Sunday, 1 October 2017
Woman, Syrian and Revolutionary
'Razan Zeitouneh was one of the most famous faces of the Syrian Revolution. Her tireless work of documentation and denunciation of human rights violations has earned her numerous international distinctions, including the Sakharov Prize in 2011. Her "disappearance" in a suburb of Damascus in December 2013 has come to symbolize the obscuring of civil society activists for the benefit of Islamist militias, even jihadists.
The novelist Justine Augier , now based in Beirut, has devoted years of research and writing to deliver "De l'Ardeur" . This impressive book of mastery and precision is significantly subtitled " History of Razan Zeitouneh, Syrian lawyer" . Beyond the literary performance, it is indeed a meticulous job of reconstructing a personality that has undoubtedly aroused at least as much rejection as adherence. For Razan, let us call it by her first name to better mark our respect, is intransigent and determined, rigorous and passionate. "Rebellious and very calm". In a word, revolutionary.
Justine Augier met and gathered the testimonies of about thirty people and "from every one heard what Razan had done for them." The author plunged into the Syrian dialect to get closer to its sources. She was confronted with the volatile nature of virtual documents, Facebook pages that "disappear" too, with truncated recordings, when they are not diverted. Her method, she reveals it step by step. But above all, she who has never known Syria builds her approach between "two well-known pitfalls" , that of identifying Razan too closely with a closed milieu and that of disincarnating her in an abstract universality.
This is the course of this pious and conservative middle class Damascene child who will emancipate herself by opposing the right to dictatorship. Justine Augier does not pose her heroine as an icon, but follows her as a young lawyer, fighting against the Assad tribunals, building trust with the sans-grade and their families, often with an intolerant faith. Where most prominent human rights activists focus on the famous causes of their peers, Razan discovers Syria from below every day. During the protests of March 2011, she contributed to the network of local co-ordination committees, which root the uprising in the long term and in society, where the outside world expects a hierarchical vanguard.
Razan has been underground since May 2011. For Bashar al- Assad, who frees jihadist detainees by hundreds, nonviolent opponents are the worst of nightmares, that of a citizen alternative to tyranny. "De l'Ardeur" shows us how Razan escapes the track of the different political police, taking on it, on his sleep, on his health, prohibiting rest. In April 2013, it joined the suburbs of Douma, in the west of Damascus, controlled by insurgent militias. But these "liberated" areas are at the mercy of the bombing of the regime, which has the monopoly of the air force. They are also subjected to a ruthless blockade, which fuels the juicy trafficking of war profiteers. Razan denounces the bargaining of the starvationers and the exactions of the militias with the same virulence as the crimes of the dictatorship. In December 2013, she "disappears" with three other civil society activists.
There are tens of thousands of women and men who have "disappeared" in Syria since the beginning of the repression by the Assad régime, from the spring of 2011, against entirely peaceful demonstrators. The life of the relatives of these "disappeared" is henceforth suspended at the slightest hope of finding their trace. Many spend exorbitant sums to finance a more or less reliable intermediary, to negotiate a proof of life, to pay in vain a ransom to simple scam artists. For all these "disappeared" parents, appeasement is no more conceivable than mourning.
Delegate of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) in Lebanon, I had written in 1984 the first report on the "disappeared" of this multiform conflict. I was overwhelmed by the infinite pain of these parents, now at the mercy of the slightest rumor, the most abject blackmail on their dear "disappeared". And I learned, sometimes very many years later, the "reappearance" of people who were thought to be lost forever. This was especially the case when the unfortunates had fallen into the hands of the torturers of Assad father and then of Assad son, especially in the terrible prison of Palmyra / Tadmor .
Justine Augier offers us one of the most poignant moments of the book during her exchanges with Yassin Al-Haj Saleh. Al-Haj Saleh, an unbelievable opponent of Assad, now based in Istanbul, could be described by the "World" as the "free voice of Syria" . He was imprisoned for sixteen years by the Assad regime and his wife "disappeared" in Douma at the same time as Razan and that their two companions of misfortune. He had long believed that the four militants had been abducted by the Jaish al-Islam militia, dominant in Douma, whose leader had directly threatened Razan. But he is now convinced that such a complete "disappearance", without the slightest sign of life, can only emanate from the Assad regime and its cult of secrecy.
The loop would thus be closed: if the dictatorship Assad can make "disappear", it can, it has proved in the past, let "reappear". We can not better illustrate the perversity of the abuse inflicted by such a regime on its people. And one will turn away from such a horror for, with "De l'Ardeur", evoke and invoke Razan in the present. To the present of Syria. To the present of the revolution.'