Day 45: The insurgent – Part 2

Day 45: The insurgent – Part 2

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After the last meeting, I tried with some friends to organize an appointment in a hospital in order to find out about possible therapeutical approaches for the paraplegic Syrian. The appointment was quickly organized, but unfortunately we had to cancel it again because we first had to look for an authorization by the administrative bodies.

On Thursday, June 23, I prepared dinner and went to see him to break the fast with him and further listen to his story. After dinner – at about 10 p.m. – he began to talk.

(Part 1 of his story can be found here)

Awakening

When I lost consciousness, I was seriously injured and my last thought was: I was going to die. Three days passed before I came to. When I opened my eyes, I was lying in a bed completely covered in white in a white room and around me everyone was dressed all in white, too. My eyes were hazy and my thoughts confused. I still firmly believed to be dead and wondered if this was what paradise looked like. I assumed to have landed in paradise, because I had nothing to reproach myself for. I died in the defense of my city. Or at least I thought so. That the people around me were speaking Turkish, however, made me wonder. „But in paradise, people are not separated by languages“, I thought. My head was throbbing. Whenever I closed my eyes and dozed off, I heard shots and screams. A man in white came to me and said that my cousin wanted to speak to me on the phone. „How does that work? How can he call me in the afterlife?“ I wondered. Several hours passed before my thoughts got clearer and I gradually became aware of my situation.

I was told that directly on the day of my injury I had been taken to Antakya in Turkey and had been in a coma for three days. Later, on the same day, relatives called me and then a cousin, who lived in Turkey, came to visit me. She came on behalf of my family, to make sure that I had survived and woken up.

My right arm was immobilized because it was in a cast. I could also hardly move my left arm because of my injured shoulder. The bullet that entered from above into my shoulder had disassembled in the chest area into several small fragments. It is a miracle that my heart was not torn. My chest, however, was injured and breathing was difficult. Every time I moved, I had to cry out in pain. I no longer felt my legs from the pelvis downward. For ten days, no one told me what was wrong with me. To reassure me, they told me that they had numbed my lower half of the body because of the pain.

Then, I overheard a conversation between a doctor and my cousin. The doctor said in Turkish: „Four vertebrae were damaged by the force of the fragmented projectile. Several bone chips are sitting in the bone marrow, causing his paralysis. He needs surgery. His recovery will take a long time. At least four years will pass before he can walk again. And that only, if he is lucky. But for this, he must be properly treated first of all and undergo several surgeries, otherwise there is no hope for recovery.“

My Turkish was pretty good and I understood most of it. But it was the word „felçl“ that hit me most. It is the Turkish word for ‚paralyzed ‚.

Later on, I took my cousin to task and told him: „Don’t lie to me. I know that I’m paralyzed. Why are you trying to hide it from me? Allah be praised! This is my fate and I will accept it.“

In my heart I begged Allah for recovery. But the idea of having to lie in a bed for four years initially weighed heavily on my mood.

On the same day, a doctor came to me, who worked in the hospital there. He was Syrian and came from my town. He told me that he had fled from Syria already over 30 years ago. Back in the 80s, the regime in Jisr ash-Shughur had perpetrated a massacre of the population. This massacre had taken place some time before the far more well-known massacre in Hamah, in which tens of thousands of people were killed.

He was very friendly and took a lot of time to talk about my injuries. „God willing, you will recover. It will be a long way, but there is hope. However, you will not find the treatment your case requires here in Turkey. You will have the best chance in Europe. Probably in Germany. Or in Jordan, at the Al Khalidi Medical Center. You should try to apply for a visa for medical treatment in Germany and Jordan.“

In the following time I tried to apply for such visas at the embassies. They told me there that there was no way to issue me such a visa, since I had no passport and I needed someone in Germany who would invite me.
The hospital in which I was placed was in Antakya, capital of the province of Hatay. I spent six weeks there until my condition had stabilized and the risk of internal bleeding was banned. After that I was taken to a refugee camp in the town of Yayladagi, which lies near the Syrian border.

During this time my neighbor, a very good friend of mine, frequently came to visit me. He told me all about the events in our city. I talked a lot on the phone with other friends and relatives to keep me informed and to know what exactly had happened in the weeks after my injury.

***

The rescue

After I had got shot, some cousins took me to the state hospital in Jisr ash-Shughur by car. When we got there, all the staff had already left the establishment. We met only one nurse, but he was just about to leave. The guys took him to task. He said that they had been ordered by the government not to treat any of the insurgents. Thereupon the entire staff had fled. Should they defy the order, they or their families would be threatened by death. And thus he at first also refused to take care of my injuries. When my companions threatened to execute him, he finally dressed my injury so that it was possible to transport me on to another hospital. Since the staff on their flight had not left a single ambulance car, I was again laid into a car and driven to the Turkish border, to Khirbat al-Jouz. Ambulances were ready there, which drove me to the hospital in Antakya. There, the doctors stopped my internal bleeding and removed several fragments of the shattering projectile from my chest in a six-hour surgery, before transferring me to the ICU.  There, I spent three days in a coma.

