Our Country, Our Stories: In New Memoirs, Syrians Describe Life – and Death – in Wartime

Source: The Intercept

The War in Syria, now in its eighth year, has been punctuated by a series of grisly massacres — so many that it has become nearly impossible to keep track. But the massacre of August 21, 2013, the day that Bashar al-Assad’s regime unleashed sarin gas on the suburbs of Damascus, is one that will not easily be forgotten. For those following the geopolitics, it is the day that the Syrian dictator crossed President Barack Obama’s infamous “red line.” For the families of the upward of 1,000 people who died a bloodless but painful death, it was a day of darkness and mourning. For Kassem Eid, it was the day he died and was born anew.

In his new book, “My Country: A Syrian Memoir,” Eid, a Palestinian-Syrian activist from the Damascus suburb of Moadamiya, describes waking up that August morning. “My eyes were burning, my head was throbbing, and my throat was rasping for air. I was suffocating,” he writes, painting a scene of an experience that is too often debated in the abstract. “Suddenly my windpipe opened again. The air ripped through my throat and pierced my lungs. Invisible needles stabbed my eyes. A searing pain clawed at my stomach.”

A few hours later, he awoke again — on the ground of a field hospital, where he learned he had been counted among the dead.

Fluent in English, in part because he grew up poring over Reader’s Digest magazines with his father, Eid had until then been convinced that he could best serve the revolution as a media activist. But the sights of that day — of asphyxiated children whose faces turned to blue and purple as vomit dribbled from their mouths — were too painful and grotesque to bear. For the first time, he decided to take up arms. He remembers looking in the mirror and not recognizing himself. “Whoever — or whatever — this was, it was not Kassem,” he writes. “This was a monster, a beast, with bloodshot eyes and a wild face contorted with fury and pain, an image of anger personified. I had never before wanted to be a fighter, but in that moment of my life, it was all I wanted to be.”

His book, released in the U.S. last week, is one of only a handful of first-person, English-language memoirs about the Syrian uprising, the latest in a slowly growing genre. While their stories have been told by others, the proliferation of books like Eid’s indicates a desire by everyday Syrians to say their piece — to remind a world increasingly preoccupied by overblown threats of terrorism that real people make revolutions, fight in wars, and suffer injury and loss. At a time when outside actors are normalizing relations with Assad and overseeing the “stabilization” of the Syrian state, these accounts remind us of the origins of the revolution — the personal experiences with authoritarianism that propelled hundreds of thousands to take to the streets — and that Syrians themselves participated in and were affected by the conflict in myriad ways. The role foreign actors have played in Syria may overcrowd international discourse, but it cannot negate the experiences of those who lived under Baathist rule.

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