Homs in Yellow: “We would rather die on our feet”
On that morning, Homs awoke to the sight of yellow pamphlets everywhere: “Yellow Covers Homs”, “13 neighborhoods under siege since June 9, 2012”, “250 families on the verge of dying of hunger”, “591 days of siege”, “To die of silent starvation is just another massacre of Assad” and “To die of hunger is more painful than to die of chemical weapons”.
These pamphlets were distributed by activists in the besieged neighborhoods of Homs including al-Qarabis, Jouret al-Shayah, Bab Houd, Bustan al-Diwan, Wadi al-Sayeh, al-Hamidiyah, Bab al-Turkman, al-Safsafa, Bab Tadmor, al-Warsheh and Bab al-Dureib. Left over the rubble of destroyed houses, in the cannons of derelict tanks, and on street corners and roundabouts, the pamphlets were just another attempt to shake a world that has turned a blind eye on Homs.
The campaign chose the color yellow to express the “catastrophic situation in the city after 20 months of siege,” according to one activist. The pamphlets document staggering facts about the reality of the situation: “There are more than 4,000 people, living under siege since June 9, 2012 in 13 neighborhoods, representing around 250 families. During these past 20 months there have been more than 1,000 deaths and 1,000 injuries including 8 deaths strictly from malnutrition, as well as more than 300 children who have been without school for nearly two years.”
The campaign also addressed the delegates meeting in Geneva with considerable scorn: “We will not accept you unless the siege is lifted,” one banner declared. Another banner, carried by one of the participating children, read: “To those meeting in Geneva: we demand the complete lifting of the siege, not just humanitarian assistance.”
The campaign faced little concerns security-wise, as it was organized in areas controlled by the opposition, and had support from the local population. Nevertheless, the activities were limited by the available resources and lack of sufficient funding, as well as the almost constant electricity blackout.
The activist group, while acknowledging a certain level of protection afforded to it by the opposition military groups in the face of regime’s threats, maintained that the interaction with the organized militias was limited to issues of security. Activists from the group considered the campaign as a part of a “complementary and parallel track to the military struggle, and in no way less important, especially at this stage.”
The campaign also comes as representative of difficult times for civil society in the country. Pushed into a corner, civil activists are finding it more and more difficult to campaign for the lofty ideals of the earlier months of the revolution, and are gradually turning to campaigns focused on strictly humanitarian concerns, due to the tragic situation in many areas of the country.
Despite the difficulties and the narrowing margins for civil society activism, the Yellow campaign in Homs proves the importance of such work even under the worst of conditions. And as to the besieged people of Homs, the campaigners have one message: “If we are to die, under the shameful gaze of a world gone mute, then we shall do so standing on our feet.”