Barada Valley (وادي بردى) Bombardment Continues

Villages in Barada Valley under urgent threat of extermination or forced displacement — please read and act to help save lives. This news is not just for consumption.

Summary:

  • Many ceasefire violations across Syria by the regime and Russian and Iranian forces, probably the worst of which so far are in Wadi Barada.
  • Water source in Ain al-Fijah is the focus of regime airstrikes and infowar.
  • Explicit threats again by the regime to force evacuation or exterminate civilian and armed opposition alike, and even safe evacuation to another opposition area is not agreed yet.
  • Protest targets and messages recommended at the end.

I am compiling and editing this for a friend I met while volunteering with refugees in Greece who is from the Barada Valley, with some context around his reports that I added, but I’ve checked it all with him.

This is how my friend introduced me to his home land when we met in June. It is near the village where he was from, this is how he wants to remember it, when it was beautiful and dignified:

We agreed to put this image first because we do not want this report to be interpreted as further evidence of the spectacle of indignity imposed on them by the representations of them by international media and public discussions.

“They are indefensible because they are represented without dignity, and the spectacle of their indignity imposes itself as evidence of that.”
Abounnadara, Regarding the Spectacle, 2 December 2016.

Syrians should not be represented only as victims, nor primarily as people screaming final desperate prayers expecting them to be their last words which are then wilfully misinterpreted by European and American populists as evidence that “they’re all terrorists”, just because they speak Arabic and shout “God is greater than [all this]” when frightened, nor only as dismembered or smouldering bodies, nor too much as the Syrian children about whom a child in America said to their mum recently — why are they all grey, mummy? Because that child had only seen Syrian children on the news always covered in cement dust from bombed and collapsed buildings.

When people are represented in artificially depoliticised, decontextualised and depersonalised ways, as if the ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ in Syria was not, as it actually is, politically originated, it works against them trying to really access and assert their human rights. That is why I consider setting some context in terms of values and doing some character development about the people before reporting the sensational horror parts of their story to be so important, and that’s also why this report is longer than normal.

“Propaganda in the broadest sense is the technique[s] of influencing human action by the manipulation of representations.” 
Harold D. Lasswell, 1927.

I think we have been played by the Assad regime and Russian propaganda on Syria in that prioritising frontline horror kind of news reporting has induced us to go along with and react according to the framing and implicit agenda they set, such that in the representations of Syrians internationally even by revolutionary and opposition media we have effectively concurred with them in our representations of Syrians primarily and constantly as helpless victims, and so the world has become ever more desensitised and habituated to more and more extreme, spectacular displays of repressive totalitarian violence, accompanied with what I suspect was deliberately absurd and purposefully incredible, brazen lying, which works even better than more plausible lying would to condition us even deeper into the sense of learned helplessness that ‘it’s so sad but there’s nothing we can do (or else we might be next).’ This is the “global narrative escalation dominance” strategy which Peter Pomerantsev argues in Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia (2014) is the most important function for the Russian government of their Syria campaign.

About our irrational motivation in still trying to trust in humanity to the extent of screaming out to the world about what is happening in Wadi Barada, I remember a line from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease.”
(Letters & Papers from Prison, 43)

All evidence points to the conclusion that most of the world considers what happens in Syria will stay in Syria if we just leave them to it, people may care but they are more afraid of the risks to themselves of treating the atrocity crimes by the regime and backed by Russia and Iran as attacks on all of us, humanity as a whole, and not treating the conventions of nationality and borders as if they were more real than they are and as if they could justifiably make a moral difference. Screaming out to the world and hoping for a genuinely fully human response now feels like screaming into a Nietzschean abyss of nihilism, but, despite our rational despair, we still have this faith that we are just in a global phase of inhumanity; and that communicating as though there are still qualities of humanity left in the aggregate mass of humanity internationally which hardly fulfils the name ‘community’ now may in fact evoke some more human response eventually, at least to oppose the final stage of genocide: denial.

