On the 20th anniversary of the massacres in the city of Hama: Did the Syrian authorities have to commit those atrocities and violations of human rights?
On the twentieth anniversary of this massacre, two questions still desperately await adequate and convincing answers from the regime in Syria:
Why did the massacre of Hama on Feb 2nd, 1982 take place?
Were those atrocities committed to enforce the law and preserve order or just to save the regime?
The Al-Tallia magazine, which is issued in Paris after the massacre, conveyed a statement from a Syrian official trying to reason what happened during the massacre: “About 200 armed men emerged at the night of February 2nd, 1982 and occupied the city. They executed about 90 people of the regime followers, took over important city offices and landmarks, and announced an armed disobedience, which forced the Syrian authority to undertake a decision to clean the city of them and to restore law and order.”
Upon hearing this statement, the following question comes to mind: if 200 people had announced disobedience, then why did the state kill 30,000 human beings? Isn’t this an outrageous violation of the right to live? Isn’t this a decision to commit mass murder? Why did the regime deliberately order the destruction and levelling of one third of homes in the city of Hama?
Assuming that 200 militant combatants, in a city of more than a quarter million inhabitant, announce disobedience, what gives the ruler the right to destroy the city over the heads of women and children? In other words: Could a quarter million people carry the blame or responsibility of only what 200 of them did? Weren’t there any other solutions besides shelling the city with artillery and missile launchers?
What kind of ruler on the face of this earth would counter-respond against 200 people like Syria’s ruler did? Instead of chasing them to capture them and put them on trial or even negotiate with them, he bombards their city with missiles, tanks and artillery killing children, women, elderly and innocent civilians and destroying homes over the heads of its inhabitants, which resulted in some 30,000 humans casualties, all dead because no wounded or prisoners were taken alive. The Syrian regime raided hospitals and killed all the wounded there without making any distinction between civilians and combatants. They did not even bother with the questions: who do we kill and why? What is the crime of newborns, women, and elderly?
In a neutral report from Amnesty International, comes the following description of the actions of the Syrian government:
“Some monitors stated: old streets of the city were bombed from the air to facilitate the introduction of military forces and tanks through the narrow streets, like the al-Hader street, where homes were crushed by tanks during the first four days of fighting. On February 15th, after days of intense bombardment, Defence Minister General Mustafa Tlass announced that the rebellion was put out, but the city remained under siege and surrounded. Door-to-door searches along with extensive arrests continued during the next two following weeks, while various news leaks talked about atrocities committed by the security forces and mass killings of innocent city residents. It is not easy to know what did exactly occur, but Amnesty International mentioned news of a mass execution of some 70 people outside the city hospital on February 19th and the annihilation of all residents of the al-Hader area on the hands of the Defense Brigades (Saraya el-Defaa) on the same day. Other reports talk of using containers of cyanide gas to kill all inhabitants of buildings, where rebels were suspected of residing. Also, people were grouped in the military airport, city stadium, and military camps and were left there without shelter or food for days.”
The mass murders and mass executions over-step the laws and constitute a grave violation of the right to live, which is the same sacred right mentioned in the universal declaration of human rights and the International treaty regarding human and civil rights (Article 16): every human has the natural right to live, which is protected by this law and it is not allowed to take this right from any individual oppressively. This was an excerpt of a report sent by Amnesty International addressing Syrian President Hafiz Assad in 1983.
The inhabitants of Hama know best by far the extent of the disastrous destruction that hit their city’s streets and building, and the onslaught of all the massacres that destroyed or wiped off hundreds of families in cold blood simply because they were from Hama.
