Syrian Activists Launch Initiative To Document Unidentified Bodies; Al-Hayat Editor Publishes Sarcastic Article On Inhuman Treatment Of Anonymous Dead

September 7, 2012  – MEMRI Special Dispatch No.4939

As the fighting in Syria escalates and the daily death toll increases, there are more and more burials of unidentified bodies, as evident from several videos that have been posted on the Internet. In mid-August 2012, Syrian doctors and activists launched a Facebook initiative called “Documentation of Unknown Martyrs,”[1] with the aim of encouraging Syrians to take samples from the bodies and clothes of unknown victims, and to photograph their faces, in order to enable DNA analysis and identification at a later stage. The extent to which this is being implemented is unclear, but the existence of the initiative indicates that the problem of unidentified bodies is widespread, and reflects the Syrians’ desire to maintain the dignity and rights of the dead and their families.

Ghassan Charbel, editor of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat, wrote a scathingly sarcastic article about the inhuman treatment of unidentified bodies in Arab countries and about the dire fate of Arab citizens living under tyrannical regimes. He describes this as a general phenomenon, but the content of the article suggests that it refers primarily to Syria.

The following are details about the “Documentation of Unknown Martyrs” initiative, and excerpts from Charbel’s article.  

“Documentation Of Unknown Martyrs” Initiative: Help Us To Ease The Families’ Suffering

The “description” section on the Facebook page, which has received 2,112 “likes” as of September 7, 2012, reads: “Every day we awaken to dozens of bodies lying dead in the streets, most of which cannot be identified by local residents. They are buried along with the [victim’s] identity, leaving the family unaware. The [victims’] missing person files will remain open until after the regime is ousted, and the families will continue to suffer, refusing to believe that their sons have been martyred without tangible proof.”

“Documentation of Unknown Martyrs” Facebook page

The page says further: “The goal of our project is to document these bodies and preserve samples from them that can later be used for DNA analysis. This will enable us to determine their identity… and remove them from the missing persons lists. This requires minimal effort, but will have a significant impact on the lives of those who lost their loved ones in a war that has no end in sight. Help us increase awareness [of this initiative]. Print flyers and distribute them to activists and residents.” The page administrators have posted a status update explaining that, after stability returns to Syria, samples will also be collected from bodies at government hospitals and will be compared to the DNA of family members of missing persons.The Facebook page includes a poster explaining how to take samples from the body and clothes of the victim and how to store them until they can be delivered to local representatives of the “Documentation of Unknown Martyrs” initiative in the province. The introduction to the poster reads: “My brother, have you imagined the suffering of the relatives of unknown martyrs? Have you felt their anxiety every time the phone rings or there is a knock at the door? Do you know that you can help end this suffering by taking hair from the body of a martyr, which will later undergo DNA analysis?”

Poster explaining how to collect samples from bodies

The initiative has received little attention in the media. The Syrian oppositionist website reported its launch on August 19, 2012, and provided a link to the Facebook page. The report notes that the initiative is necessary because “there are hundreds of martyrs in Syria whose names are unknown and who cannot be identified, in light of the policy of systematic killing employed by the regime since the onset of the revolution against it on March 15, 2011.”[2] The same report was also posted on the Syrian oppositionist website[3] The Kuwaiti news agency KUNA and the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Anba also reported the launch of the initiative.[4]

Al-Hayat Editor In Sarcastic Article: Unidentified Dead Bodies Are “Such A Nuisance” For Our Responsible And Compassionate Regimes

Ghassan Charbel, editor of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat, wrote a scathingly sarcastic article about the inhuman conduct of Arab and Muslim regimes (apparently referring primarily to Syria) that kill their own citizens, bury them in anonymous graves, and then blame the victims for their own death. He wrote: “[The phenomenon of] unidentified bodies embarrasses me, whether [it occurs in] Beirut, Baghdad, Mogadishu, or Damascus. They are such a nuisance for the policemen, the interior minister, the party branch office and the sanitary workers, because they cannot just be left to rot in the streets. That would be a public health hazard, and those who killed them do not want to jeopardize the health of the citizens and the homeland.

“[However,] the relevant authorities do not have the time to do the tests necessary to determine the identity of the deceased. [Furthermore,] it would not do to waste funds on laboratory tests, because these are funds belonging to the people, after all. The number of bodies is large, and is expected to rise even further and reach the size of a city or small country. The time is better used trying to bury the internal strife [in the country] or to confront the conspiracy [against it, a process] which naturally produces more dead bodies.

“Actually, the problem is not the bodies themselves, but rather the [television] screens, which insist on violating their privacy and showing their picture again and again. The biased media has no respect for the privacy of the homeland and the citizens… The authorities, [on the other hand,] are responsible and compassionate. They have no time to summon the widow or the orphan to dispose of the body, because time is money, and circumstances are unusual. So they bring a truck and load the bodies onto it. Sometimes they assign [the bodies] numbers, but not necessarily, and then they leave them to rot in the soil of the homeland. An Arab’s role is not to live, but to hurry up and rest in the soil of the homeland. Besides, unidentified bodies have benefits. The compassionate state buries them for free, and the family is spared the expense of hosting mourners and wailing relatives… 

“Official investigations will not be long in coming: independent investigations by distinguished judges. They will reveal that the owners of the bodies planned to commit heinous crimes, that they were concealing photos of strategic [secret] facilities in their very veins, that they were planning assassinations, bombings and mass-murders, and that one of them was a CIA agent and another was an officer in the Mossad… The court might even decide to subpoena them, and then the security [services] will take them to their headquarters for a routine meeting to help them prepare their defense. [There will be] torture sessions and electricity [i.e. electric shocks], from which most of the city is disconnected. The [security] apparatuses might even provide them with a lawyer, to help them confess their crimes…

“Naturally, they will break down and admit everything: the names of those who misled them, and the generous sums of money they received to carry out the well-planned conspiracy. At the end of the interrogation, they might [even] thank the sniper who ended their lives before they could carry out all the [missions] against their homeland and beloved regime. Who knows – the court might then decide to sentence them to death, and have the verdict carried out immediately. After that, what is left of them can be returned to the cemetery for unidentified bodies. That is how the innocence of the sniper and the guilt of the deceased will be established.”


[2], August 19, 2012.

[3], August 20, 2012.

[4] KUNA News Agency (Kuwait), August 20, 2012; Al-Anba (Kuwait), August 21, 2012.