We want you to read this and then shout at the Russian and Iranian governments (again) via their social media pages, comment on their state propaganda channels, and make a disruption outside their embassies, to demand they stop and really cease fire and then also keep to their agreement to cooperate with a political transitionary process with the Syrian revolutionary and opposition civil and military groups in negotiations, starting in a month if the ceasefire agreement actually holds by then.

Ceasefire Violations by the Assad regime forces and Iranian Hezbollah in Wadi Barada (Barada Valley)

At midnight last night a ceasefire was supposed to come into effect, agreed by the regional “great powers” now- Russia, Iran and Turkey, negotiated with twelve major Syrian revolutionary and opposition armed factions, across all of Syria except for Da’esh controlled areas, which are in the east of Syria. However, as with previous “ceasefires,” so far it exists mainly just rhetorically and not yet in reality. Probably the worst ceasefire violations in Syria now are in Wadi Barada, but to my friend’s utter dismay it is mostly being represented internationally according to the false version of events by the regime coalition of Assad, Iran and Russia, who are the ones doing most of the killing.

Mohanad Mezghiche who writes at Middle East Observer reports that: “the FSA’s legal advisor, Osama Abu Zeid, who was the spokesman for the Syrian opposition delegation said that the opposition has managed to force Russia to their terms for a ceasefire. The Russian delegation insisted the valley of Wadi Barada should not be included in the ceasefire plan and JFS should be targeted, but the opposition delegation refused and insisted that the ceasefire must cover all rebel held-territories in Syria and JFS must not be targeted. Russian accepted these terms and ceasefire was announced.
I think the reason they [the FSA] didn’t want JFS to be targeted by Russian warplanes is because the SAA and its Iranian allies will bomb the civilians in the name of bombing JFS positions in Idlib, so their decision was understandable and correct.
There are reports that SAA has violated the ceasefire by shelling northern suburbs of Hama and Valley of Wadi Barada in the suburbs of Damascus. It seems that Russia can’t control its proxies [rather allies, in this context] on the ground. If these violations continue, then forget about the ceasefire.”

The 13 villages of Barada Valley

The first village closest to Damascus is Jaidet al-Wadi. It is a very important village to the regime because it has homes or buildings of his security forces, members of the government bodyguard. All of them are Alawia or Shia. And it has about 7500 persons besides the regime soldiers there. They are living alone there and it is not allowed for you to come unless you have a paper to visit someone or a permission. All the people there are with the regime

Second village is Ashrafit al-Wadi. It is not a big village. Most of the people who live there are from Damascus. They came out of Damascus before the war and they have houses there. The residents from before the war are about 4000 and all of them now are about 7000. In the war some of them support the revolution and some support the regime.

Now the regime army entered it by force and has an army point between it and Bassameh. Bassameh and Ain al-Khatra are two small villages and we consider them as one. Their people have a brave heart and they aren’t afraid of death. They will say their words even if they will be killed afterwards for it. They are men and they deserve to be respected like other men in Ain al-Fijah and Dar Mouqren and Kfer al-Zet and Dar Kanon.

Bassameh people welcomed many people from al-Tal and Douma and Harasta and Daraya and Homs and al-Zabadanee and Madaya and Rankous, like other villages have done. The original residents were about 5000 and they are very kind and nice people, even as they have brave hearts, but they are friendly.

Ain al-Fijah: It had so many restaurants and so many people came before the war to visit on Fridays because it was very beautiful. I will send you some photos of the area before the war. Its people are very generous and kind. But of course when any one will come to kill or steal you will protect yourself. It has Ain al-Fijah spring and many others wells, and all of them go to Damascus people who drink it in addition to the Barada water which comes from al-Zabadanee through our valley to reach to Ain al-Fijah, then all of these rivers join and provide the drinking water for people from Ain al-Fijah and two thirds of Damascus, passing by Qudsaia and Douma and Mashro Douma. If you search on Google map you will see all these areas. The residents before the war were about 7000, plus now people who came because of the war.