It is rather impossible for a writer to paint a picture of the massacres committed against women and newborn children or to describe the methods used to murder members of the same family, one after another right before the eyes of the ones to follow the same fate. They would cut the guts of a baby while his mother held him, and then fire a stream of bullets onto her to prevent her from giving birth to another future opposition member. They would fire right on the head of an elder, while he murmured a prayer after what he had just witnessed. Children would scream asking for their mom, or grandfather just to be answered with a stream of bullets killing them all. A family would fall in a pool of their blood, but not for long, because soldiers would set everything ablaze after ransacking the house for any valuables and cutting the hands and ears off in a their crazed rush to loot the jewelry worn. Were there any newborns, or sick elders, or young teenagers, or pregnant women of those 200 militants who challenged the authority of the regime?
Not one store escaped theft, ransacking or bulldozing, no mosques escaped destruction, nor any minarets remained erect in Hama during that tragic month, even churches were not spared and suffered a similar fate. One third of Hama was destroyed to clear Hama of only 200 combatants.
More than 10,000 human beings disappeared from Hama after the massacre, whose fates should be traced, accounted for and clarified after 20 years of this horrible massacre. Were those of the 200 rebels? What was their fate?
All what happened in Hama was a pre-planned plot. Upon sifting through plenty of verified information, it is verifiably safe to assert that the Syrian regime was the initiator in igniting and deteriorating of the events for a very clear political objective. The regime used in its operations inhumane methods and broke all international treaties, which it signed and ratified prior to those events. The regime violated the most basic rights of its people, starting with the right to live and ending with the citizenship rights, motivated only by its utter hatred towards Hama and its citizens because they opposed the regime most when compared to other Syrian cities.
The Syrian regime deals with its citizens by utilizing “State Terrorism,” because it has given up on its duty as a preserver of lives of its citizens and a protector of their properties, honor and dignity. The regime violated the sacred right to live as scripted in all religions, laws and international treaties. The regime was not able to find not a single resolution nor pursued any route to avoid spilling blood by eliminating the outstanding issues between it and its opponents. If such an attempt took place, it would have been a huge moral victory for this regime instead of the reality that set itself in: exchanged animosities, hatred, dormant vengeances awaiting a chance to manifest, and desperate attempts by the regime to reason and market the crimes committed against innocent human lives from Hama, the victim city.
SHRC, despite the passage of two decades since these painful events, calls upon Syrian President Bashar Assad and his regime associates to distance themselves from the blood-stained methodology utilized by the regime of his late father Hafiz Assad and his influential uncle Refaat Assad, which violates all human values and international agreements. Furthermore, SHRC demands respect for the rights of the Syrian People especially their freedom of expression and to stop boasting about the killing and violation of rights of Syrian citizens.
SHRC calls on the regime to start a serious investigation file around all what occurred in Hama under the supervision of a neutral entity, put on trial all persons who committed violations of the rights of citizens, and their properties, honor, and dignity, and to restore such rights and properties to its rightful owners.
The Syrian Human Rights Committee calls for settling all outstanding issues pertaining to this tragic chapter of Syrian history, starting with releasing all detainees, elaborating about the fate of all missing persons from the city of Hama, and permitting all refugees, who fled the city to other cities or migrated abroad to return safely.
Evident Violations of Human Rights in Hama 1982
The massacre of Hama is distinguished by its grave violations of human rights. Such violations that had several faces and axles it revolved around.
Human Rights monitors and spectators unanimously agree that the massacre was one of the most heinous forms of aggression against mankind in the contemporary history of Syria, which included violations of all known rights. Still, the most flagrant violation of that massacre within its twisted details was the dismantling and smashing every bit of dignity inside a human being, as testifies to this all the mental and psychological suffering, which tens of thousands of Hama’s sons and daughters underwent for 20 years after the massacre.
SHRC, whilst calling to mend all what was destroyed as a result and to reconstitute the rights and bring justice to all victims, and put all accomplices in the crimes of mass murder and crimes against humanity, SHRC lists the major violations against human rights during the massacre:
1. The right to live:
The number of victims was estimated by SHRC to be between 30,000 and 40,000, vast majority of which are civilians.
