The Sanctuary

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The sad life story of the Syrian people is now retold by an Iranian man who travels there and discovers that the holy shrine of Hazrat Zaynab (PBUH) is a strong-standing sanctuary for these people.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: Reading the news headlines, I couldn’t help noticing the tormenting news on Syria. I could no longer ignore my conscience. I took my camera; called Ahmed; and was on my way.

Syria … Damascus …. Zeynabieh, Capital of the resistance, The Haram, refuge, Frightened and crying children, grieving lone women, Destruction resulting from a historical savagery in our modern age, Thousands of innocent people killed and millions of others driven from their homes through the most primitive and savage methods ever encountered in history …

I have always wondered why we are compelled to cling to life. What kind of attraction is there in life for the sake of which we would close our eyes on the actual truths of any era.

My friend Ahmed, born in Zeynabieh, a young talented student, upon learning of my arrival in Syria, left his dormitory in a city far from the capital to come and welcome me at the airport. At first sight he seemed to be living his life as usual, but as I watched him more carefully I could make out an old pain in his eyes.

Zeynabieh, where he lived, had never been this important, neither prior to the war nor at any other time in history – a traditional old style city, with the ordinary life of an ordinary society.

Why would a warring enemy have such intense interest in capturing such a small place! What kind of home should Ahmed live in for several war-hungry imperialist countries to want to steal it or destroy it?

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Ahmad, Local Citizen: “All the factories and poultry farms in this district belong to the state and everything is under the control of the Syrian army. Heavy fights broke out in the area. One of the neighborhoods called al-Mahames is where I used to work for a time with my friends. The terrorists attempted to occupy it; but we resisted and they failed. Here the security line is the same as for Zeynabieh; and this road is as I speak, 100 percent safe. There are no problems here. On the left, there is a neighborhood called Shab’ah, which was also besieged by the terrorists. Passing by, one can see much of it in ruin; a lot of people were martyred there over a protracted period.”

Narration: Everything had changed from before. The embankments and the ruins had altered the city’s map.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Ahmad, Local Citizen: “The fighting occurred behind the rear wall and they tried to raid the city through that rear wall, but they failed and sustained lots of casualties, forced to retreat. Abu Karrar, an Iraqi sniper, was martyred in one of those battles. The only road and passageway, which was under our control, is this one we are on right now. The other roads were all closed and the entire Zeynabieh region was surrounded from four directions.”

Narration: The tall buildings were abandoned. It seemed as though the city and all its wounds was relying entirely on the shoulders of the Haram minarets, Lady Zeynab’s sanctuary, beneath the shadow of which some of our fighting men are resting.

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

CONVERSATION [Arabic] A man talking to children: “-How long have you been living here?

-I’ve been here since early winter.

-Early winter… it means you’ve been here for almost a year now?

-Is there a problem with that?

-I don’t know. I don’t think so.

-What does your father do for a living?

-My father is a military man.

-Where are you from?

-Al- Fouyeh.

-Were you here during the fighting and the explosions? What do you remember?

-There was an attack here.

-You could hear bullets and mortars firing and passing over our heads.

-Were they attacking this place?

-We were besieged here.

-They were firing from the surrounding farms,

-From the direction of Aghraba?

-From there and from every direction, but thank God it has all ended.”

Narration: We all love children… children aren’t born with war and politics on their minds. But a child who plays while hearing bullets and mortars fired by the takfiris sees only two choices: either to stay and bear up, or to die. Death is not very far from these children. These children have long been resting under the haven of the Haram. They have left behind a lot of hardship; and now, when they see a stranger, they become frightened.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Local Women: “Is everything okay, now?

God is witness that we do not have any electricity. Take a look at how we live, we are in misery. For ten days we’ve been living with this situation. God helps us; we can ask only him to solve it.”

Narration: Neighborhood children share their lovely childhood memories, but for Ahmed, he would see his wounded friend returning from the front and instead of remembering childhood games, he would grimace with a painful half smile.

CONVERSATION [Arabic] Ahmad & His friend: “-Would you tell us when you were wounded?

