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

September 1 • 1:00 PM

Television and Overeating: What We Watch Matters

New research finds fast-moving programming leads to mindless overeating.



September 1 • 6:00 AM

Why Someone Named Monty Iceman Sold Doogie Howser’s Estate

How unusual names, under certain circumstances, can lead to success.



August 29 • 4:00 PM

The Hidden Costs of Tobacco Debt

Even when taxpayers aren’t explicitly on the hook, tobacco bonds can cost states and local governments money. Here’s how.


August 29 • 2:00 PM

Why Don’t Men and Women Wear the Same Gender-Neutral Bathing Suits?

They used to in the 1920s.


August 29 • 11:48 AM

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.


August 29 • 10:00 AM

True Darwinism Is All About Chance

Though the rich sometimes forget, Darwin knew that nature frequently rolls the dice.


August 29 • 8:00 AM

Why Our Molecular Make-Up Can’t Explain Who We Are

Our genes only tell a portion of the story.


August 29 • 6:00 AM

Strange Situations: Attachment Theory and Sexual Assault on College Campuses

When college women leave home, does attachment behavior make them more vulnerable to campus rape?


August 29 • 4:00 AM

Forgive Your Philandering Partner—and Pay the Price

New research finds people who forgive an unfaithful romantic partner are considered weaker and less competent than those who ended the relationship.


August 28 • 4:00 PM

Some Natural-Looking Zoo Exhibits May Be Even Worse Than the Old Concrete Ones

They’re often designed for you, the paying visitor, and not the animals who have to inhabit them.


August 28 • 2:00 PM

What I Learned From Debating Science With Trolls

“Don’t feed the trolls” is sound advice, but occasionally ignoring it can lead to rewards.


August 28 • 12:00 PM

The Ice Bucket Challenge’s Meme Money

The ALS Association has raised nearly $100 million over the past month, 50 times what it raised in the same period last year. How will that money be spent, and how can non-profit executives make a windfall last?


August 28 • 11:56 AM

Outlawing Water Conflict: California Legislators Confront Risky Groundwater Loophole

California, where ambitious agriculture sucks up 80 percent of the state’s developed water, is no stranger to water wrangles. Now one of the worst droughts in state history is pushing legislators to reckon with its unwieldy water laws, especially one major oversight: California has been the only Western state without groundwater regulation—but now that looks set to change.


August 28 • 11:38 AM

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.


August 28 • 10:00 AM

The Five Words You Never Want to Hear From Your Doctor

“Sometimes people just get pains.”


August 28 • 8:00 AM

Why I’m Not Sharing My Coke

Andy Warhol, algorithms, and a bunch of popular names printed on soda cans.


August 28 • 6:00 AM

Can Outdoor Art Revitalize Outdoor Advertising?

That art you’ve been seeing at bus stations and billboards—it’s serving a purpose beyond just promoting local museums.


August 28 • 4:00 AM

Linguistic Analysis Reveals Research Fraud

An examination of papers by the discredited Diederik Stapel finds linguistic differences between his legitimate and fraudulent studies.


August 28 • 2:00 AM

Poverty and Geography: The Myth of Racial Segregation

Migration, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality (not to mention class), can be a poverty-buster.


August 27 • 4:00 PM

The ‘Non-Lethal’ Flash-Bang Grenades Used in Ferguson Can Actually Be Quite Lethal

A journalist says he was singed by a flash-bang fired by St. Louis County police trying to disperse a crowd, raising questions about how to use these military-style devices safely and appropriately.


August 27 • 2:00 PM

Do Better Looking People Have Better Personalities Too?

An experiment on users of the dating site OKCupid found that members judge both looks and personality by looks alone.


August 27 • 12:00 PM

Love Can Make You Stronger

A new study links oxytocin, the hormone most commonly associated with social bonding, and the one that your body produces during an orgasm, with muscle regeneration.


August 27 • 11:05 AM

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”


Follow us


Subscribe Now

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.

Being a Couch Potato: Not So Bad After All?

For those who feel guilty about watching TV, a new study provides redemption.

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 fast-food-big-one

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