A few days before the third anniversary of the Syrian uprising, a remarkable event took place in the western city of Salamiyah, in the Hama governorate. Fed up with the widespread lawlessness, looting and thuggery of the regime's shabbiha (thugs), the people of the town, regardless of political or religious backgrounds, marched in a large demonstration together to condemn the appalling conditions in the town.
Salamiyah, home to a diverse population mainly made up of religious minorities, had remained mostly quiet since August 2011. In the spring of 2011, thousands had taken to the streets, the city joining the huge protest movement that swept throughout the country. The regime reacted unleashing a crackdown that was particularly fierce and relentless in the Hama and Homs areas. Activists who had been involved in the organization of civil disobedience initiatives and peaceful protests were killed, arrested, or forced to flee and to go into hiding.
In addition to the crackdown by the regime, Salamiyah fell prey to the lootings, kidnappings and killings by shabbiha, armed individuals who roamed free with no other aim than to profit from the state of chaos. Empowered by the regime, in a scenario of increasing impunity, gangs took over the city. They went as far as repeatedly cutting the power grid, water supplies and all communications to isolate the town.
Beloved lawyer Jihan Ahmad Amin was abducted from her house, and her whereabouts remain unknown. Young Qassem Adnan Hammoud’s corpse was found, dumped on the outskirts of Salamia, days after his family had paid the 300,000 Syrian pounds (2,000 dollars) that his captors demanded for ransom. These are but two of the names etched in the memory of a town where hundreds have been killed and more than 3000 people have been forced to flee.
The city was terrorized into silence, and no major demonstrations were organized for two years, until now.
On March 2, 2014, hundreds marched in Salamiyah to protest the lawlessness that had taken root in the town. After several failed attempts to get the authorities to put an end to the abuses, people gathered in large numbers at the town’s main square, known by activists as “Freedom Square.” This time, the demonstration united people from all segments of society, including many who had sympathized with the regime.
“We will redeem you, Salamia”, “Where’s the chivalry?”, “We are all one”, and other slogans that became popular in anti-regime demonstrations throughout the country, were now recovered, in a different context.
In a scenario of increasing fragmentation of the Syrian society, this demonstration manages to overcome divisions and political stands through a joint effort. In the words of one of the activists to SyriaUntold, “this could develop into something bigger, into calls for accountability and justice, turning against the regime and its gangs and growing into a strong revolutionary spirit.”