Dar Mouqren is a very big village. The residents are about 8000. Its people have a brave heart like Bassameh and many many people fight and demonstrated against the regime in the beginning. And they are really very lovely. Most of them were in the police before war but after the regime turned the revolution into a civil war they left the police or army because the regime asked them to go to fight the people in Harasta and Douma and other areas .

[At this point I asked my friend:]

“Some reports about Wadi Barada area have said much higher numbers of people… 100,000 they said. Does that potentially make sense in any way, or is it a mistake or an exaggeration? What do you think?”

“Wait.”

“Afra is a village in the mountains which connects the valley with Rankous and al-Tal and it has been bombed many times before. In the end the people left from it to Damascus and Barada villages, then last year there was a big campaign against the free army there because it is very important and high area and the regime wanted to get it. After so much fighting and many of the free army killed they left it. It had about 5000 people and it has many educated persons, like all the villages there.

The regime army controls just the mountain tops but the village stayed under free army control. ⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠

⁠⁠⁠Kfer al-Zet is a big village too, it has about 6500 or 7000 people and the people are like Bassameh too

Dar Kanon is the center village in the valley. It has so many shops and it has some important people in government like Homam Hider who is the head of security of the Baath party in the countryside of Damascus. Its people are about 8000 too.

al-Husinia village is small village about 2000 people.

Bourahlia and Kafer al-Aoumed are two close villages and very small, about 3000 people in total. There is an important person in government there too, his name is Diab Mansour Harira. You go to it from the last two villages and it is like Afrah in the mountain. And it is a very important village because rebels were taking food and bread to Madaya and al-Zabadanee during the sieges on those areas for the last few years then the regime attacked and took it under its control now. It has about 4000 people.

The last one is Souq Wadi Barada. It is quite big and most people there support the regime and it is about 5000 people.”

Among the villages in Barada Valley there are also at least 20,000 people who came in from other areas because they supported the revolution and needed to seek refuge from the regime’s violence in the areas the regime controls. Now all these people come into opposition controlled areas as internal refugees (IDPs). Last year there were about 100,000 people in Barada Valley including the internally displaced people, but after increased bombing some of them went out again. So in total we estimate there are around 79,500 people in Barada Valley now.

“Most people there in the villages are well educated, and we had ambassadors, majors and generals in army etc. there before.”

I asked my friend about the variety of armed groups opposing the regime that are in Wadi Barada, and he replied first:

“Really I don’t know because I didn’t have contact with them when I was there because my family, like so many families, decided to stay away from the war and not be not with this party or that, because we believe what happened there is criminal.

But now I think many people fight because of what happens. I think most people fight now. Even I, if I were there, I would fight to save my family and property.”

We looked at some reports(1,2) and a list of armed opposition groups in Damascus and its surrounding countryside (including Wadi Barada) and I asked him which names he recognises and has heard are there now, and he said he only hears about there being the free army (what he calls the FSA), Ahrar al-Sham, and some Jabhat al-Nusra too, including some of the local people who joined them. I asked him further if he knows what kind of Ahrar al-Sham are there, because I know they vary significantly; some are more like FSA and some more like JaN or JFS, but he said he doesn’t know that now.

Wednesday

“More than 60 or 70 airstrikes on 4 villages on Bassameh, Ain al-Fijah village, Dar Mouqren and Kfer Al Zet. The situation there is very difficult today.”

The regime bombed the spring at Ain al-Fijah. This kind of damage obviously could only possibly have come from air strikes, and there are no air forces on the opposition side. Nevertheless as usual the regime and its international media accuse the other side of doing it.

Friday 30 December 11:45am local time

“The regime has reopened fire and is bombing villages in Wadi Barada as some friends told me after stopping from 5 o’clock pm yesterday until 7 o’clock am this morning,

Without air strikes but just earth to earth missiles and tanks shells and snipers and machine guns.”

My friend sent me a series of screenshots of social media posts from someone in Wadi Barada, and translated them as follows:

1- The regime army is shooting us with tanks and big guns on Barada Valley villages and there’s cross fire between regime army and rebels in many points. Many missiles hit the road between Dar Mouqren and Afrah.

