Menus Subscribe Search
syrian-civil-war

A demonstration in Homs against Assad. (PHOTO: BO YASER/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

A Syrian Exile Writes on Leaving Home

• August 13, 2013 • 9:31 AM

A demonstration in Homs against Assad. (PHOTO: BO YASER/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

A series of testimonials offers notes from civilians amid the conflict, claims Syria Deeply.

Syria Deeply, an English-language website tracking that country’s grinding civil war, has been compiling a series of testimonial writings from civilians caught in the conflict. Over the weekend the series featured what it says is a Damascus resident’s essay on leaving the embattled city.

The statement from “a 22-year-old man from a prominent Sunni family” covers the Syrian kidnapping economy, the role of government checkpoints, and the atmosphere among civilians who are anti-Assad but still living in a regime-controlled neighborhood day-to-day. The series is a useful window on quotidian circumstances, and an unusually clear presentation of how the complexities of rival militias, ideological rifts, and the constant threat of sudden violence affect the average person in the country. What follows are some excerpts from this past weekend’s entry.

To start, the unnamed author alleges broad support for anti-Assad efforts among the Syrian upper class:

More than half the [prominent] families in Damascus hate the regime and how brutal it is. But they can’t say a single word because they know how the regime reacted when someone revolted against them in the 1980s. For these 30 years, you couldn’t say a word about the regime or the Assad family. My dad used to tell me, don’t you ever say the word “regime,” at school or anywhere. Don’t say this word.

He describes being fearful of arbitrary checkpoint police. Each neighborhood in the capitol has a checkpoint:

So if it was 11 or 12 at night, it was dangerous for people with the revolution to be out. They have names on lists. It was scary, many of my friends had their houses broken into, or they were detained because they were with the revolution…. You can’t talk to the soldiers as humans : if you say a word he doesn’t like, he can detain you. Checkpoints are the worst nightmare.

He discusses the evolution of a kidnapping racket in the capitol, which can bring a quarter million dollars and more in ransom:

My cousin was kidnapped seven months ago. He was tortured. In Damascus, there are many people who are wealthy. The kidnappers are a network: it goes, “I know a rich family, I’ll go kidnap their son, and they have rich neighbors.” The rich neighborhoods are known. After they put my cousin in the car, they passed a checkpoint without stopping. So that’s a big sign that they are cooperating with security forces.

It’s not politically motivated, it’s about money. They wouldn’t kidnap a rich Alawite family, because they’d be punished or maybe killed. So they just target the rich Sunnis. My cousin’s ransom was around $200,000. And that was at that time. On today’s rate, it would be $400,000.

No source is given for the $200k and $400k figures, other than the claim that the author’s family paid his cousin’s ransom. We can’t independently verify the story. It’s worth reading to judge for yourself. The rest of the account above and the other items in the series are here.

Marc Herman

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

July 29 • 8:00 AM

The Elusive Link Between Casinos and Crime

With a study of the impact of Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino, a heated debate gets fresh ammunition.


July 29 • 6:00 AM

What Are the Benefits of Locking Yourself in a Tank and Floating in Room-Temperature Saltwater?

After three sessions in an isolation tank, the answer’s still not quite clear.


July 29 • 4:00 AM

Harry Potter and the Battle Against Bigotry

Kids who identify with the hero of J.K. Rowling’s popular fantasy novels hold more open-minded attitudes toward immigrants and gays.


July 29 • 2:00 AM

Geographic Scale and Talent Migration: Washington, D.C.’s New Silver Line

Around the country, suburbs are fighting with the urban core over jobs and employees.


July 28 • 4:00 PM

Border Fences Make Unequal Neighbors and Enforce Social Inequality

What would it look like if you combined Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, demographically speaking? What about the United States and Guatemala?


July 28 • 2:00 PM

Are Patient Privacy Laws Being Misused to Protect Medical Centers?

A 1996 law known as HIPAA has been cited to scold a mom taking a picture of her son in a hospital, to keep information away from police investigating a possible rape at a nursing home, and to threaten VA whistleblowers.


July 28 • 12:00 PM

Does Internet Addiction Excuse the Death of an Infant?

In Love Child, documentary filmmaker Valerie Veatch explores how virtual worlds encourage us to erase the boundary between digital and real, no matter the consequences.


July 28 • 11:11 AM

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.


July 28 • 10:00 AM

Hell Isn’t for Real

You may have seen pictures of the massive crater in Siberia. It unfortunately—or fortunately—does not lead to the netherworld.


July 28 • 8:00 AM

Why Isn’t Obama More Popular?

It takes a while for people to notice that things are going well, particularly when they’ve been bad for so long.


July 28 • 7:45 AM

The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.


July 28 • 6:00 AM

Hams Without Ends and Cats Tied to Trees: How We Create Traditions With Dubious Origins

Does it really matter if the reason for why you give money to newlyweds is based on a skewed version of a story your parents once told you?


July 28 • 4:00 AM

A Belief in ‘Oneness’ Is Equated With Pro-Environment Behavior

New research finds a link between concern for the environment and belief in the concept of universal interconnectedness.


July 25 • 4:00 PM

Flying Blind: The View From 30,000 Feet Puts Everything in Perspective

Next time you find yourself in an airplane, consider keeping your phone turned off and the window open.


July 25 • 2:00 PM

Trophy Scarves: Race, Gender, and the Woman-as-Prop Trope

Social inequality unapologetically laid bare.


July 25 • 1:51 PM

Confusing Population Change With Migration

A lot of population change is baked into a region from migration that happened decades ago.


July 25 • 1:37 PM

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.



July 25 • 11:07 AM

The West’s Groundwater Is Being Sucked Dry

Scientists were stunned to discover just how much groundwater has been lost from beneath the Colorado River over the past 10 years.


July 25 • 10:00 AM

Shelf Help: New Book Reviews in 100 Words or Less

What you need to know about Bad Feminist, XL Love, and The Birth of Korean Cool.



July 25 • 8:00 AM

The Consequences of Curing Childhood Cancer

The majority of American children with cancer will be cured, but it may leave them unable to have children of their own. Should preserving fertility in cancer survivors be a research priority?


July 25 • 6:00 AM

Men Find Caring, Understanding Responses Sexy. Women, Not So Much

For women looking to attract a man, there are advantages to being a caring conversationalist. But new research finds it doesn’t work the other way around.


July 25 • 4:00 AM

Arizona’s Double-Talk on Execution and Torture

The state is certain that Joseph Wood’s death was totally constitutional. But they’re looking into it.


July 24 • 4:00 PM

Overweight Americans Have the Lowest Risk of Premature Death

Why do we use the term “normal weight” when talking about BMI? What’s presented as normal certainly isn’t the norm, and it may not even be what’s most healthy.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.

The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.

The West’s Groundwater Is Being Sucked Dry

Scientists were stunned to discover just how much groundwater has been lost from beneath the Colorado River over the past 10 years.

How Wildlife Declines Are Leading to Slavery and Terrorism

As wildlife numbers dwindle, wildlife crimes are rising—and that's fueling a raft of heinous crimes committed against humans.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.