It is rather hard to obtain a definite head count due to the use of mass graves to bury the numerous victims and due to the lack of identification on badly mutilated bodies, besides some 10,000 and 15,000 civilians disappeared since the massacre in 1982 and their fate is unknown till the time this report was released
The violation of the right to live took several forms:
- Killing of individuals: for a whole month during the massacre, successive stories of murdering individuals surfaced, mostly occurred in private residences of the victims, as told by testimonies of survivors. Government forces would break into a house and kill all residents after attempting to rob them and very frequently raping their spouses.
Stories of killing someone during torture, or killing an individual as a prelude to kill the remaining member of his family were not a rare occurrence as well – in other words: mass murder.
- Genocide: many families were victims of genocide, whether it was under the heavy artillery shelling or massacres committed by gunning down the victims with light fire weapons. The most terrifying massacres occurred in public squares and in graveyards, even hospitals and schools were not spared, all available buildings were converted to a detention center during the massacre period. It is safe to assert that the massacre of Hama was a collection of separate massacres, which targeted about one fifth of the city’s inhabitants. One survivor of the Sriheen Massacre, which is one of the most horrific massacres then, how people were taken to their fate in eleven trucks. In his testimony, he said: “I was among a huge number of people, so crowded that we almost could not breeze, and we were taken to Sriheen, where we were ordered to step out of the trucks, so we did as told. First thing we noticed was those hundreds of shoes scattered everywhere on the ground. It was then when we realized that it meant that hundreds of our fellow citizens were killed and we were next to face the same imminent death. We were searched afterwards, and any cash or watches were taken off us. Then, the elements of the Syrian authorities ordered us to move forward towards a deeply dug trench, which stretched long. Some of us were ordered to go to another nearby trench. When I stepped forward to my spot by the trench, I saw the pile of bodies in their still tainted by running blood, which horrified me so much that I had to close my eyes and I had to contain myself to avoid falling off. As expected, streams of bullets were fired towards us and everyone fell in their blood into the trenches, whilst the ones who were inside the other trench got shot inside the trench where they stood.” The survivor went on: “My injury was not life threatening and God granted me survival by inspiring me to wait patiently till the murderers left the premises and I ran despite my injuries. I was divinely saved from that fate whereas the injured could die under the weight of the other bodies most definitely.”
The efforts of collecting the names of all the victims of such massacres face a big stumble, due to the scarcity of survivors, if any, which makes getting a headcount of all victims very difficult, especially because the soldiers were killing the victims without any counting nor documenting their names. Victims were buried in mass graves. Other massacres other than the massacre of Sriheen are:
- February 4th: Hama al-Jadida Massacre just south of the city stadium (1500 victims)
- February 6th: a series of massacres in the neighberhood of Souq al-Shajara (50 victims) and the mssacre of Ahmad el-Musaqee al-Halabeye’s store (75 victims) and al-Bayad neighborhood massacre (50 victims).
- February 8th: a series of massacres in the Dabagha neighberghood which break down as follows: Souq al-Taweel (8 victims), Abdul-Razzaq el-Rayes’ store (35 victims), Abdul-Mueen Muftah’s store (20 victims), 6 victims of the Dabboor family, 4 victims of the Meghaizil family, and 3 from al-Qurn family.
- February 8th: a series of massacres in the al-Bashura neighberhood, whose victims break down as follows: 11 of al-Dabbagh family, 5 of the Sayeda-Ameen family, 21 of the Mousa family, 3 of the al-Qeyasseh family, 2 of the al-Azem family, 39 of the Dr. Mashnuq’s apartment building residents, 13 of the Al-Samsam family, 4 of the Keelani family, and in the Khankan mosque massacre were an undetermined big number of victims, mostly unidentified.
