edited by: Maggie Rosenau
Look closely. See that window? Imagine yourself standing there and staring, trying to find out what can you possibly see beyond. You really want to know what is in there but the window is too high to reach, and there is no way to leave without understanding your deepest desire: what could I find beyond, what kind of life is happening behind this wall, is there anybody in there having the same feelings or is it just you, you alone? Is it really human instinct to know and understand the unknown, or is it just the moment? The moment of you trying to hear the lowest voice or to see the slightest light, that moment when you are standing there by yourself, fully concentrated on what is going on around you. Now you are reading my words and wondering what kind of story am going to tell, what is that window and what is beyond. My name is Anas Alattar and I come from the oldest city in the world and this story is so far from the realistic Life that you all know.
Have you ever been in Damascus? Have you ever heard about it?… It is in the Southwest of Syria. Damascus is a place where nearly everyone knows everyone else. If you want to meet someone you more less know where to find them. If you want to avoid someone, this is also easy to do. In 2012 I was studying mathematics and theatre. Life is fine when you are surrounded by people who you love—friends, family, a lover… people who really support you whenever life gets you down.
That year was a dark year for all of us—not only for me but for all of us. We were 13 members of a theatre group, working on a pretty crazy idea for a new production, Characterization of the situation in Syria if my Expression didn’t failed me, was kind of Dark Political piece of play. As a spectator, you can easily recognize that this play tells our story as a Syrians and what really happened to us. However, wasn’t long before the government found out about us.
Sometimes, when you get a flashback, a memory, or stumble upon a simple line from the good old days, your mind show you the places you were in and the people who you were with. And sometimes you don’t care about other details and most of the time you just let these memories pass by and… you smile.
Me!!… I have played these memories in my mind every single day for the past 6 years. I remember our passion. I still feel our presence there in Larouch Café. I still can see the look in their eyes when we agreed and shook hands on it… for some of us, life started to countdown. On December 10, 2012 all 13 members of the theatre group were arrested with charges of public terrorism. This would be the last day we would ever see each other. And for some of us, this was the last day we had breakfast with our families. Upon my arrest, before I was deposited in the cell, I was forced to wait several days in a roofless room with 12 other men, together waiting the unknown. I was 20 years old back then and believed that with some nice words and a few white lies, I could escape punishment. I was aware of all the charges against me, but still I thought I could work my way out of the situation. After two days, my name was called, as I remember, no one called me by my name again after that.
They covered my eyes so that I could not recall their faces in case I got out by a miracle. The whole atmosphere was scary. I was terrified. They let me stand somewhere near the stairs, I don’t even know how much time they kept me standing there. I’ve literally lost a sense of time. Do you know how horrifying it is to see or hear a man screaming and begging for mercy? Imagine yourself standing there with covered eyes waiting for your turn, listening to something like 6 or 7 men screaming all around the floor, begging, crying, denying everything they never done.
My turn came. The first three minutes of the investigation was somehow like how I hoped it to be. They asked me some questions about my activities. I denied all the charges. They listened to me quietly and I was determined not to stop talking before I set some conviction in their hearts. If you were there, you would easily see and hear how horrified I was. My eyes were covered, my body was facing the wall, and I was trying to listen to each movement move behind my back. You probably also need to know that they feed on your fear, you perceive joy on their faces without even looking at them—as if they experience pleasure before the torture. And whatever you say, whatever you tried to explain, they never leave you alone, never let you go before they have what they want and it’s precisely your non-committal confessions signed by your harmed hand. So… my plan failed and the three minutes I was given had ended. There are many details of that night which I will return to sometime later.
I was still talking and facing the wall when I felt a long metal rod strike my back. In that moment, the real investigation began. I don’t know how many times my legs and back were struck. At some point I stopped counting. I protected my head and screamed like a person in this place was supposed to. I still remember how the first blow felt. The sensation started cold, a feeling that passed though my back to my neck and turned to a hot pain in less than a second. Later, I was hung by my hands because I refused to confess my crimes. Then, electric shocks. Too many to count. These left me unconscious many times. I still do not know how many times I passed out hanging there, but this torture left blue rings around my wrists for two months.
Months earlier I had learned something about how to survive a situation like this: patience. However strong and terrible they beat you, be patient. Never confess after the beatings. Let them get bored and tired. If you’ve done nothing, trust me, they’ll know you are innocent but they won’t care. They will want something. So be patient and wait until you feel that you are unable to take any more, until you feel you are a step away from death, and then say something they want to hear. But keep in mind that you’ll get beaten again for whatever you say. Just do not offer confessions of a serious crime you never committed.
I told them: I want to confess! Please let me down. They did and I crawled to the wall to rest myself against it. They were all listening.
Me: in 2011 I joined the revolution and went out with a random group in streets, I participated in three demonstrations…. that’s all.
Detective: that’s all..??!! ( the beating starts again )
Me (begging) : No. I also burned many tires during these three demonstrations.
Detective: So! It’s a riot.
I guess that was my first victory. The investigation ended. They documented what I confessed and had me sign it. I did, and they ordered me to a cell where I spent the next 6 months of my life.
I won. I earned my victory. You might wonder, after all that violence, what victory I earned? Well, I changed my crime from “public terrorism” to “riot”, which won me life. I am still here!
The night I was guided to my cell, I stood near the door facing the wall, listening to the sounds that came from “The Room”, which is what we called it. I had been warned to get ready to enter the room. They uncovered my eyes and I saw myself facing an iron door with a small window in it. We called it the guard’s window back then. He took his keys and unlocked the door. I was standing behind him waiting with my eyes staring directly at the door to open. That moment was kind of peaceful, because I knew that there would be no more beating no more burning skin. Just people behind this door to treat my wounds. I would go inside and forget what happened that night, just sleep and forget.
The door was opened wide. I saw a room, about 35 square meters. At the inner left corner, there was a small cabin which was our toilette. There was also cold water to shower sometimes. Next to the cabin close to the roof there was a small window no one could reach without climbing. It had an obvious view to the wall behind the room, but if you stood right under it you could see through another high window on that wall, A fine line from the sky is all you could see. There is nothing much to tell about this room, but when the door opened I saw at least one hundred men staring at me and checking my wounds with their eyes. I could not believe what I saw. I thought I had seen enough of psychological and physical torture. I entered the room watching my steps trying not to pass on someone’s space until I found a small spot for myself near the inner wall close to the window. At that moment, I noticed the blue line of the sky and that line was my hope and my strength that kept me alive to tell this story .
So now, look closely….
Can you see that window? Are you still imagining yourself standing there and staring? Are you still trying to keep listening to our stories, do you still want to know what we eat, how we sleep and what we talk about? We are still there, we are staring like you, and wondering like you. Don’t leave. Perhaps your presence revives our hearts. We are people who have been deprived of the sunlight for centuries,.We are people who have been denied even our names. So don’t leave. Keep listening to our stories. We are the population of Ward No. 12.