|ALL IMAGES BY ROGER HANLEY|
In January this year, I spent three weeks in Syria. It is a complex, fascinating country. I found the Syrians, in all their bewildering ethnic and religious variety, some of the friendliest, most hospitable people I’ve ever met. Though when I was there it felt safe, calm and peaceful, every television I saw was tuned to Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, all eyes watching the Egyptian Revolution unfold almost next door.
In theory, Syria should have been next in line for a similar flowering of what has become known as the Arab Spring, given its bitter history of dictatorship, but in practice, it didn’t seem possible, such was the grip of fear in which the regime of Basher al-Assad held the nation. I found it very difficult, almost impossible, to talk openly with Syrians about the government. They were very reluctant, always deflecting my questions or changing the subject. One expression I did hear though, was “In every group of three people, one of them is Assad”, referring to the insidious web of government spies and informers who keep watch over the people. And even in that short period I saw numerous, small examples of the casual, sometimes ruthless arrogance of the government.
But just five weeks after I left, the barrier of fear, astonishingly, came tumbling down, as protests over the arrest and torture of a group of young boys in the southern town of Deraa swept over the country. These protests, mostly peaceful, and incredibly heroic, have continued every day for over five months, despite a vicious crackdown by the regime in which at least 2,200 people have been killed, 15,000 arrested and as many as 3,000 have disappeared.
It is impossible to know how the Syrian Revolution will play out. It is not nearly as simple in physical or human terrain as Libya, and Western governments have been muted at best in their actions over the crisis, in contrast to Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Libya. I dig for information most nights, dreading the news of fresh slaughter that I too often find.
These photographs are a snapshot of the Syrian people, in places such as Damascus, Aleppo, Palmyra, Hama and the Krac des Chevaliers. Some of them, as they protest for the fundamental rights which we (so foolishly) take for granted, may even now be in the sights of government snipers.
Our silence, almost as much as the dictator Assad, is killing them.
You can see more of Roger's work here.