- February 12th: The Masri family massacre in the Osaida neighborhood (40 victims)
- February 13th: The Sahen family massacre in the Dabbagha neighborhood (60 victims)
- February 15th: The massacre of al-Zukkar road in the Shimaleye neighborhood (6 victims)
- February 23: The massacre of the Shaikh Othman family in the Baroudeye neighborhood (25 victims)
- February 26: The massacre of al-Jadeed mosque in the neighborhood of Jehee el-frayee (16 victims)
- Death by denial of medical treatment: many victims were killed by simply denying them treatment and leaving them to bleed to death, some were buried alive in the mass graves or left in the ruins of destroyed residences. Soldiers intentionally blocked citizens from seeking treatment, or finished on the injured in other times. Survivors tell the story of injured citizen Fayez Ajooqa who was injured by a bullet in his right thigh after surviving the City Stadium massacre, so he pretended that he was dead till the killers left the scene, then he sneaked to his house, where he found that he needs treatment, so he started limping on one foot till he reached a nearby hospital, where he sought attention in the emergency room but he was met by a soldier, who denied him treatment claiming that treatment is only allowed exclusively for soldiers and he stabbed Mr. Ajooqa with his rifle’s blade to death before the eyes of the medical staff to terrorize them. Same episode was repeated in the same hospital where chests of the injured were cut open. Shelling the hospital was not uncommon, which was the case with Hammam al-Sheikh Hospital in the al-Keelaneye neighborhood, al-Huda Hospital along the Aleppo highway, Karate Club Hospital in al-Ameereye neighborhood, and Zanoobia Hospital in al-Barrodeye neighborhood where 185 patients were murdered.
Soldiers did not hesitate when it came to medical doctors and nurses; they were targeted and exposed to torture and murder. The soldiers ransacked almost all the pharmacies of the city numbered at 52; only one pharmacy was spared the looting. It could probably be the most heinous story of torture which medical doctors suffered of was the story of Dr al-Khani, who happened to be an ophthalmologist and manager of the National Hospital in Hama, who was asked by the force that detained him about his profession, so he answered: “I am a medical doctor,” and the leader of the force started mumbling: “A doctor, welcome …” then he transferred Dr. al-Khani to the Borsalan detention center, where he was exposed to the most painful torture, despite the fact that he did not provide any emergency treatment or first aid to anyone at all, then the torturers told him: “Since you are an Eye Doctor, we shall poke your eyes off.” Indeed, they poked one of his eyes then killed him facing the firing squad.
2. The violation of rights of children
- Murdering Children: Children were murdered in most cases within the collective killing incidents against families within the households or just in front of the homes, or in a public square, or when explosives were used to bomb houses with all of its residents inside it. Many cases were recorded where soldiers committed the most horrific crimes such as carrying a 40 day old baby and slamming it against a wall forcefully, throwing children from the balconies before the eyes of their sobbing mothers, or starting a massacre by killing newborns, then proceeding to kill the rest of the family to maximize impact of such dehumanizing. Some children were killed during the launched rockets attacks and were buried under the rubble; snipers killed others though they were barely 3-year-old toddlers (such as the child Mohammad el-Zain from el-Feraye Street). SHRC has on record long lists of names of murdered children, ranging in age from one day to fifteen years.
- Killing Embryos: The unborn were not spared the killing even within their mothers’ wombs. In one of many recorded incidents, soldiers broke into the home of citizen Mohamad al-Kalash in the Baroodeye neighborhood and started poking his pregnant wife’s belly, while she was still alive right before the eyes of her husband and seven children who were all under 15 years of age, then proceeded to use two cooking-gas containers to burn the family alive.
- Death by hunger: the siege of Hama led to shortage of food, also, escaping to basements and underground shelters led to numerous deaths in children and others. Among such stories is the newborn baby of citizen Ahamd Junied, whose mother could not breast-feed him, so she went out looking for baby milk, which she could not find and she returned to find the baby dead.
- Death by terror and shock: children who witnessed the massacres and atrocities committed against their families, suffered of such frightening episodes to an extent that led to the death of some, as the case of a child of al-Shamali family who was 11years old and another child named Maher Hallaq, nine years old, from the Aileyat neighborhood. Children who were lucky to survive the massacres were severely psychologically scarred by what they witnessed of death and destruction, and many of them who survived, suffered of psychological disorders.
