We are not Israel! One of the officers ordered his men to set the house afire. It was almost evening, and the power had been cut. Wisal rushed out into the dark street. Women were wailing. Bodies were strewn everywhere. She found Uday, eyes open, as if he were still alive. For two days, the Army continued killing. Haf and a few rebels were spotted near a farmhouse outside town.
Regime soldiers opened fire. Haf ran behind the farmhouse and shouted for his men to escape while he provided cover. He was killed within minutes.
That evening, the Army left Saraqib. He wept as Haf was buried. He felt that his own youth, idealism, and imagination were being lowered into the earth along with his friend. The regime moved on to quell rebellions in other towns, but it left behind a few checkpoints, and a sniper positioned himself in a radio tower overlooking the neighborhood of Mousab al-Azzo, the former soccer coach. For months, the sniper shot at anything that moved. A four-year-old girl was struck in the spine and paralyzed.
Hossein, who lived nearby, could visit his home only after sunset, wearing black. But, with the regime forces largely gone from Saraqib, surviving revolutionaries began to regroup. Amid burned market stalls and heaps of rubble, protesters filled the streets once again. Qatar and other Gulf states flooded Syria with guns and money, and rejuvenated rebel units were soon invading Aleppo and pressing at the gates of Damascus. In November, , rebels in Saraqib expelled the sniper, and the final regime checkpoint fell. Elated demonstrators blared revolutionary songs from car speakers.
He had little time to celebrate: his town had to contend with continued shelling, destroyed markets, devastated neighborhoods, and homeless families. Municipal directors and factotums had fled along with intelligence agents and shabiha. Trash piled up, electricity was intermittent, schools were open irregularly. They decided to establish a twelve-member body to govern Saraqib, and they called it the Local Council. Hossein was named its first president. Not long afterward, Hossein was introduced to Kinda al-Kassem, an in-law of his brother. She had studied physics at college and was now teaching the subject to schoolchildren.
In response to the exigencies of wartime collapse, Local Councils had spontaneously arisen in hundreds of liberated towns and cities.
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Hossein and his comrades knew of no model for such a bottom-up government, but they understood that whoever ran Saraqib would need strong public support. Hossein concluded that Local Council members should, one day, be chosen through a free and fair election. Not all residents embraced the notion of a democratic Saraqib. The first hints of resistance came from the market, where DVDs that portrayed the exploits of jihadis battling American troops in Afghanistan were surfacing.
Then, during the sniper days, Hossein began noticing bearded fighters around town, who kept to themselves and did not carry the tri-star revolutionary flag. Their leader was a stout, jovial man known as Abu Anas. In the nineties, Abu Anas, a teacher of Arabic literature, had founded a circle of activists devoted to opposing communist ideas—then popular in universities—and to championing a purist doctrine of political Islam called Salafism. After , some of these men went to Iraq to battle the U.
In a series of amnesties in , most of these fighters were released, and made their way back to Saraqib. When the revolution erupted, Abu Anas and the Salafists avoided the Friday protests. We have this chance to learn from the experience, to create something for all of Syria. As the revolution militarized, Ahrar al-Sham remained underground.
Only after regime forces invaded Saraqib did the fundamentalists begin to show themselves in public. With funds from Qatar and private donors, Ahrar al-Sham bought heavy weaponry and attracted recruits. In a matter of months, it became the most powerful rebel group in Saraqib. Before long, chapters began appearing across Syria. In early , a Saraqib man drinking alcohol was kidnapped and beaten. Not long afterward, masked men barged into the office of a grassroots organization, demanding that female employees cover their hair.
After activists established a local court to try crimes committed by rebels, Ahrar al-Sham maneuvered to install three religious sheikhs—turning it overnight into a Sharia court. One afternoon, fundamentalists appeared in the Saraqib market with two prisoners. A long-haired fighter declared that one of them was guilty of allowing his daughter to remarry too soon after a divorce. The prisoner was made to kneel. As two other fighters restrained him, a masked man delivered violent blows with a whip, counting aloud.