2- The regime army and the terrorists Hezbollah are shooting again at Wadi Barada valley again with missiles, vacuum bombs and guns. There was cross fire again in Bassemeh and al-Husinia.

3- A helicopter shot at Bassameh on the mountain and at the same time there was cross fire in Bassameh.

4- The regime army violates the ceasefire and it doesn’t care about any conventions or agreements and opens fire on Wadi Barada valley.

All my friends there are out of coverage since yesterday morning. No news from them. My friend wrote on his page yesterday. The regime burned the area, they shot so many missiles and bombs like they’re in a hurry before the ceasefire time, but then they still haven’t stopped.

1- It seems there’s no regular internet connection in the valley, because the regime doesn’t want them to publish what happens there. So the local council asked everyone to publish on #WadiBaradaBurns (like #aleppoburns)

2- The regime airforce did air strikes on Wadi Barada villages and there’s crossfire in Bassameh. We ask people to change all pic profile on fb to tell the world what happens there.”

Ain al-Fijah spring

Ain al-Fijah spring supplies the water for all the residents of Barada Valley as well as about two-thirds of Damascus. The opposition enclave in Barada Valley has remained for so long only because they could control this vital resource and the regime up til now didn’t push them to the point of being so angry that they would damage the water supply.

On Wednesday, the regime bombed the spring with 30 bombs and damaged it, then they told the world that the rebels damaged it. They are the terrorists. They dropped barrel bombs containing chlorine tanks, which temporarily poisoned the water, and they used that to accuse the opposition forces with, but they did it.

“Yesterday (Thursday) they bombed the area very heavily and about 60% is damaged. And until now the people there didn’t explode the spring because they don’t want do something foolish then regret it. But in the end, if he (al-Assad) continues, I’m sure they will do it.”

The army council* in Barada valley announcement:

“No more speeches, no more talks, no more agreements, nothing, just war and war until the end. One of the two sides will fall down or we will all die.
And Damascus won’t see or drink water from Ain al-Fijah more under any name. And people who support the regime there won’t drink too.”

(*I do not know whether this announcement represents all of the armed opposition groups in Wadi Barada, or only one or some of the main factions. This kind of announcement would be very untypical of the FSA in my view, but in such extreme circumstances anyone of us could feel like doing the same I think. I cannot confirm exactly what opposition army council it comes from, whether they are FSA, JaN or AaS.)

Obviously this is a threat to commit the war crime of deliberately damaging civilian infrastructure, but it is to try to get the regime to back off from their explicit threats and continuing assaults showing they really intend to try to exterminate all opposition, civilian and armed without distinction, which is a much more serious war crime.

Whoever does it in any circumstances, deliberately targeting such vital civilian infrastructure is a war crime, but let’s be clear: in the origins, patterns, scales and targets of the violence by each side there is no objective equivalence.

Judging all kinds of violence, not only conventional warfare, objectively as they affect the sufferers, and all human lives as fundamentally equal in value, then just on the numbers of noncombatants and POWs killed, tortured, maimed and raped, Syrians are justified in considering the Assad regime and its mainly Iranian and Russian foreign forces now as really much worse than Da’esh.

“The regime and Hezbollah and behind them Iran and Russia want us leave our homes and memories and go to Idlib.”

Threat of extermination or forced displacement of all of Bassameh

This update came in tonight, while I was compiling and editing this report:

#Assad’s army has given a last warning to the rebels of #Bassemeh, a strategic village in #Wadi_Barada valley to evacuate it. For the past eight days, #Assad’s army and #Hezbollah failed in capturing #Bassemeh, northwest of #Damascus. The army used helicopters and jet fighters to drop barrel bombs and launch missiles on the whole valley.

I have seen reports from other sources of regime snipers and machine gun positions targeting civilians trying to flee from the regime forces advancing. This is nothing new, but it should still shock us.

