“Ever since the die-down of the fervor around the use of the chemical weapons … I haven’t followed, and I think most Americans haven’t followed, what’s been going on as closely,” said Jeremy Rinker, visiting assistant professor of peace and conflict studies. “If it’s not on the front page of a paper, it’s easy to forget about the fact that there is a lot of suffering and ongoing violence in Syria.”
With the issue of chemical weapons mostly resolved, the simmering hype over the Syrian revolution has subsided.
Or, as Rinker indicates, it’s at least no longer on the front page of every major newspaper.
However, many believe that the regime’s violence and brutal oppression is as intense as ever.
Mohammad al-Bardan, an activist who is part of the Syrian Nonviolence Movement, participated in the first months of the protests in Syria.
Al-Bardan barely escaped detainment and torture.
“Many who were less involved than me were captured and tortured,” al-Bardan, who left Syria to study in the U.S., told The Guilfordian in a phone interview.
“In the Southern prisons, one of the (officers) liked to put 90 people in a small square in a small room that could only fit 10 people,” said al-Barden. “There were lots of death inside, and no one removed those bodies.
“It’s just very, very horrible and hard to describe or even to imagine.”
The violence is not limited to activists or to adults.
“This regime has really targeted children in a way that hasn’t been seen,” Mohja Kahf, associate professor of comparative literature and Middle Eastern studies at University of Arkansas, told The Guilfordian in a phone interview. “Children and teens are tortured by way of cigarette burns, mutilations, imprisonment and rape before death.”
Kahf is also part of the Syrian Nonviolence Movement.
She recounts the story of Hamzah Khatib, age 13, who was involved in the protests before his arrest in April 2011. On May 24, Khatib’s body was returned to his parents with cigarette burns, three non-lethal bullet holes, severed genitals and burns on his hands and feet, among other injuries.
According to the Human Rights Watch, children as young as Khatib are held in detention facilities and kept in solitary confinement where they are severely beaten, electrocuted and often left to dangle from metal handcuffs for hours at a time.
All of the children interviewed reported that they did not receive adequate food and water during their confinement. The majority received no medical treatment for torture-inflicted injuries.
“This regime has tortured children for a very long time in the prisons,” said Kahf. “There have been children born in prisons, born from rape. They have never seen a sky or known what a bird is. Literally.
“There is a sense in the regime that … if we teach the children a lesson, the parents will learn it even better.”
While the human rights violations rampant in Syria have served to deter protest groups, there is still hope for the people.
“Ordinary people have power if they just organize and use it, even against lethal, brutal repression,” Kahf said.
And while both Kahf and al-Barden do not expect the war to end anytime soon, they continue fighting for a better Syria.
“We are trying to focus more on teaching the next generation the aspects for change,” said al-Barden. “To have a generation that could solve the problem.”