Hossein and his fellow-activists were outraged. Though many of them were pious, they had come to the conclusion that faith was a matter of the heart, not of the state. It is like a cold war here. We want a civil state! For the first time in the revolution, a protest in Saraqib had split. The secular demonstrators broke away, waving the revolutionary three-star flag, shouting for freedom and unity.
In this growing division, the revolutionary fervor of many Saraqib residents was flagging under relentless regime shelling and economic catastrophe. The fundamentalists attempted to win popular support by highlighting corruption in F. Religious courts like the one in Saraqib offered reliable, if harsh, justice, whereas secular courts in the region were riddled with conflict and inefficiency.
But for most citizens the core issue was bread, which the regime had once supplied at subsidized prices to poor families. Ahrar al-Sham opened a bakery in Saraqib and began providing cheap bread. When Ahrar al-Sham opened a clinic, Hossein hunted down donations for the public hospital. When the fundamentalists began providing aid for war widows, he scrounged funds to do the same. Ahrar al-Sham had wealthy donors in Kuwait and Qatar; Hossein and his comrades were forced to appeal to Western sources, including various U.
Nusra was even more radical than Ahrar al-Sham: it advocated banning cigarettes, segregating unrelated men and women, and covering women—even female mannequins in store windows. There were staccato bursts of gunfire at night and, by morning, news of young men gone missing. Leaving had never been an option for Muhammad Haf, or for his other slain comrades.
To abandon the town now, he told himself, would be a betrayal. One day in April, , he drove outside town to discuss the failing power grid with members of various armed factions. He approached a lone checkpoint on the empty road.
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Suddenly, he was snatched from his car, blindfolded, and thrown into a trunk. At a nearby wheat mill, a Jordanian from a radical splinter faction asked him about Western funding of the Local Council. His phone and laptop were searched, and then he was put inside a shed, its door bolted shut. Occasionally, a man entered and pulled up the cap; Hossein blinked in the light as the man shoved a sandwich at him, ordering him to eat.
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But mostly he was alone. He could hear the singing of birds, the bleating of livestock. He tried to think of home, his wife, and his comrades, but the pain was so unrelenting that his mind went blank. When he reached home, he realized that the fundamentalists had overplayed their hand: his kidnapping had sparked protests across Saraqib. His captivity had lasted only six days, but Hossein was deeply shaken. There was no safe quarter. That evening, Hossein resigned from the Local Council.
In the spring of , a rebel coalition that included Al Qaeda and had heavy Gulf backing captured the city of Idlib. This triggered Russian intervention in Syria, and soon two air forces were screeching through the skies above Saraqib. In the bazaar or the schoolyard, people would hear the low rumble of an approaching aircraft and run in panic. Once, rebels downed a Russian MI-8 transport helicopter in the suburbs. According to local aid workers, Russia retaliated with a hundred and sixty-five air strikes, hitting schools, shops, the blood bank, the cemetery. The Local Council members strained to keep the town afloat while trying to stay alive themselves.
Once, when Hossein was visiting the Local Council headquarters, an opposition activist came to the door. The activist was scheduled to visit that day, but he had foolishly announced his plans on Facebook. The men soon heard the faraway whirring of a chopper. Hossein switched on a walkie-talkie; it was blaring warnings of an incoming aircraft. Casement windows blew outward; dust choked the air. He looked down at his legs to see a man clutching at them. During the next four years, the regime scored five direct hits on the Local Council. It also diversified tactics. In April, , a helicopter dropped three smoking cannisters over the neighborhood where Hossein and Azzo lived.
People vomited and lost consciousness. One woman was rushed to the hospital, foaming at the mouth, but did not survive. Bombing raids in Saraqib became so routine that activists developed an early-warning system. If a plane taking off from Aleppo began cutting across the eastern mountains within two minutes, a call went out to lookouts in Idlib province. If it banked over the town of al-Hader, the lookouts knew that it was coming for Saraqib. Residents had only seven minutes to flee.
Activists spread the word on walkie-talkies and cell phones. Rebels fired shots into the air. People drove outside town to hide in fields and in olive groves; after the raid, they returned to see if their houses were still standing. The regime eventually learned that residents were escaping and dispatched an L Albatross to strafe fleeing vehicles.
Residents began making getaways on foot, or, if it was dark, in cars with the headlights turned off.
