Syrian revolutionaries: ‘Carrying arms was not a choice’

Protesters carry a Free Syrian Army flags during an anti-government protest in the al-Sukari neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, March 11, 2016. The text on the banner reads in Arabic, "Death but not humiliation". (Reuters)

March 15, 2016 marks the fifth year anniversary of Syria’s uprising, which began when thousands of Syrians took to the streets to demand government reforms.

Mohammad al-Ibrahim, 23, was one of thousands of young men who took part in the early, initially peaceful demonstrations. He told Al Arabiya English that the uprising forced him to switch paths and take up arms to defend himself.

He was 17 when he said he led some of the demonstrations, shouting anti-government slogans, reciting poetry, and singing revolutionary songs.

His personal turning point was towards the end of 2011, during a peaceful protest. He said none of his fellow demonstrators were armed when regime soldiers opened fire, killing two of his cousins.

Mohammad al-Ibrahim, 23, chanting at a protest in the outskirts of Hama, Syria in 2011. (via YouTube)

After this, Ibrahim said, the revolution could no longer be peaceful.

With few organized groups to join at the time, Ibrahim took up arms alongside a few other individual revolutionaries.

In January 2012, he lost his legs during a protest from explosives planted by the regime. According to him, 16 died at the same demonstration, and 40 were injured.

Mohammad al-Ibrahim, 23, lost his legs during a protest from explosives planted by the regime.

“I don’t regret using weapons against a monstrous and brutal regime… and if I can go back in time and pick up arms in the face of a regime that destroyed my homeland, my future, and killed my beloved ones I would not hesitate,” said Ibrahim.

“I don’t believe that the revolution ‘failed’ because it became armed,” he said, adding that the Syrian regime had been behind the creation of Islamist militant groups and had been aided by foreign intervention.

Ibrahim’s mother, who refers to herself as Umm Mohammad, said she had not wanted her son to take up arms, but felt she had no right to interfere in his decision.

“I told myself my son isn’t of more value than the rest of the Syrian men who are dying to protect us,” said Umm Mohammed, who hails from the Western province of Homs.

After her son’s injury, she and the rest of her family were forced to seek refuge in the Turkish town of Reyhanli, near the Syrian border, so her son could get medical treatment. Medical aid inside Syria is scarce.

Motherly figure

Umm Mohammad has since opened up her home for injured rebels and revolutionaries who have fled to Turkey.

She plays the role of a mother to the men, who range from the ages of 18 to 30, and cooks, offers emotional support, and tries to connect them with NGOs who can provide them with medical treatment.

Repeating what she claims is the sentiment of most of the wounded men, she said “[It turned out] the only reaction the regime understood was the same weaponized response they used against us, even though the revolution was initially peaceful. The very regime that drowned out our voices with its bullets had to hear us when we picked up our guns.”

Umm Mohammed’s views on her fellow citizens taking up arms have changed over the last five years.

“They took our land, homes, memories, everything beautiful, even our beloved ones, and their actions led to my son becoming crippled in front of my own two eyes. What do you think our reaction is going to be? Of course were going to resort to arms… to protect ourselves,” she said.

Umm Mohammad, visiting a refugee camp on the borders of Turkey and Syria.

Hadi Abdullah, an independent Syrian journalist and activist from the city of Al-Qusayr, Homs, said that many Syrian men had no other choice other than to pick up arms.

“The crimes committed by the Assad regime pushed the Syrian protestors to carry arms… many Syrian men carried arms not by choice but were forced to defend themselves. We hoped that our revolution would continue as a peaceful movement and attain freedom and democracy without a single bullet,” Abdullah told Al Arabiya English.

“No one can sit and watch Assad’s Shabiha [thugs] slaughtering entire families than resist taking arms to defend their family. No one can sit and watch the regime forces detain women and abstain from picking up weapons. It’s human nature to fight to live and defend those you love.”

Hadi Abdullah, an independent Syrian journalist and activist takes part in a protest in Idleb on March 11, 2016. (Photo credit: Khaled Issa)

Hadi said that not all chose to go down the militant route, with some opting instead to organize protests or help with medical relief. He said he chosen to be part of the media’s voice in telling Syria’s story due to the absence of independent media outlets inside the war-torn country.

“My weapon is my camera and microphone... I will share with the world what’s happening within the Syrian border,” he said passionately.

Syrian Rebels

Bashar al-Zoubi, who is also referred to as Abu Fadi, the Commander-in-Chief of the Southern Front and is head of the Yarmouk Brigade, also said that picking up arms was never a choice and that they were ‘welcomed with tanks and bullets’ while peacefully protesting.

The rebel commander said he defected from the Syrian army in 2011 and left his tourism company he owned in the UAE and Syria to join the revolutionaries.

“We are revolutionaries and not opposition. We took the streets demanding freedom, and a better future for Syria. Our words were not heard, so we were forced to take up arms. The opposition might have a different agenda than the revolutionaries, but this is what we’re fighting for,” Abu Fadi told Al Arabiya English.

Bashar al-Zoubi defected from the Syrian army in 2011 and joined the revolutionaries. (via Twitter)

“The ceasefire in Syria has brought back the wonderful old days of the revolution, where we went out as one and demanded for our rights,” he added.

Mohamad, 24, who asked to not have his full name disclosed, said he decided to join one of the early rebel groups, the Free Syrian Army, after his mother was killed in the town of Manbij in the northern Aleppo province.

Mohamad, 24, in Turkey after he fled Syria. (Photo credit: Hiba Dlewati)

He said he was at home when Syrian airstrikes hit the market where his mother and sister had gone to buy clothes for his sister’s soon-to-be-born child.

He rushed to the hospital, to find that his sister was injured. He said he did not get the chance to see his mother alive before she bled to death.

“She had lost both her legs and there weren’t enough medical professionals and supplies to save her,” he said.

Mohamad is amongst many young men who were forced to abandon their university studies due to the raging conflict.

After ISIS occupied Manbij in January 2014, Mohamad fled to Turkey where he now lives.

Mohamad expressed no regret in taking up arms.

“After losing my mother, I felt I had nothing left to lose,” he said.

"If someone keeps hitting you, and you tell them to stop through words over and over, and they continuesly hit you... you're going to strike back, am I correct?" Mohamad added.

Last Update: Sunday, 20 March 2016 KSA 22:40 - GMT 19:40

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Syrian revolutionaries: ‘Carrying arms was not a choice’
Mohammad al-Ibrahim, 23, was one of thousands of young men who took part in the early, initially peaceful demonstrations
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