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Ilhan Taner is an honorable and humane Turkish journalist. He’s the Washington correspondent for the daily Vatan and a columnist for Hürriyet Daily News. Having been told that the videos of carnage coming out of Syria were doctored or manufactured to exaggerate the scale of the catastrophe there, he decided he had an obligation to see for himself. He disguised himself as a naive Turkish restauranteur and went to Syria undercover. He was there for two weeks before being arrested and deported. He’s in Istanbul now, and I saw him last night. Physically he’s fine, but obviously, the experience was traumatic.
Here’s a column he wrote, in English, about what he saw:
Most, if not all suburbs, are holding “mudahara” protests every night. When I first witnessed a mudahara on Jan. 14, in the Damascus suburb of Qaboun, the regime’s irregular forces, the “shabihas,” attacked unarmed protestors in front of my eyes. Two or three minutes into the demonstrations, when people began chanting “hurriyet,” or “freedom,” Kalashnikovs began shooting indiscriminately into the crowd.
My friends tried to protect me by hurrying me into a car, but it was too late for us to speed away from the scene. I saw shabihas dragging one protestor, shot seconds before, into their car. I saw several others arrested and given heavy beatings. A shabiha in his mid-40s, with white hear and a clean-shaven face, let us go after our driver calmly explained that we were just passing through and had been stopped by the protestors.
This was a lifetime’s experience for me, but something protestors in Syria are going through every day.
During my stay I visited countless families who had lost their sons; saw orphaned little children who still didn’t know what happened to their fathers, uncles and relatives. The regime’s security forces sometimes randomly kill people simply because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But the misery doesn’t end there.
The regime’s security forces systematically arrest all the relatives of a person they just killed in order to silence them. I have heard of many arrested and tortured just because their last names are the same as somebody killed by the security forces. The al-Assad regime clearly demonstrated to me its skills in terrorizing its people.
I visited more than half a dozen different Free Syrian Army (FSA) branches in various cities and the FSA appeared much stronger than anyone described before. Except for central Damascus, every city has its own FSA organization. Some of them were recently formed and are growing fast, others are already taking over the streets during the evenings. They establish their own checkpoints in these ghettos to protect the protesters. I heard over and over again from people on the ground that their only hope is for the FSA to succeed.
We spoke for some time yesterday about the sheer horror of the situation and the way this has simply fallen off the world’s attention–as if it has become quite normal for this many people to die in Syria daily. I’m in no way diminishing the significance of what happened yesterday in Egypt, nor trying to measure suffering against suffering, but I note that it makes the front page of the mainstream news when 73 Egyptians die. It does not even seem to penetrate consciousness anymore that Syrians are being killed in these numbers regularly.
Later today, I’ll record a video interview with Ilhan and post it here. I wonder if anyone on Ricochet has any specific questions for him beforehand?Published in