- Terror induced violence: in several cases recorded, children rushed to use white weapons in the face of soldiers to attempt killing them after having witnessed the murdering of their parents and brothers and sisters. There were tales of some children taking over the arms of wounded soldiers and using it to defend themselves, or even used hand grenades obtained the same way. Women had to resort to this violence as well, which in any case yields some very negative psychological impacts.
3. The violation of rights of women
- Murder: women and young girls were killed indiscriminately without separation from men. Several women wore modest body covering clothes because they were expecting death at any moment and feared exposing their nakedness upon dying. Many died defending their children or their honor. Many were killed just because they were related to individuals who were wanted by the security forces. Collective revenge occurred such as in the case of some 39 women who sought shelter in the basement of the clinic of Dr. Zuhair Mashnuq, just to be fired upon there. In other cases, wives of opposition members were killed individually for taking revenge against their husbands, of which were citizen Bara’at Bahnasi (age 35), who was murdered while asleep along with her five kids, and Aida al-Azem (age 39), who was murdered along with her 19 year old son. Some other murders were committed by motives of theft and robbery. In several incidents, soldiers severed the hands of women who refused to hand them their jewelry before killing them anyways. Other women were killed while attempt to attend to the medical needs of the wounded and the injured. In an incident worth stopping by, soldiers killed some of their comrades who refused to take part in the killing of women and children.
- Torture: Physical and psychological torture were used against women, such as torturing children before the eyes of their mothers, or killing them, and torturing the husbands before killing them before their families. Some of the physical torture included beating to death, throwing women from high floors or stairs, some women had their eyes poked, or all four limbs amputated and left clinging to life.
4. Violation of rights of the elderly:
- Murder: Just like with all other age groups, the elderly of both sexes had their share of killings in genocide and during break-ins or shelling or blowing by explosives of homes. Some elders offered to be murdered in the place of their sons. In one such incident as told by survivors from al-Hamideye neighborhood in Hama, where a father near sixty years of age, whose son was captured by the soldiers and tortured before his father, offered while crying to take his son’s place because he was his only son along with eight daughters. The soldiers approved this and pulled him aside to be killed and spared his son. Many elderly fathers who attempted even to bury their dead sons were killed, just like in the case of Pilgrim Abdul-Mueen al-Asfar in the area of al-Bayyad, who attempted to bury his two sons, whose corpses were left in the open, just beneath the house window for 14 days, but got shut and dumped over his two son’s corpses. There were several similar incidents.
- Death by hunger and illness: Many senior citizens died after being exposed to a famine and got sick due to lack of nutrition or having none at all. One such story was what happened to senior citizen Mustafa al-Azzi (age 72) from Bain al-Hairin neighborhood, who died of hunger after his whole family was killed because he was blind and disabled in his bed and needed care. A large number of senior citizens passed away for lack of treatments they were supposed to undergo regularly. The sharp shortage in medications under siege played a major role in such deaths.
5. The desecration of human dignity:
1. Torture: all forms of torture were practised against citizens of all ages. Public buildings and any available halls were turned into detention and torture centers. Senior officers, who were rewarded –after the massacre- with promotions and still hold high-ranking positions within the security apparatus and other government entities, whereas they should have been subjected to legal prosecution for committing massive genocide, supervised torture on hand.
There were some certain torture methods used against certain individuals, such as eye-poking, and amputating limbs. There was at least one story of a detainee who was killed by being cut to pieces till he died (Teacher Abdul-Majeed Arafah, born 1942). Other most prominently used methods of torture included:
- Overcrowded prison where detainees were stuffed in small cells.
- Cold, hunger and thirst
- Breaking the bones of the head and limbs with tools of steel
- “The chair of Solomon” as was called by the soldiers, which consisted of an Iron stud, on which detainees were forced to sit while being hit with sticks and whipped with electric cables.
- “Magic Carpet”, where detainees were hung from their hands and feet then stabbed in their belly and backs and left to bleed to death.
