As the violence in Syria continues to escalate, Syrian citizens are arming themselves to resist their oppressive regime.
For days, Homs, the third-largest city in Syria, has endured shelling, tanks and attacks by heavy weaponry. Syrian protestors react with more violence against forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, resulting in all-out war zones in some residential neighborhoods.
Citizens of Homs cower in their homes, too afraid to emerge onto the streets even to care for the dead and dying. But Discovery News talked to a source in the capitol city of Damascus — who declined to be named for this article for fear of retribution from the government — and the source said people there are living very differently, in many ways.
"I'm living a normal life and can't do anything (to help). There are cities with no electricity, no water, no food and no medicine," the source said.
There are daily power outages in Damascus, but, "people who happened to live in Damascus are just fine," the source said, "You feel the tension and stress in the air … but you can't hear (the bombs. If I could,) I would have gone nuts."
Despite the appearance of normality, things are not normal: the source doesn't dare to leave the capitol city. "We're watching the news and hearing stories from people we know, and most importantly we have been witnessing what these people are capable of for the past 40 years. So, I believe what I know. We grew up having fear."
The Syrian people have been under "emergency law" since 1963. Our source said, "I'm too chicken to go and protest. (Though) not because I'll die, but because I know that if I die, I'll die cheap, and it won't change anything. It's either die, or get captured, and I prefer the first."
With the upsetting events around and within the city, the source feels humiliated by how many residents are behaving. "The weekend here is Friday and Saturday, so people usually go out on Thursday night. It is such a shame to see people living such a normal life in Damascus. Everyone is hanging out, clubbing and partying on weekends where only a short way away, it's a war zone! It's disgusting. I'm ashamed."
"Imagine that there are even billboards and radio ads promoting Valentine's Day parties," the source continued, "Saudi Arabia and Kuwait cancelled concerts out of respect for Syria, but Syrians themselves are not giving a f***! I'm not going to go party when my people are being killed."
Politically, within the city, people "are divided into two groups: Pro and Against," the source said. Against-regime people feel threatened and afraid, but there are many. Our source heard stories of pro-government people using mobile phones to record anti-government discussions, and then reporting them. Captured against-regime Syrians report being psychologically tortured for days. When asked about the torture, our source replied, "(It was) to teach them a lesson."
With the threat of arrest, torture or both, those with dissenting voices often do not speak for fear of their lives or futures. "(The government) breaks into people's homes pretending they are looking for terrorists. Even if they don't find anyone they turn the place upside down and break everything."
In fact, due to the fear of detection, we used coded words to exchange information with our source. To find places to raid and to monitor the population, government spies, security and intelligence hide amongst the people. "They're EVERYWHERE in the streets here," the source said. "We know them with a simple look, but you can't tell from where they pop up if any protestors appear."
To combat the government's quick response team, Syrian protestors have created "flying protests." Similar to a flash mob, flying protests are "quick, 2-minute protests that get filmed and uploaded," according to Twitter user @ahmed, a Saudi Arabian blogger. Presumably, Syrians recognize that the eyes of the world are on social media, and in this way, they show resolve without putting too many in danger.
There doesn't seem to be a leader for the armed protests, but rather, "committees in each area to coordinate efforts. It's led by the people themselves," our source told us. What sparked the backlash of the people against the government? "Of course people were motivated when they saw what happened in Tunisia and Egypt, but at first, they were only asking for reform. Then there was an incident that happened in a city and people went crazy," the source said.
The "incident" to which the source was referring was likely the detaining of 15 children in the city of Daraa early in 2011. According to Al Jazeera, the children were arrested for scrawling anti-government graffiti inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. The government then held the school-aged children as protestors took to the streets. The government responded to the protests with tear gas and warning shots, and according to Al Jazeera, "one person was killed and scores injured."
Within Damascus, the source has seen the promotion of "Secticism," or "provoking the different sects to fight against each other." However, it wasn't clear if that was meant in a religious or armed protestor sense. "The regime is committing a majority of the violence," said the source, "which makes the protestors answer back. But still, the regime is much stronger."
We asked if the source was scared to share information with us. "Scared because I told you all that? Yes, and scared in general too. Honestly, whatever the coming scenario is, there will be a mess for God knows how many years. With all these dead people, there's no way back. I don't think it'll be enough now to just step down, or leave the country."
"They should be held accountable for everything they did," the source continued, "What they've done is so bad that it will take likely take years for things to work out, if they ever do."