What you can do

Honestly, what you can do is little and if it works at all it will probably only work slowly, so perhaps too late, however, in such times we are responsible to at least try. With so many people so urgently threatened, even if your campaigning effort only makes a little difference there is a significant chance that you could save someone’s life just by raising your voice for them.

In fact the Russian government shows in its actions rather than its words that it is really much more sensitive to international public opinion and pressure than it would like to let show. The regime coalition forces around Aleppo were all geared up ready and started to finally exterminate everyone remaining in E Aleppo, as they explicitly and repeatedly said they would, but then apparently the increased international public attention and worldwide protests in 46 countries in one week and many people shouting at them on social media and outside their embassies did seem to increase the tension between the Russian and Iranian backers of the Assad regime/ PR front for imperialist occupation, so that the Russians apparently threatened the Iranians in some way to get them to actually stand down and let people leave into opposition territory around Idlib. Absolutely too little and too late, but relative to what almost certainly would have happened otherwise, to that extent, it worked.

Forced displacement, which is a part of genocide according to international law, into another opposition area which has also been continuously bombed and attacked for the last 6 years and is likely soon to be the focus of the same besiege, concentrate, exterminate campaign from the regime coalition forces (mostly Iranian on the ground and Russian in the air), at best with the prospect of indefinitely surviving miserably and desperately in IDPs camps in Syria or refugee camps in Turkey, is not a desirable outcome, but anything is better than extermination.

At this point it might be slightly more realistic to hope that the ceasefire agreement to discuss an agreement which might see Syria temporarily partitioned into zones of control by Russia, Iran and Turkey, might produce something better for the people of Barada Valley, if they can hold out long enough til that process reaches some political resolution, if it does, hopefully.

Unfortunately it’s almost certain that any transitionary government which will be agreed by Russia, Iran and Turkey will include at least some or most of the odious war criminals of the Assad regime and the Syrian Baath Party and at least some of the revolutionary and opposition armed forces, but a transitionary government agreed by such regional “great powers” is probably least likely to include the civilian revolutionary and opposition democratic local coordination committees and local councils developed in the midst of the war often while under siege, or the many Syrian civil society organisations developed by Syrian revolutionary and opposition civilians as their contribution to the revolution, who are of course exactly who most deserve to be included, not the main perpetrators of atrocities and not so much even the military leaders on the revolutionary and opposition side.

So please push for the best possible outcome while also demanding at least the end of the ongoing siege, concentration and extermination campaign which is now focused on Wadi Barada. Demand that Russia and Iran actually honour their agreements to ceasefire, let humanitarian aid in freely and let civilians who want to leave get out safely, and then discuss political resolution starting in a month’s time if the ceasefire genuinely becomes effective on the ground and holds for that long.

Targets to shout at

https://twitter.com/JZarif Iranian Foreign Minister

https://twitter.com/HassanRouhani Iranian President

https://twitter.com/PressTV Iranian state propaganda channel

Iranian embassy in Ireland 01 288 0252 iranembassy@indigo.ie

And again as before for Aleppo, same contacts but now for #WadiBarada:

And the Syria Calendar lists worldwide protests:

(There may be none listed yet for Wadi Barada, so please start some.)

And finally, here’re the Russian ambassador in Washington DC’s two direct phone numbers:

You’re welcome, Your Excellency.

The message is simple: actually do what they already say they have agreed to do, and that is:

  • Cease all firing on all opposition areas of Syria, except genuine Da’esh targets.
  • Russia explicitly agreed after negotiation with the FSA that Wadi Barada is specifically included in the ceasefire, that even JFS are not allowed targets now (because the regime forces have so often used spurious claims about targeting JFS to actually target pro-democratic and moderate opposition forces and mainly opposition civilians instead).
  • Russia committed to secure the Assad regime and its allies cooperation with the ceasefire agreement.
  • Allow humanitarian aid freely into all besieged areas.
  • When the ceasefire becomes actually effective on the ground, which it is clearly not yet, and when it has held for a month, then all sides agreed to start genuine discussions towards a political resolution and transitionary multi-party government arrangements.