-Almost two and a half, or maybe three years ago.

-I was wounded during the war when we launched an attack at Naba al-Sakhr.

-God willing, you are fine and healthy and won’t meet any further hardship.

-How far are the Arhaabi forces from here?

-Approximately one kilometer.

-What is this square called?

-This is the Hajireh Seyedeh Zeynab square.”

Narration: Aghraba, the first defensive front of the Haram, distance from the enemy - only 50 meters. The takfiri tribes, with primitive minds, launched their attacks and the people were gradually driven from their homes.

CONVERSATION [Arabic] Some men: “-Would you make us two cups of tea?

-Who are these guys over here?

-We are five people (I and Abu Mo’tasem, Nasser, Mo’tasem, and Asem)”

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

Narration: If the resistance hadn’t lined up against the enemy, right now the Lady Zeynab’s Haram would have suffered the same fate as Darya and other occupied regions.

CONVERSATION [Arabic] Some men: “-How is the situation here?

-Thank God everything is okay.

-Are there any fights going on?

-Only small ones - sniper fire from time to time.”

Narration: Aghraba was occupied quickly. But the people from that region made up the Haram resistance with the bones of their bodies!

CONVERSATION [Arabic] Some men: “-We don’t fear the snipers during the day.

-They shoot at night time to avoid getting identified.

-Here it is mostly calm at night.

-Some battles break out; but then it becomes calm again.”

-Are you comfortable here?

-Yes. Thank God, everything is alright.

-How many terrorists over here? Are they a lot, or a little?

-Yes. They are in great numbers. We estimate between 1000 and 1,500.

-How big is the surface area of this place?

-The region spreads from the Haram precinct to the Bibila; and from there it extends to Yalda and Haji al-Sood.

-How long is the firing distance?

-The firing distance between us and them is approximately 150 to 200 meters.

-But if there is a fight right here, they could penetrate from a number of places, like the one you showed us; right?

-They could get as close as 50 meters from us.

-Have there been any martyrs in this region?

-Yes, close to 30 of us have been martyred in these precincts.

-Thank you very much. May God protect you.”

Narration: Hajireh is the closest neighborhood to the Haram; and it was occupied not long ago. It was a place where most of the refugees, immigrants and the homeless from other countries such as Palestine would reside, under the auspices of the Syrian society and government. The destruction in this region is so extensive that you could not find worse in all Syria; and the story of its liberation is as lengthy as that of the Arabian Nights.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Ahmad: “Right now we are in Zeynabia in the Hajrah neighborhood in Fa’ez Mansoor street, near the Khaled Ben Valid Mosque, which, due to terrorist bombings of homes here, lies basically in ruins. We are now heading towards our home, the home of my sisters and I, where we were besieged and attacked by the enemy coming from the direction of the Khaled Ben Valid mosque. Two days after the attack, this neighborhood was evacuated as it fell into the hands of Al-Nusra terrorists. But thanks to God, after some time we were able to regroup and strike back, mounting an offensive in the Zeynab neighborhood and sanctuary, and then we moved onward toward each neighborhood seized by the terrorists.”

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

Narration: When I saw Ahmed’s home I sadly understood why he no longer smiles and the reasons behind the great sorrow in his eyes.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Ahmad: “Here is my home, and my family’s home. As you can see our house was fired upon, and fights were going on here… From this point; they were firing from here.”

Narration: Why target Ahmed’s home? It was just a home, not any type of military stronghold.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Ahmad: “They burnt my home to the ground; they took revenge in a vicious way. They showed no mercy, neither on the people nor on the buildings.

They know nothing of Islam. Here is the entrance to the first floor; everything has been destroyed; everything has been reduced to ashes, due to the spread of fire throughout. This was the bedroom. As you can see, nothing is left.

They only pretend to be Muslims; look… they even threw the holy Qur’an to the ground. They pretend to be Muslims, but they throw the Qur’an to the ground.

Look; they have wrecked everything.

