Aleppo University Carnival
This diary entry was written for Al-Ayyam by a student at Aleppo University who attended the protests on May 17, 2012. The original text is published on Al-Ayyam’s Arabic section.
A fire has been burning at Aleppo University since classes resumed four days ago.
We came back after that vacation they forced on us after the events at the university’s housing. I was in despair because my work prevented me from participating in the student protests. I decided to go to university today before heading to work. I do not know why I did that. Maybe because yesterday was a big day at the university and I just had to take a look today, or maybe my visit was more akin to a pilgrimage to a holy place.
So I went to my university, to one of the most rebellious faculties. The atmosphere was grim and it was obvious no one was expecting to pull off a protest today because of the increased presence of security officers. The administration was also on high alert. The faculty’s dean was standing at the bottom of the staircase in his full majesty and personally inspecting all students.
I made my way to another faculty and waited with my friends. We waited for a long time. We drank coffee. I introduced one group of my friends to another, and by this I ensured the presence of all members of the Syrian family.
A protest finally materialized. It was an ok protest. Usual number of participants. I joined and emptied my chest.
I left when it ended and returned home. Just when I got there, I received a call from a friend. He told me, “Get up and make your way back quickly quickly. The monitors are here and it’s magnificent.” I cannot convey the tone with which he spoke, but it was unusual, it had a new confidence. I turned to my friend and asked, “What do you think? Shall we go back?” He responded with, “But we were just there…”
I convinced him to come with me and we took a cab back to the university. Throughout the trip I was eager to arrive, like a little kid asking, “Are we there yet?” We finally arrived to the university’s square and saw that the protest was inside the university’s gates, by the Baath Party building. Of course the gates were closed. Anyone giving the security forces the slip was being chased, cursed, and in one case, beaten. We waited a quarter hour while the UN monitors’ car and the protest were inside the gates. We waited anxiously for them to make their way out.
The protesters finally reached the Faculty of Medicine. They stormed the faculty in one go. Nothing could stand in their way. Not security forces nor anything else. It was a spectacular sight. So many students everywhere. I could barely believe what I was seeing! We were chanting all the usual slogans, but this time they roared with a vigor I had never experienced before. The monitors’ car passed right in front of me. The boys had left their marks on it. They didn’t leave an inch they didn’t scribble slogans on. Five or six students were on top of the car!
At the same time another group of students behind us were destroying the mosaic portrait of the buried one (Hafez). Every time I passed in front of that portrait I dreamed a day would come where we could destroy it. That day would come, I told myself, but I didn’t know when, or even how! They destroyed it. I watched as they slammed it with a rock. They spray painted the remains too!
We marched forward a bit. There we reached a bunch of brave ones. They were scaling the fences to raise an independence flag. A boy got it up there but as soon as he climbed down it fell. The crowd started chanting, “Do it again, do it again.” He didn’t disappoint them. But on his second climb he lost his footing and almost fell. The crowd chanted, “go on hero.” This gave him the confidence to regain his footing and finish the climb. This time the flag stayed in place.
Then we left the campus. Here, we come to the main subject of this story. The monitors’ car stopped between the university hospital’s staircase and the Faculty of Medicine’s entrance. Students surrounded it from all sides. The northern road leading to the university was completely filled with protesters. A bus loaded with security forces arrived, took a look, did a 180-degree turn, and backed away. They saw there is no hope for them!
We chanted all our slogans. We saluted all cities. We chanted our love for our martyrs, our Free Syrian Army, and our heroes at the university. Wherever I looked I couldn’t believe my eyes. What was happening was beyond my wildest dreams. And it was happening for real! I was sure that the march to Saadallah Al-Jabri Square was not going to last long. We will need more time before we will make it there, but it’s not impossible. What happened at the university was once impossible.
The students wrote on the street, on the sidewalks, on the billboards, on everything. They climbed trees and traffic lights and hanged independence flags. During all this a rather ironic thing was taking place. The students were ripping the candidates’ posters, writing on them, and using them as banners.
Of course, the protest, which by now had turned into a carnival, didn’t last long. People were still joining us. I saw older people, even ladies as old as my grandmother. A young teenager who was walking in front of me was chanting very vigorously. His father was pleading with him, “Come on son, haven’t you had enough?” I suspect the father let him walk with us to let him vent. I also noticed a man in his thirties. He was carrying bread in his hand and chanting at the top of his lungs. He looked like a man who has to run around all day to make enough money to eat. I think he had a chance to participate in a protest and just had to take it.
The participants in the carnival-protest were of all colors of Syrian society. Arabs and Kurds, Muslims and Christians, women with veils and women in casual dress and yet women with fancy coats, people from all cities and all shapes, they were all there. We chanted, “One, one, one. The Syrian people are one.” We chanted for unity and against sectarianism.
The protesters said they wanted to pray thanks to God. I looked to my friend (a Christian) and asked, “What do we now? Do we do the Sign of the Cross?” A veiled student overheard me and laughed. I asked her, “Well, what do we do?” She told me that we should kneel and they will do the Sign instead. She drew a cross on my face, she didn’t do it right, but I will never forget that spark I saw in her eyes. And we continued chanting.
Today was truly a carnival, the best I’ve ever been to. I wish there was a helicopter overhead filming that massive crowd. I did not hear a single curse from the protesters. I did not see any objectionable action. No one even bothered with that billion-man loyalist protest of no more than 20 people who crossed our path. Know that if we wanted to take them, we could’ve. They would’ve just been stampeded. But everyone ignored them, even when they pelted us with rocks. I mention this only so that you know what Bashar’s supporters are like.
We were all one. Some people bought water and distributed it to the crowd. We needed it because we really did shout until our throats were dry.
I ran into into many of my friends at the protest by chance. I even ran into a person I met from Daraa today just before the protest. I didn’t know where he stood. When I saw him again at the protest we hugged and kissed like we were old friends. We were all hugging and kissing. It felt like the regime had collapsed. People were taking photos of themselves, realizing that today we made history.
I was overjoyed. The protest was peaceful and dignified even by the staunchest standards. I will never forget the ecstasy I experienced at the carnival today, especially that they named “Heroes of Aleppo University Friday” as a tribute to us.
I am a proud student at Aleppo University