The Scarecrow Demonstration of Darayya

04 December 2013 Darayya is a town renowned for its contribution to civil resistance since the beginning of  the Syrian revolution. The city of Ghiath Matar and Yehia Sharbaji, known for handing flowers and bottles of waters to soldiers of the regime, was the birthplace of many of the uprising’s most innovative resistance tactics. In July 2012, the town went a step ahead with the first demonstration of scarecrows.

Scarecrows, used in Syrian fields to scare away animals and birds, were dressed up as demonstrators, held up banners and signs and set up in the town’s central plaza. The scene seemed frighteningly perplexing for the regime’s security services. Their bullets, that were shot at the wooden statues all the same, seemed to announce their defeat to the innovative imagination of a resourceful people.

The activists came up with the idea as a way to keep the civil resistance alive during a time of an increased militarization of the revolution. They made many scarecrows in different sizes representing all ages. The wooden statues were dressed up as normal people, and were given banners representing the nonviolent ideals of the revolution. The scarecrows were also made to represent, through their banners, all of the religious and ethnic backgrounds of the Syrian people. The banners included: “Revolution is our only hope”, “The civil state is our dream”, “I have a right to education, not to be murdered”, “Europe, America, the World, what civilization are you talking about?”.

Announcing to the world their aim of a free, democratic and civil state in Syria the scarecrows “marched” in the town’s central square of al-Turba. The square was chosen for two main reasons: One is symbolic, as it witnessed the town’s earliest protests before being expelled from the square by the security forces. The activists hoped the scarecrows would announce their triumphal return to that symbolic place. The second reason was that the square always attracted a large number of the regime’s forces. When the security forces started their morning routine of occupying the square they were frightened by the sight of the motionless statues and started shooting to break them.

After the demonstration, the town of Darayya was punished severely by the regime’s forces. Heavy and random shelling by mortars from Damascus lasted for several days and led to many civilian deaths. But the town’s defiance never faltered, and the broken scarecrows were picked up again by the activists to send a clear message: “even if no man or woman is left on this land, the scarecrows will rise up to defy the regime’s tyranny.”

The scarecrow demonstration of July 2012 joins a long tradition of the town of Darayya in the line of innovative resistance. And despite all the losses the town suffered, its legacy will live just like that of Muhammad Qureitem, the activist and journalist behind the idea. Qureitem, who died in a bombing campaign in December 2012, had this to say to his mother: “I am certain that this will lead to my imprisonment where I won’t see the light of day. But I will risk my humiliation, in the hope that it will alleviate that of others. I will risk my incarceration, in the hope that it will alleviate that of others. And I will risk my freedom, so that others may have it. Help me mother, for I have chosen my freedom, and yours.”