Syria’s Last Bastion of Freedom
Nevertheless, they spoke of their gutted and starved town with a sense of hope, even wonder. By , Saraqib had been free of government authority for nearly four years, and in that time the town had experienced a flowering of art and political debate. Before the revolution, the hamlets of Idlib lacked a single local newspaper.
Now dozens of liberated towns issued their own weeklies and monthlies. In Saraqib, the leading publication was the Olive , which sometimes featured frank debates about the role of Islam. Activists established Radio Alwan, a station featuring news and commentary, by fixing a small FM transmitter to the back of a pickup and trundling down neighborhood lanes, broadcasting programming block by block. Nestled among half-ruined buildings were the headquarters of institutions previously unknown to Saraqib: a poetry forum, a comedy troupe, a theatre company.
Inspired by Bertolt Brecht, an ensemble of actors staged plays that broke the fourth wall, drawing the audience into tales that offered pointed critiques of war profiteering and other injustices. An activist collective painted over bullet-scarred walls around town, daubing the crumbling concrete in luminous greens and blues, and inscribing them with philosophical musings and fragments of verse. Mousab al-Azzo taught himself video editing and began filming the aftermaths of Russian air strikes—rescue workers pulling bodies from rubble.
He would break down in tears, then compose himself and upload the video to YouTube. He became a correspondent for an F. The strength of this revolutionary movement blunted the impact of Ahrar al-Sham. By , Ahrar al-Sham had grudgingly adopted the revolutionary tricolor flag. At the same time, Nusra, which was well funded and tightly organized, was swallowing up swaths of the Idlib countryside.
Carefully at first, and then with increasing brashness, its members descended on popular organizations; revolutionary newspapers were shut down, and activists were hounded into exile. By , Saraqib was one of the few places in Idlib unconquered by Nusra. Saraqib, however, had one of the few Local Councils that levied taxes, so it could afford to keep pace in the delivery of services.
Yet, even with both camps doling out aid, there was not enough to go around. Most residents could find only a few days of work at a time, if any at all. They spent nights by candlelight, and sometimes turned on the faucet to find it dry. Discontent against both sides simmered. What are they spending it on? Hossein was skeptical at first. And so, early the next morning, when F. Hossein and his friends regrouped at the farmhouse where they had celebrated the election.
He lay awake at night, listening to the thumping of artillery fire. In the morning, news reached them that Nusra was hunting down men belonging to Ahrar al-Sham. The fight had the appearance of a mere factional dispute, but Hossein knew that Nusra was using it as a pretext to abolish the Local Council and install a new dictatorship.
Many Ahrar al-Sham fighters fled; a few dozen stalwarts holed up in a bunker at the F. The only hope for Saraqib, Hossein believed, was to persuade Ahrar al-Sham members to leave the city, keeping the fighting as far away as possible. He headed for the bunker. The streets were deserted. He passed the Local Council headquarters, and saw masked Nusra gunmen pulling down the revolutionary flag. At the F. Masked gunmen began scaling its walls. Some fighters carried giant Al Qaeda flags. Hossein texted friends, relatives, anyone he knew, pleading for assistance.
Other activists sounded the alarm over walkie-talkies. Defend your revolution! Mousab al-Azzo heard the call. The streets had begun to fill with residents carrying the three-star revolutionary standard. Someone in the crowd began filming on his cell phone; Azzo turned to the camera with a message for Nusra. Our system of government will remain civilian. In some cases, as with Chronicles of Narnia , disagreements about order necessitate the creation of more than one series.
Tip: If the series has an order, add a number or other descriptor in parenthesis after the series title eg. By default, it sorts by the number, or alphabetically if there is no number. If you want to force a particular order, use the character to divide the number and the descriptor. So, " 0 prequel " sorts by 0 under the label "prequel. Series was designed to cover groups of books generally understood as such see Wikipedia: Book series.
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Like many concepts in the book world, "series" is a somewhat fluid and contested notion. A good rule of thumb is that series have a conventional name and are intentional creations , on the part of the author or publisher. For now, avoid forcing the issue with mere "lists" of works possessing an arbitrary shared characteristic, such as relating to a particular place.
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