- Electrocution, which was used until barbequed flesh smell filled the air.
- Ironing the skin with flame heated iron.
- Suffocation by pressuring a metal pipe against a detainee’s throat while his head was forced against a wall to death.
Torture was conducted right before the eyes of other detainees, who were stripped of their clothes while waiting their turn in line. Survivors even told of seeing tanks passing over their peers while they were alive then leaving the torn corpses for the dogs to eat and scavenge.
2. Rape: Many soldiers attempted rape against women and many incidents were recorded where women were killed because they refused to surrender their bodies and their honor. Soldiers attempted to rape women without any consideration given to the fact that those women have just been traumatized after witnessing the slaughter of their father, husbands and/or sons. Still, many of them resisted fiercely and paid the ultimate price for their refusal.
One such story is of the al-Sawas family in the al-Bashura neighborhood, where soldiers raided the house and killed the husband, then attempted to rape his wife, but she resisted relentlessly till they gave up on her, so they poured diesel fuel on her and her bedroom then set her ablaze to die burning.
3. Mutilating Corpses of the Dead:
Government forces took advantage of the media blockade during the tight siege of the city and banned the burial of the victims and left huge piles of their corpses heaping along sidewalks, streets and homes.
The smell of death spread across the neighborhood, which played a factor in spreading disease and illness. Some citizens who attempted to retrieve the corpses of their loved ones to bury it ended up shut dead themselves.
At the end of the massacre, soldiers combed the city o clear those corpses. They threw the bodies from the balconies of the homes while gathering them. Some citizens were forced at gunpoint to carry decomposing corpses. Limbs would come off the body right in the hands of the person carrying it, as some would recall.
After one week of the massacres, secondary school students, in their recognizable military uniforms, were bussed in from surrounding areas and villages to be forced to wash the blood-stained streets and broom away the remnants of corpses, such as heads and limbs, some of which were carried around by stray dogs, as witnessed in the neighborhood of Sheikh Mehran.
6. The Violation of Freedom:
1. Prison: large numbers of Hama residents were abducted and led away to jail, where it is believed that the majority were murdered.
There were 14 prisons in Hama, some of which were schools and public buildings converted to be used as detention centers. The prisons included the following locations:
- Army Division 47
- City Fort
- Air Base
- Al-Khumaseye Cotton Factory
- Industrial Zone
- Grenada School
- Industrial School
- Porcelain Factory
- Military Intelligence Branch
- Political Security Branch
- State Security Branch
- Fabric Factory
- Tile Factory
- Civil Defense Center
Torture was utilized widely in these detention centers, while some detainees escaped death, when their families paid outrageous bribes to gain their release. The prisons of Hama witnessed several mass killings. In one story telling of such killings, General Ali Haidar, who headed –at the time- the special forces of the Syrian Army entered a detention center, and he was recognized by prisoners there, who feared that they might be killed after he departs, so they chanted and cheered for him, so he ordered food and bed sheets for them. The detention center was at the matter of fact, in the heart of a division of the notorious defense brigades –led by Refaat Assad who is the brother of President Hafiz Assad. Soldiers of the defense brigades, furious for the chants for Ali Haidar, raised their guns against the 90 detainees in the ward, while shouting: “no leader but Refaat” and opened fire killing all of the detainees.
2. Disappearances: It is still unknown where the mass graves of the many missing detainees. However, separate well-known incidents tells of gathering many of the city citizens and ranking members of the communities of Hama, where they were taken away and led to unknown destination, from which they never returned nor any trace of them. Many disappearances occurred in the last few days of the massacre, which leads to the conclusion that the regime authorities were trying to conceal evidence of the crimes and decrease the number of possible witnesses. Starting from February 26th 1982, following orders, thought to have originated from high ranking political leaders, government forces initiated a wide campaign of detentions to conclude “investigations”. It is estimated that on one day (a Friday) some 1500 citizens were abducted, including the Grand Mufti of Hama, Head of Scholars Association in the city and a number of clergies. None was seen again since their abduction and it is rumored that they were buried within a trench dug for their execution on the outskirts of the village of “Buraq” and other sources indicate a different location on the way to the village of “Maharada”.
