October 22, 2013
At night, a pervasive darkness brought on by electricity shortages blankets the village of al-Qah in Idlib province. A kilometer away, Kuwaiti-funded al-Aisha Camp for the internally displaced (IDPs) is lit by generators.
Rawan is a nurse in the camp and one of Syria’s 5.1 million IDPs. She has lived in al-Aisha for two months after fleeing her village of al-Houla, outside Homs.
Neutral at the beginning of the war, Rawan, a Sunni, lived among Alawites in al-Houla. On May 28, 2012, she witnessed the United Nations-condemned al-Houla massacre, where the Syrian regime and the shabiha are reported to have summarily executed at least 108 people in two separate incidents, mostly women and children.
Syria Direct’s Nuha Shabaan visited al-Aisha camp and spoke with Rawan about the massacre, her decision to flee her village and life in al-Aisha camp.
Q: Where is your husband? Tell me about al-Houla.
A: My husband [a farmer before the revolution] is outside Homs in the village of Al-Houla, with the fighters. He’s 35. I was with him when the first massacre happened in Al-Houla.
The perpetrators of the Al-Houla massacre are the residents of Al-Houla. The shabiha [pro-Assad militias] are our neighbors, people who used to eat and drink with us.
The massacre happened on a Friday, when all the men were in the mosque, praying. The shabiha called the regime and told them that all the men were in the mosque, that the houses were empty of men. They took their orders from the regime and went to people’s homes. There were around 50 of them, or more; I saw them with my own eyes. They were going to houses, killing women and children in the morning. Reports say 100 women and children were killed.
After they finished, they called the security forces and told them the operation had been completed successfully. All the men returned from prayer to find their families killed. They went mad, and decided to exact revenge. They gathered at the mosque, and the shabiha surrounded them and killed them all. By a miracle, some survived.
Imagine gathering all the women and children and raping them. They didn’t have enough time to kill them before the men got back from mosque, so they put them in one house, closed the door and burned them alive. A massacre in the morning and a massacre at night.
A checkpoint near al-Aisha Camp outside of Idlib. Photographs are forbidden inside the camp, where residents fear for their safety.
Q: How do you know this information and how are you still alive?
A: My husband and I, at that time, were with neither the regime nor the rebels. We were living with people who were with the regime, and we couldn’t say anything. After we saw what happened, and saw the shabiha coming to us and speaking in front of us about what they had done to people, I hated them. I spent a lot of nights crying, but I couldn’t do anything.
I decided to get out. I couldn’t handle it anymore and I had to leave Houla. I told my husband, “Only Allah can make me stay here.” He agreed and told me to wait until he had time to plan everything, so that they won’t notice that we had left. Afterward, he joined the revolution publicly, but not before me and our children left safely.
Q: What else did you see or hear?
A: There were other people helping the shabiha, unfamiliar faces. In Houla, you know everyone in the neighborhood. You can tell who is foreign, and the way of killing is different. I saw many knives with words written on them, “We are coming, Hussain” [a religious reference for Shi’a armed groups].
When I asked, “Where did you get these knives?” they responded, “from our Shi’a brothers.” The Shi’a are helping the regime.
My uncle was against the regime. He was killed the day of the massacre, with Shi’a knives.
Q: When was the last time you saw your husband? Do your kids ask about their dad?
A: I last saw him 6 months ago. My children are are always asking about him. I always give them hope that they will see their father soon, and I talk with them about the revolution.
Q: Why was Homs targeted?
A: Homs was targeted because Bashar wants an Alawite state, and he wants to add Homs to his country. Most people in Homs stand with the revolution.
Q: What do you do here in the camp?
A: I work as a nurse in the clinic. I give medicine to patients who come here. I have two colleagues who work with me: one is a nurse and the other is a legal midwife.