or activity was decided by voting and with significant input from the local activists and residents.”
The event saw a unique afforestation campaign that blended in elements of the Free Syrian Army with the local civil society activists. The group planted cypress and pine trees in the countryside of Maarrat Misrin. Each tree was then dedicated to one of the many fallen victims of the war. The event was notable for its attempt to recruit the armed militias in support of civil society work. Erhayem comments on that specific element saying: “all those who participated were from different factions of the FSA. Idlib is currently free from any presence of the fundamentalist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and that’s the main reason were able to actually organize the campaign.”
One of the main aims of the afforestation campaign, besides the environmental benefits, is to bring back these armed militiamen to the civil activities and bring them back in touch with their communities. An FSA member who was helping in drawing the revolution flags concurs: “I had almost forgotten what civil society does, since my last demonstration in late 2011.”
The campaign also incorporates the revolution’s flag and aims to strengthen its symbolism against the tide of the black banners of fundamentalist Islamist groups. To Erhayem, the event was a mini-revolution inside the uprising to remind the armed factions of the ideals they took up arms for in the first place. The event is also aimed at reminding Syrian opposition that the majority of the FSA came from the ranks of demonstrators, farmers and civil activists to start with.
The anniversary campaign also included graffiti events where participants in several areas painted walls and filled them with revolutionary slogans including: “Freedom, and only freedom”, “Kidnapping activists is treason”, “Freedom forever, for every Syrian”, “Our revolution’s ideals are red lines”.
Several grassroots groups, which have been instrumental in the civic movement, also took part in the events. Members of the Magic Carnival group organized several plays for the children of Saraqib and Kafranbel, while the Bus of Dignity organized games for the children of Maarrat al-Numan.
The campaign’s main objective, as recounted by its organizers, was not only to commemorate the uprising’s third anniversary. It was in fact an opportunity for the activists to bring new colors to the battered regions of Idlib. “To see the revolution flags flying again, to show people that civil society and nonviolent activists are still working, is an important step. In the long road, it is crucial to regain the confidence of local communities in revolutionary and nonviolent activities.”