Moreover, on a similar note, Refaat Assad –head of the defense brigades- ordered on February 22nd 1982 to call using PA systems in detention centers on all clergies, and all staff of any mosques among the detainees, who were numbered near 1,000, and were separated from the general population in prison, and then transported to an unknown destiny till this day. Thousands perished in other stories such as what leaked from the Abi el-Feda Cotton Factory.
3. Expulsion (the violation of the right to choose place of residence):
A much expected outcome of the destruction and genocide the city tasted, huge numbers of residents fled to other cities for their safety, but the abduction campaign forced hundred of Hama families to depart the country fearing arrest and abuse because of geographical belonging to Hama.
Almost simultaneously during the massacre, large numbers of Hama’s family sons were detained or killed, such as students, survivors of the massacre, citizens residing outside Syria, who were attempting to enter or exit the country, which leads one to believe that the atrocities were aimed at all residents of Hama, regardless of any other factor, such as religion, gender, age, or place of residence.
7. Violation of the Right to Worship:
Mosques and Churches did not escape destruction and demolishing. Soldiers would use loads of explosives to bring down mosques, like what happened to the Grand Mosque in Hama, where the explosion was so devastating that some of the adjacent homes were destroyed, in addition to a portion of the Christian Nuns School nearby.
Christian citizens from Hama were able to convince their acquaintances among army officers not to demolish the “Abdullah Ben Salam” mosque after it was already loaded with two cars of explosives for that purpose. Demolition of mosques meant the desecration of any copies of the Holy Quran it contained without any consideration, while someone could spot among the ruins of Hama’s churches some of the colorful icons of Mary the Virgin and Jesus (Peace be upon both). The famous Al-Jadeida church, which is considered an architectural treasure, was turned into rubble of ruins.
Residents of Hama said that “Azan” (the call to prayers in the Muslim religion from the minaret of a mosque marking the time of prayers) was not heard for three months including the mosque of the massacre. The communities of the city gathered donations secretly following the massacre to rebuild or retrofit their mosques and churches. Some 38 mosques and Islamic Centers were totally destroyed, 19 were found to have been partially demolished and some others were converted by the government to some other uses, such as the mosque of Abi el-Feda in the Bab el-Jisr neighborhood, which suffered light damage during the shelling and was converted into a museum, and el-Masoud Mosque, which was totally destroyed and was consequently converted to a station for service cars that connect Hama to other Syrian cities.
The artillery shelling reached several historical areas that include historical Islamic landmarks, most notably was el-Kelanye area.
8. The Violation of the Right to Make a Living:
The soldiers looted merchants’ stores without any deterrent. After a whole month of savage mass murder and having the city to themselves to do, as they please, many of the stores were destroyed. It later was shown that some of those stores were used as temporary detention, torture, and execution centers. It is told that a citizen reopened his car repair shop on the first week of March right after the massacre in the Bab Trablus (Tripoli Gate) community of the Hai el-Mahalbeh neighborhood, just to find huge pools of clotted blood and tens of used shoes and torn clothes instead of his trade tools.
When women living in the same community heard of this story they rushed to his store to sift through the shoes and clothes in a desperate attempt to recognize any belonging of their male relatives, so that they could figure out what was their fate.
Soldiers went to the extreme in robbing commercial stores and stole whatever their hands reached of jewelry, cash, cars, furniture, electrical appliances, rugs, artifacts, leaving nothing for terrorized civilians. Setting stores ablaze, after robbing them, was common practice to deny the owners the benefit of utilizing the store in the future.
Unofficial statistics figures reveal that the demolition of city streets was extensive, which impacted homes, commercial institutions, and stores. The streets of el-Osiedeh, el-Shemaleyeh, el-Zanbaqi, and el-Kilaneyeh neighborhood were destroyed completely, others suffered less than this horrible fate, such as Bain el-Hayrain street (%80), el-Sakhanee street (%70), while less destruction was encountered at neighborhood on the outskirts of the city such as the neighborhood near the Aleppo highway (%30).