Storming the post office

In the meantime, and while I was taken away by car, the situation in town escalated. The rest of the young men detected the position of the snipers on the roof and at the windows of the post office building. The building towered over the park, where we had previously been staying. It turned out that the men who had tried to break the door of the post office, had not – as assumed – wanted to steal the computers, but had shortly before the attack become aware of the presence of the snipers.

Around the post office, a small battle developed. First, the guys succeeded in coming to the roof via the house next door and to push the snipers positioned there into the building. They then positioned themselves in the top floor and, from the windows, further aimed at the men, who now made every effort to kill the snipers. For both sides it was a question of being able to survive. The guys on the roof let a small, homemade bomb down the chimney on a rope and set fire to it with the aid of a long fuse. They had captured the explosives, which they built the bomb with, previously at a police station. The detonation on the 3rd floor killed the men of the regime entrenched there.

One floor further down, several soldiers had entrenched themselves with machine guns, shooting at anything that moved outside. The only way to reach them was through a narrow staircase terrain. Several men tried to storm the floor in this way. However, they were each time warded off by machine-gun fire. Fifteen men have fallen in the attempt without killing a single soldier. Then someone came up with the idea of setting fire to a car tire on the lower floor and fumigating the entire building.

For three hours, the fire continued to burn. Then, the soldiers surrendered and evacuated the building. As soon as they left the building, they were executed. Until then, these soldiers had killed about 40 people and seriously injured more than 150 people. There was no chance for forgiveness any longer at this time.

People who previously had stranded in the vicinity of the post office building left their hiding places and now got on their way home. Some crossed the bridge, because they lived on the other side of the river. Suddenly and in the middle of the bridge several people collapsed. They were shot by headshots.

The military barracks

The shots came from the barracks of the military security forces 300 m further down. When the men who had previously fought at the post office saw how the people died, they resolved to also attack these barracks. More men joined them. Several hundreds of young men got together.

It was summer and the water level of the river was very low. Therefore, they waded through the water underneath the bridge, protected from the soldiers‘ shots.

The barracks was surrounded by a high wall and housed 126 soldiers. On the watchtowers, 10 snipers were placed, and several men with machine guns defended the terrain.

The men spread out in the area around the barracks and hid behind trees. A helicopter tried to shoot at the men. In the shelter of the trees, the targets, however, were barely visible and the rockets fired by it missed. A man, who had previously captured a PKC machine gun, opened fire on the helicopter when it flew over him. Miraculously, he brought it to crash. The man is still a hero.

For several hours, the men waged a battle against the soldiers without progressing. Until then, 17 men were killed in the attack by the bullets of the snipers.

The next morning, they made a new plan for storming the barracks. They drove up an excavator and welded metal plates around the driver’s cabin. Then, they made a bomb from a barrel and placed it in the bucket of the excavator. The plan was to destroy the gate with the excavator and bring about the explosion of the bomb inside the barracks and then to storm the terrain.

Around noon, they started the first attempt, but the snipers on the upper towers shot the driver through the observation slit between the metal plates. One or two other drivers tried their luck, but suffered the same fate.
The men modified the excavator. The next morning, a fourth driver tried again. This time he reached the gate and went through it. Behind the gate, however, a surprise was waiting for him. In the two days before, the soldiers had dug a 2-meter deep ditch. It was thus impossible to drive the excavator any further into the barracks. The driver tipped the bucket so that the bomb could roll across the ditch, reversed the excavator and let the bomb detonate.
About a hundred young men took advantage of the destruction and the dust raised. They headed towards the gate to storm the barracks. But they forgot to pay attention to the shooters in the towers and on the roofs. The shock wave from the detonation had left them unaffected. They fired at the attackers, killing most of them. The few survivors retreated quickly.

The men realized that they could not storm the barracks without further ado because the soldiers were better armed and better protected behind the walls. A new strategy was needed. They tried to get the soldiers to use up the ammunition becoming increasingly scarce. So they first let driverless cars slowly move towards the wall of the barracks. Then they tied faint lights on the backs of several donkeys and sent them towards the barracks. Again and again, the soldiers shot at the cars and the donkeys, in the belief that they were warding off attackers. The next day they ran out of ammunition. The men stormed the barracks and killed all the soldiers.

In the toilets of the barracks they found a total of six soldiers who had been executed previously because they had wanted to desert.

Not even half an hour after the capture of the barracks came the news that a military convoy was approaching the town.

The military convoy

According to the information, the military convoy consisted of 4 armored vehicles, ten pickups, three Russian Zil military trucks and about ten buses. All in all, they guessed it to comprise about 700 soldiers. The men got on their way to set a trap for the convoy. For this purpose, they chose a point where the path led between two small mountains, on which they positioned themselves. Beside the road, grain was growing that was already dry at this time. They distributed canisters full of gasoline on the field and waited until the vehicles approached this place. Then they let large stones fall on the road and opened fire. From the barracks they had by now captured about 140 machine guns. The soldiers spread out on the field, after which the men put the canisters on fire. Most of the soldiers were killed in the fire.

