The Tadamon massacre and the Syrian collective PTSD

The Tadamon massacre and the Syrian collective PTSD
8 min read
04 May, 2022
On 27 April the Guardian reported the horrific massacre of 41 Syrian civilians in Tadamon, a Damascus neighbourhood. As Russian crimes in Ukraine invoke Western outrage and support for Ukraine, Ammar Dayoub says we cannot expect the same for Syria.
Details of a massacre which took place in Tadamon, Damascus in April 2013 were revealed in a Guardian report on 27 April 2022 [Al-Araby Al-Jadeed]

A day before media channels published a report by the Guardian about a massacre that took place in Daaboul Street, in Tadamon neighbourhood in Damascus, which claimed the lives of 41 civilians, I was on a trip to the neighbourhood. From my car window I gazed out at the dilapidated architecture of Zahra street, then the Al-Furn roundabout, then the misery of Daf al-Shouq, then Tadamon, an area distinct primarily for its poverty and marginalisation.

Nothing had changed there since I lived there in 1992; no new buildings, the streets were still filthy, and the appearance of the residents in their worn clothing had deteriorated from bad to worse. A typical Damascus suburb.

A slum for migrants

Tadamon was a Damascene suburb which came primarily to house poor migrants from other parts of Syria - students, soldiers, jobseekers - and I was one of them. We would rent rooms with shared bathrooms. The narrow streets were filled with rubbish and dust, residents cursed each other constantly and fights broke out daily.

 "The massacre forces us to observe a silence (of mourning), but it also forces us to think about who was torn from this life, and about ourselves"

It was a slum – houses crammed together with no sense of planning. A single-storey building stood next to a four-storey building next to three two-storeys in a row. One house would lack a cement façade, another would have one, and a third would be fronted with marble. A building would encroach into the street, narrowing the path, another built further back would widen it. The neighbourhood was an eyesore which also pained the soul: poverty was the sole reason people moved there.

Triggering trauma

On the night the report was published I couldn't get myself to watch the video; I read the detailed article and other abridged versions online. I felt difficulty breathing, and my thoughts congealed around the horror of the massacre, the burning of the blindfolded corpses. Later, I accidentally saw some scenes but didn’t watch them in full, as is a habit of mine since 2011 - it's not possible for me to watch these videos, not even those which depict lesser crimes.

Dozens of neighbourhoods were destroyed, thousands of human beings killed in the cruellest ways the mind could conjure up; and the burning of the corpses after the killing. The massacre forces us to observe silence (of mourning), but it also forces us to think about who was torn from this life, and about ourselves. But of course, it is impossible for people to go against their nature, hence the massacre has been framed in different ways by different groups.

Some are regarding it through a sectarian lens - as a crime perpetrated by Alawites - even though those who carried it out, according to the report, included Alawites, Druze and Sunni Syrians. Then there are those who pin the responsibility on the regime, which is not wrong. Then there are those who focus on the killer alone, as though he acted independently, which is a wrong take.

Syria laid waste

The following night, I recalled some of the neighbourhoods of Homs, as though the massacre had revived these old memories – others say the same happened to them. What I read about from a distance, others have lived through for the last ten years: the ruin of most of Syria's cities; the sieges imposed on them, and the wholesale death of thousands of their residents.

My memories of neighbourhoods, their destruction, and some of the people I had known in them, were rekindled. It seems that memories of a massacre will never die but simply lie dormant until summoned to the surface by a random trigger or a new event. Maybe those who lived through these massacres should have been treated with extensive psychological therapy to allow for a shift to take place in our deeply traumatised psyches.

 "Syrians have not yet mourned, nor cried for their loved ones, their streets, their cities, or their country"

The problem is that all Syrians need this therapy. However, before that, and in order for treatment to be possible, transitional justice must be achieved. Only after this will our spirits be able to feel the necessity of change. Before transitional justice, this will be impossible: Syrians have not yet fully mourned, nor cried for their loved ones, their streets, their cities, or their country.

