February 29, 2012
Yazbek’s ‘In the crossfire’ is out in German! – Read a first review

Yazbek’s ‘In the crossfire’ is out in German! – Read a first review

Records from the house of death
By Benedikit Ruttimann, for Tanges-Anzeiger, 23 Feb 2012.
Photo: Basso Canarsa
[The translation below is approximate, using Google translate]

Samar Yazbek was in hell. Two times. Three times. Four times. Five times. Then she fled, fearing for the life her daughter. Now she is in Paris learning French. She hopes for a rapid return home. But as long as the murderous regime remains, there is only hope for pain.

Samar Yazbek is Syrian. 41 years old. In Paris, no one knows her name or her face. In Syria, however, she is a known author, the name and face of whom were seen before, often on Syrian TV: She hosted shows, wrote
screenplays, made films. She has yet always been uncomfortable.

Freedom of a half-court jester
Normally, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is unnerved by critics. Who doesn’t adhere, is silenced. But when an Alawite comes by, as a member of the president’s religious community, Yazbek enjoyed the semi-freedom of a court jester, saying, writing what others cannot dare. And she criticized a great deal. She was not surprised by the outbreak of the Syrian revolution. Shortly after the first demonstrations, in March 2011, she starts monitoring events. She writes about the daily fear of a Regime that shows utmost brutality against peaceful demonstrators. “It is the work of terrorist gangs” the President proclaims. “It is the uprising of the rural population and the poor against all forms of oppression” writes Yazbek on June 9th, 2011, in her diary, now a book called ‘In the crossfire’ ( “Schrei nacho Freiheit” in German | “Cry freedom”). Those of the Alawites who are with the opponents to the regime, are seen as having betrayed.
Now Syria is dying. Bashar al Assad and his friends have decided to liquidate the critical half of the Syrian population. And the other half is silent, for fear of losing their privileges or of an Islamic apocalypse which the Assads, father and son, have painted on the wall as a justification to their 40-year old regime.

The human rights activists, which keep records of the deaths, arrived at the figure of 8,000 after eleven months. Name, age and location are recorded in these lists. Most victims are young men. Many die on the streets, during demonstrations, shot in the head. Others die under torture. Samar Yazbek has seen both.

She did not know where she was
It stank of rotting meat she writes in “In the crossfire”, during her second passage through one of the numerous torture chambers of the regime. The torturer said with a smile “A little excursion, so you write better”. Perhaps the building was in a suburb of Damascus. Maybe even in the midst of the city. On the trip from her home to be questioned, she was blindfolded. Finally, she saw a high officer, who so vehemently slapped her, she fell onto the ground. She spat down at them. She was dragged onto a chair. When she was able to sit up, she was lectured about blood ties, family, betrayal and shame. The officer asked her to appear on TV and retract her criticism of the government. “This, I won’t do, even if you were to kill me with your own hands” she cried in response. At a nod from the officer, she was carried by two big men, and brought down through a narrow staircase into the basement. She was told by the officer that this was the last warning, “Then you are one of the enemies”.

At the end of the staircase began a long narrow, dark passage. Doors were lined up near each other on the left and right. In the first room, into which Samar Yazbek was pushed, hung three bodies. Young men, barely 20 years old, perhaps a little older. The bodies were covered with blood, fresh blood, dried blood, deep wounds across the bodies. Apparently unconscious, they rocked back and forth like cattle. Suddenly, one young man raised his head slightly. She saw not a face, but a red image without any contour. Then the stink of excrement, urine and blood reached her. The smell of decay.
Yazbek was brought five times to the torture chambers. “What I’ve seen”, she says today, “was so horrible, that I could not have previously imagined it. These images take your mind”. The look into Assad’s bloody house of the dead deterred Yazbek. It was the second to last means of the captors, to silence the rebelled daughter of the Alawites. Should her voice still be heard on the Internet or in the international media, they threatened, her name would go down on the death list.

But the writer could not be intimidated. She stops expressing herself in public, but begins to participate in the organization of the resistance. Along with other Syrian women, she created the initiative of “Syrian women in support of the insurgency” and continues to work on her diary. Writing helps her to overcome her fear of death. Whoever goes down on the streets is not sure of coming back home. But at some point, Samar Yazbek recalls, fear transforms into courage, and you get this feeling that the Regime cannot kill us all.

There is no going back
In the first week of the revolution Yazbek moves back and forth across the insurgent country. She meets people who tell her what happened in their villages and cities. She speaks with people and children of Deraa, whom the Assad henchmen arrested and cruelly abused, because a few anti-government slogans were sprayed on house walls in solidarity with the Revolutions in other Arab countries.

Her diary slowly grows into a chronicle of horror – but also a record of unimaginable courage. The authorities have only one answer to the non-violent demonstrations, that soon cover the whole territory: shoot to kill. A soldier reported to Yazbek that the regime let two rows march: Front soldiers have to shoot at unarmed demonstrators; behind them, snipers shoot at the soldiers who do not shoot – whoever does not kill for Assad, is himself killed.

Although she is silent and works in secret, the pressure continues to be exerted on Yazbek. She can hardly move out of the house, and is under constant observation. Two spies are outside her place day and night. When she does get out, escaping the road blocks and infiltrating neighboring cities is virtually impossible. Added to this is the fear of putting others at risk. She thinks of going underground, but what about her daughter? In mid-July 2011, she leaves Syria and flies to Paris. In her luggage, she carries the notes that since became a book.

Even after the fall of the Regime, there will not be a return to normal life for Samar Yazbek. A young Alawite, who lives near her hometown of Jableh, off the Mediterranean coast, warned her three weeks before her flight, that she is bound by hatred to the community. “You will always be a traitor” the young man said, “Years will go by before you can safely come back home”.