Merely the soldiers and officers in the four armored vehicles survived and surrendered. 15 men approached them and agreed that they were allowed to drive off with one or two pickups and without their weapons. However, contrary to the agreement, the soldiers opened fire and shot the 15 men. The men who were still hidden in the mountains, in turn opened fire and killed all the soldiers.

The retreat

From this point in time, Jisr ash-Shughur was a ghost town. For 17 days, the city was absolutely deserted. Most residents fled to Turkey or to villages on the border. No soldier entered the town at that time. Only the young men remained behind to protect the property of the people.

During this time, the regime drew together some 14,000 soldiers in Ishtabrak, a nearby village, which is inhabited by a majority of Alevi.

On the 17th day, the armed forces approached with 120 tanks, hundreds of armored and unarmored vehicles and 14,000 soldiers from the town. The young men who were defending the town were poorly armed, inexperienced and hopelessly outnumbered. So they withdrew from the town, hiding themselves in the surrounding mountains or fled to Turkey.

The military occupied the city without any resistance. They destroyed more than 100 houses that allegedly belonged to terrorists and confiscated other accommodations, in which they settled. Many other homes were looted.
From then on, the city was firmly in the hands of the regime for several years. Part of the population, perhaps 30%, and mostly supporters of the regime, returned to town. Only in 2015 did the armed opposition succeed in liberating the town.

***

While all this was happening in my town, I was in hospital in Turkey and could not do anything. I followed the events from afar and was told that my house and my parents‘ and siblings‘ house were looted by the military and were left as empty ruins.

One and a half months after the date of my injury, I was thus brought to a refugee camp in the town of Yayladagi, which lies near the Syrian border. There, I was transferred directly into a large tent with other injured persons. One single nurse was responsible for 25 seriously injured and therefore hopelessly overworked. It was mid-summer and due to the prevailing high temperatures in the tent and my partially damaged lung, I was hospitalized again on the fifth day due to acute dyspnea.

My family at that time had left Syria and they were assigned to the Camp Al-Tannouz, which was better than the one in Yayladagi. I submitted an application and was moved there the next day already. Thanks to the presence of my parents and my wife and children, my situation improved somewhat.

There were people coming frequently to this camp to visit the injured and offer their help. One day, I was visited by a Belgian delegation of an association. They were accompanied by a Syrian named Hassan. They learned about my condition and promised to bear the costs of my treatment. They stated that the Syrian Hassan would handle funds on a fiduciary basis to take care of all the costs incurred for my treatment.

Shortly after this meeting, I was taken to Daphne Hospital. I spent 19 days there, in which they only changed my wound dressings regularly. I asked Hassan to have me transferred to another hospital, which was done. But even there, no real therapeutic approaches were offered in order to improve my condition. I spoke with Hassan again and he promised to take care of a better hospital. Days later, I was taken back to the camp and have not heard a word of Hassan ever since. I tried to reach him for days, always in vain.

Six weeks later, a young Syrian came to me. He was active on behalf of injured people, trying to connect them with donors. He brought me a phone and said that a Dr. Mohammed from Germany wanted to speak to me. To my surprise, this doctor had my medical records and knew all about my condition. He asked me how my last surgery had gone. „What surgery, I have not been operated on,“ I replied.

„But you have recently undergone surgery. This is at least what Hassan, who is taking care of you, told us.“
It turned out that Hassan had filed my medical records with several aid organizations together with a cost estimate of about 16,000 Euros. A Belgian and a German organization commissioned him then to take care of my treatment and sent him the money. He faked reports and told the organizations of surgeries that had never taken place and even claimed that I was now able to walk again. Dr. Mohammed was beside himself. He promised to put me in touch with a doctor who had a clinic in Istanbul and has treated cases like mine.

After this conversation, I stayed in the camp for three further months without anything changing about my situation. Then I got a call from a man: „I have reserved a flight to Istanbul for you and for your brother. Tomorrow at 11 a.m. you have to be at the airport. A car will pick you up at the camp in the morning.“

I knew neither who the caller was nor what exactly was awaiting me, still I accepted.

The next morning, as announced, a car was waiting for us in front of the camp. We were taken to the airport where we boarded a plane for Istanbul.

***

Meanwhile, it was half past one. I said goodbye and went on my way home.

In the following days, I tried to verify as much as possible of what he had told me. Again, I found several pieces of information and videos that substantiated parts of his story. Of course, I could not check everything, especially not the details, but still, the basic framework seemed to be right. I have merely found a tendency to exaggerate numbers somewhat and to assess time intervals wrongly.

It should also be noted that the story comes from an opponent of the regime and his statement will therefore deviate from the official information.

Continue with part 3

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