Double standards in the international community

Many have compared Putin's war on Ukraine, the reported massacres and the ruin wrought on that country, with what happened to Aleppo and Chechnya - the scale of the destruction and the massacres committed resemble each other. However, international diplomats and global politics have not bothered to comment on the Guardian report, a stark contrast to how they have engaged with anything related to Ukraine, and this is a new source of pain for Syrians that has deepened their feelings of marginalisation.

Because whilst Ukraine is being bombarded mercilessly, massacres are being perpetrated, and there is a possibility the country will, like Syria, end up being split apart, there is a lot of support for Ukraine, and it looks as though this time, Putin is facing a reckoning. This is because his actions in Ukraine have given America and Britain, along with the other main western states, a chance to trap him, and drastically weaken Russia, a step which may form part of a more long-term plan to isolate China.

The bringing to light of the Tadamon Massacre doesn’t add anything new to the Syrian situation, it is only scraping at wounds which have never healed in the souls of the Syrian people. On a global level, the same international policies continue unabated, with the UN Special Envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen recently announcing yet another new round of Constitutional Committee meetings.

Moreover, the recent Turkey-America rapprochement has not meant a new stance on Russian actions in Syria, or the imposition of a no-fly zone over the region controlled by the Autonomous Administration, as has been rumoured, or that the Turkey-Russia Iran alliance will be disbanded. While it is true that Turkey is attempting to benefit from the blockading of Russia, it does not trust the European Union, some member states of which say they cannot do without Russian energy, and have started conducting transactions in roubles.

No trust in America

Nor does Turkey trust America, which isn’t following a coherent policy in our region. This fact has pushed many states to seek out new alliances, regardless of their soundness or where they will lead – what this signifies is the plummeting of trust in American policy. Of course, there is no data that says a new US policy is underway, and despite the faltering Vienna negotiations regarding the Iran nuclear deal, reports still tiredly repeat the possibility of an agreement on it.

"The Syrian people are in a wretched position, having lost everything, and the fact that wide swathes of Syrian society have rightly denounced the massacre, as well as the regime and its policy, has no affect in the bigger picture of the conflict, or their divided country"

A real movement towards justice has not been started yet, although tentative beginnings have been glimpsed in Europe, and the problem is that there is no plan for transitional justice for Syria on the horizon. Syria is not next in line after Ukraine at the global negotiating table, and America and Britain are in any case working to prolong the Ukrainian war.

The Syrian people are in a wretched position, having lost everything, and the fact that wide swathes of Syrian society have rightly denounced the massacre, as well as the regime and its policy, has no effect in the bigger picture of the conflict, or their divided country, or their opposition which is in thrall to regional and international powers.

It is likely that the direct perpetrators of this crime would be punished. But the wider context will be ignored and cases exposing the criminality and corruption of the regime - and the established opposition - in addition to their ongoing plundering of the wealth and resources of the Syrian people, will not be opened in the near future.

The problem of the Syrians is no longer only the regime, though it is the primary reason for their suffering, both before 2011 and after. A bankrupt opposition, dependent on external backers, has become another problem for them, because it hinders the forming of a new opposition, whilst fiercely adopting the worst possible stances and policies for the Syrian people.

By this I mean that it is wrong to reduce the Syrian issue to the control external powers wield over the "mini-Syrias" divided between Iran, Russia, Turkey, America and Israel. Equally problematic are the interests of the de-facto forces controlling these areas on the ground, who are being bolstered by these countries, and which impose ever-tougher security measures and policies against "their people" and against neighbouring commanding forces in order to preserve their own interests.

All this may end up changing facts on the ground, but in light of this reality, the world won't care about the Syrian issue, nor about the horrific massacre revealed recently, which has been interpreted differently by the Syrian opposition, as it their bad habit in everything.  

Article translated from Arabic by Rose Chacko.

Ammar Dayoub is a Syrian writer. Dayoub writes for many newspapers including Al-Hayat and Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

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