Many fights broke out over there. On the minaret a sniper from the Arhabyoons shot at people - anyone and everyone, it didn’t matter if it was a child, a woman or man. He fired and killed everybody in his sights. But popular resistance forces finally hit him with an RPG.”

Narration: I asked Ahmed to drop by at Hussein’s shop.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Ahmad: “How are you doing? What’s new?”

Narration: I was a little shocked at the sight of Hussein… one of Zeynabieh’s most honorable merchants, who instead of dealing with weights and balances, was now dealing with bullets and weapons.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Hussein: “We used to make a good living here. Now look at the place. In order to defend Zeynabieh, we first joined the Lajaan Sha’bi group and worked with them to defend this region. Afterward, we joined the Syrian Army and fought on their side; but we weren’t comfortable having to be violent. We had the best kind of life here. I can’t even describe it. At nighttime, everywhere was safe. A woman could even go out at midnight and no stranger would accost her. But with the beginning of the fights, when this disorder and crisis began… as he said, we joined the resistance forces to defend our homes, our honor and our country. But I remember in the afternoons, when we got back from a day’s work, we used to sit here with neighbors and friends and relax together.”

Narration: Hussein lost his family in this war and his house is in similar condition to Ahmed’s. I had heard that the defenders of the Haram are not only Shiite Muslims and so I was keen to know what other religions fought with the Haram and with the resistance.

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Clergy man: “This assembly, made of scholars and priests both Muslim and Christian, insists on the unity of this nation; they insist on defending our dear Syria holding tight the belief that it shouldn’t be abandoned, God willing. Thirdly, it relies upon the unity of Muslims, wherever they are, and whatever their situation, because Syria existed before this sedition and before the imposition of this war. And with God’s help it will become as before and will withstand its enemies.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Clergy man: “They intended to turn this into a sectarian war, and they qualified it as such. But they were mistaken and this intention failed them because we in Syria live together alongside all tribes and clans. We live on good terms with all religions and no one causes any inconvenience to the other.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Unknown man: “Thank God all the pain that we’ve endured from the terrorists has actually forged a spirit of resistance in us; and regardless of the damage we will endure; we will rebuild again. Anyone who is martyred by the enemy is replaced; the resistance does not end. And among these wars and foreign aggressions and retreats what remains is the truth; and if God wills it, the truth will be with us and we will be victorious.”

Narration: Those who think that this war is a sectarian conflict should look to Walid. Walid is a Sunni inhabitant of Zeynabieh who was taken hostage by the takfiris for many days, but he was rescued and released by his Shiite friends.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Walid: “In this neighborhood thousands of Syrians - Shiites, Sunnis and Christians - lived together. The market was crowded and there were plenty of shops… until the Syrian crisis started. Demonstrations began right here, right in this region. Then weapons started coming in. The inhabitants armed themselves and most of the people were actually in favor of the terrorists. The Syrian army was at the end of the street; the terrorists were at the beginning. They were 100 meters from each other.”

Narration: In my opinion, Walid and his story exemplifies the terror and grief, which I hope will not be lost in the corridor of history and narration…

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Walid: “This neighborhood fell into the hands of terrorists for one year and it was besieged by them. There, as you can see, it is in ruin. This house belonged to a Syrian army general – it was bombed and destroyed by al-Nusra fighters as they occupied the neighborhood. The house over here belonged to one of al-Nusra’s commanders. We, as the people and inhabitants of Syria, don’t really understand how this all happened; because we didn’t have any trouble amongst us. We were a people living together: Shiite, Sunni, Alawi and Christian, we didn’t have any problems. This are experienced just ten days of war. Before that, everything was normal. We had security. But now look. Everything has been destroyed. The terrorists were here in this street; people in this neighborhood supported them; meaning that, here, people were in support of the terrorists, the moderate and extreme takfiris.”

TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00

Narration: The sound of a frightening explosion shook the streets. The enemy wants to see the Haram’s surroundings less crowded with people so it uses every opportunity to make Zeynabieh feel unsafe. Yet another suicide attack …. more tears …. more blood …

SOUNDBITE [English] Local Citizen: “Here are the remains of an explosion by the terrorists from the al-Nusra Front. They would make fortifications here and they planted bombs in these houses because the owners were pro-Assad and weren’t among those who pretended to be ‘freedom seekers’.

