Anti-Assad demonstration in Kafranbel, close to Idlib (photo: Reuters/Shaam News Network)
"A generation of young Syrians came out onto the streets, not armed with literature or novels but with courage and rebellion and a refusal to obey. They came out bare-chested, indifferent to the possibility of dying. They came out on our behalf and on the behalf of every oppressed Syrian who dreams of freedom, democracy, political pluralism and dignity," writes Wannous

Young people no older than twenty were the ones who led the demonstrations. They were the organisers, the theorists and also the unknowns who, when they died, became mere numbers. These people did not come out seeking fame or a worldwide stage, as did many writers and activists who used the revolution to fulfil their dream of escaping the prison that was Syria and reaching the outside world. These young people are the ones who deserve to be written about, whose stories and rare courage we should narrate.

In an attempt to do them justice, I decided to write the stories of those I met in Beirut, which is so close to Damascus and yet so unbearably far. I met a number of them and listened to their accounts of events, which were extraordinary in terms of their content, the moral values they reflected and the precocious awareness of those who told their stories.

Bearing witness

I had stories published about women who had seen their houses collapsing under barrel bombs and who had looked into the eyes of husbands killed in demonstrations or under torture. I wrote about young people who had gone through living hell, breathing and with their eyes open, in a branch of the security services called the Death and Madness Branch.

They emerged from it by a miracle, ravaged by skin and chest diseases during their brief stay in a room, designed for four people, into which dozens had been crammed. They saw bodies falling apart; they smelled the putrid stench of rotting wounds and deep inflammations. While they were there they hoped that others would die so that they could have an extra lungful of air or an extra portion of food.

Yes, I wrote about them and had their stories published – and then suddenly I stopped and a profound question loomed in front of me on the computer screen. I was writing about heroes whose identities were unknown. I was plagiarising their heroic deeds and myself becoming a pretentious, deceitful heroine.

It was at that point that my inability to write was born, acquiring eyes and hands and feet. It took hold of me and paralysed my imagination. What was imagination compared with these stories, which a short while ago we thought we could find only in novels or in science-fiction films?

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