The destruction seemed to concentrate on the old city streets, with all its homes and stores, even its ancient ruins and historical landmarks.
The ratio of males to females changed in a disproportional way following the killings and disappearances that targeted male residents of Hama. This caused an economical crisis of which all surviving residents suffered of greatly. Ironically, a housing shortage crisis, for which Hama was always known to be suffering of, was resolved following the massacre due to the drastic decline in the number of residents and not due to any construction of any new housing units.
A partial listing of names of the planners and executers of the Hama massacre
- Colonel Rif’al- Assad (Head of the Defense Brigade – was promoted to Vice President)
- General Ali Haidar (Head of the Syrian Special Forces)
- Colonel Ali Deeb (High ranking officer in Special Forces)
- Colonel Yahya Zaidan (An officer in the Defense Brigades, who was transferred to the Militray Intelligence to head the Hama Intellegence Branch)
- Colonel Nadeem Abbas (Head of the 47th Armored Division)
- Colonel Fu’ad Ismail (Head of the 21st Mechanized Division)
- Major Riad Issa (Head of the 142nd Division – Defense Brigade)
- Major Waleed Abaza (Head of the Political Security Branch and an interrogator in that branch as well)
- Major Mohamad Ra’fat Nasseef (State Security Branch – supervised torture in the industrial secondary school detention center)
- Major Ibrahim Mahmood (took part in interrogation and torture in the State Security Branch, Political Security Section and the detention center in the industrial secondary school)
- Major Mohamad Yasmeen (Head of the Commandoes Company 22 of the Defense Brigades)
- Major Mohamad al-Khateeb (An interrogator in the State Security Branch at the time)
- Abdullah Zaino (An interrogator in the State Security Branch at the time)
- Mohammad Baddour (An interrogator in the political security section who tortured to death at least seven citizens himself)
- Mohamad Harba (Governor of Hama during the massacre – promoted to Interior Minister)
The events of February of 1982 in Hama is a tragedy that did not reveal all of its ugly chapters till this very day, and the criminals who committed those atrocities in cold blood were not punished.
Two observations were drawn in regards to the massacre:
First – The massacre did not target one political entity by itself, but rather all elements of society in the city, with no regards to Islamists, Leftist, and Rightists, not even members of the ruling Baath Party. This is enough to declassify the events as a “political conflict” and turns it into genocide against civilians. Given the rather large number of victims, it is not reasonable to assume that all of them belonged to some political trend or party.
Second – The massacre targeted anyone who belonged to the city of Hama, without any distinction between Muslim and Christian, and without any special consideration even to those who collaborated with the ruling authorities and helped in intelligence gathering for the security apparatus, as many of them were killed as well. When sharp disagreements and arguments took place in more than one place or certain occasion, it was evident that the military leaders of the campaign looked onto the inhabitants of Hama, including the heads of the local branch Baath Party, through one eye.
Based on this last observation alone, SHRC calls on concerned lawyers and legal scholars to determine whether it was possible to classify the Hama massacre as genocide, otherwise, it would still qualify to be classified as mass murder, which is still banned internationally as well.
The massacre featured savagery and brutality that surpasses any imagination. The authorities did not even worry about its own casualties, of which, some did not wish to be pushed into this operation. Some soldiers were killed for refusing to execute military orders, not to mention the innocent civilian victims who were the main target of the massacre.
Moving over the scars of the massacre and treating the negative byproducts of what the residents of Hama, some of which were completely perished, were put through, still awaits a fact-finding process. Any serious objective investigation of the matter should lead to specify who is responsible for what happened and identifying the elements of all political levels who were involved in issuing the orders to commit genocide.
Without such an investigation, the victims of the massacre of Hama will never be served their right to have justice, a right that does not drop with the passage of time.