All of this devastation was brought by terrorist groups: the al-Nusra, Jeysh-al-Islam, Lava-al-Towhid, Abayeel-Houran and Lava-Shohada-al-Joelan. They destroyed everything. They occupied this mosque and were living there.

Every mosque represents God’s home, one of God’s homes for worship. But they used this one as their headquarters. Their mission was to control the Seyedeh Zeynab region and this is where they held their meetings. Look, this is the so called freedom that they sought; and look what they have done. Come and see with your own eyes what they believed freedom stands for. Here are some of the phrases terrorists have written on the walls; terrorists who mimic Islam and faith. Whoever has written it doesn’t know at all what it really means, this is not what being Muslim is. Here you can see how they dug out tunnels to try to reach the Haram; this is just one of them. In this tunnel terrorists used to come from this entrance and go out to the street from another opening to avoid being noticed by the Syrian army.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Defender: “In this building, which you can see in the image, some terrorist groups were trying to penetrate into a second building. Here you can see that they are still there, here in this lower building, right beneath us.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Local Citizen: “Here, in this tunnel, terrorists established themselves and were able to move in and out; that’s why we closed it up. They destroyed this shop because its name was “Al-Hussein’s products”. Everyone participated in its destruction just because the name “Hussein” appeared on it.”

TIME CODE: 30:00_35:00

Narration: Feelings are what you can understand, much better than the reading or hearing of any historical document.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Unknown Woman: “We took Yazan to the al-Badr hospital. We all went to the hospital because we were fearful and anxious. I accompanied Yazan. My children Marhaf and Yamam walked toward the army inspection post to tell them what had happened. While I was inside the hospital my husband was standing at the hospital entrance. A sniper shot my son Marhaf while they were on their walk. The bullet hit his head and he fell down over his brother Yamam. Yaman pulled himself out from underneath his brother’s body and tried to escape. He went to the basement of one of the buildings. Crossfire had started between the terrorists and the government’s soldiers.

Here was the army inspection point, and on the other side were the terrorists. Marhaf was shot while he was walking towards the army. The army responded and I stayed at the hospital with Yazan until I received news that Yazan was martyred. The crossfire lasted a quarter to half an hour, and then the army came and pulled me out of the hospital, to save me from the terrorist attack. At the time I didn’t know what had happened outside. I was looking for Marhaf and Yamam. Yamam was with the army and they told me that Marhaf had been martyred… I thank God. I envy him; but I can’t help feeling sad and sorry.”

Narration: The Haram minarets of Zeynabieh, with all its pain and wounds, still stands, the refuge for many including those driven from their homes in Halab.

CONVERSATION [Arabic] With a local man: “-Hello sir, where are you from? How do you feel?

-God keeps the youth, keeps you and us also.

-I am from Halab.

-God protects our army.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Defender: “Here is an army inspection point to facilitate people’s traffic and to protect the neighborhood children. The guys from the inspection point are from different religious backgrounds. Thank God we have no disunity amongst our people or among different religions. Thank God we are all brothers and we love our country.”

TIME CODE: 35:00_39:07

Narration: Even the Christians in Syria are aware of the evil and subjugating nature of the takfiri forces.

VOX POP [Arabic] Local citizen of Syria: “Lately, terrorists have caused much devastation; a large number of explosions have occurred in Germana – a Christian neighborhood. Life used to be peaceful and there was a good example of cohabitation among all Syrian people. This was also the case in other Arabic countries, not just Syria. The takfiris will have to leave sooner or later and it will definitely be so. This crisis is a Zionist and American scheme. Now, everyone has come to understand that whoever has come in from foreign soil, will leave.”

Narration: The Sunnis and Christians had a good relationship with the Haram and have respected it throughout its history. This is an important factor for the sustaining of unity against the takfiris.


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