Dozens of men were lined up in a small apartment room in the city of Daraya, with their hands over their heads and their shirts stripped off as they faced the walls, anticipating death at any moment.
Each man was questioned for 15 seconds before being assigned to a fate at the hands of Syrian government forces — whether to be released or shot to death.
Regime soldiers invaded the town shortly after rebel fighters, known as the Free Syrian Army, surrendered the city that had been besieged by the government for weeks, which had left them desperate without access to food or medicine.
Men, women and children were brutally killed; their bodies sprawled in rows in apartments and streets.
These were among the horrendous pictures painted in the minds of the audience Saturday, as tragic scenes from the 2012 Daraya Massacre in Syria were recalled by surviving witnesses who visited the Marshall Student Center.
“I vividly remember one man that was taken, where the soldier told him ‘From the color of your eyes, I can tell that you are a terrorist,’ and seconds after was shot on that basis,” said Anas Aldabbas, a Syrian survivor of the Daraya massacre and guest speaker for the “Voices from Syria” event held by Students in Solidarity with Syria, a USF student organization.
Aldabbas said he was one of the lucky survivors who was left in the apartment as noises of gunshots were fired a small distance away.
He and the other survivors waited until the noise of gunshots stopped and there were no signs of the forces near to finally leave the room they had been kept in, he said. Shortly after, he found the bodies of the families that lived in the floors above him.
Aldabbas is one of the five survivors who came to speak with USF students about the Syrian conflict, recalling much of what they had experienced in the war-torn country over the past three years.
Hiba Sawwan, a 24-year-old woman from the town of Mo’addamia, told the audience about her fiancé who was killed by a government sniper on the day of their wedding, three hours before they were supposed to get married.
She tried to hold back her tears as she played back the events she experienced while living in Syria.
“During the siege in Mo’addamia, children would cry at night because they had no food to eat, while parents would promise to buy them chocolate or chips in the morning if they slept and stopped crying,” she said. “Mothers would boil water and add spices and feed it to their families as a soup because there was nothing left to eat.”
The survivors stressed that sieges in the towns had left the Syrian people desperate for resources, whether it be food, medicine or clothes for the winter.
Many people died from starvation, Sawwan said, mostly children.
Though the country has faced atrocities without rule and stability, the small town of Daraya has elected a president and vice president democratically, as part of the Local Council of Daraya. It is structured with a general assembly, general secretary and executive bureau, to create a self-governed community in the absence of a national government, to unify revolutionary sources and represent the community.
Ossama Chourbaji attended the event as a representative of the Local Council of Daraya.
Through this council, Chourbaji said, the locals have established community service projects, schools for children, gardens and farms for self-sustainment and police authorities to keep the town in order.
“The first thing that was done when the council was established was a cleaning operation to get the streets clean,” Chourbaji said. “Also, all the weapons were collected from the town and were registered with serial numbers and officially made as property of the Council so that only authorized personnel could handle them.”
The speakers also spoke of how they met with Robert Ford, the U.S. Ambassador to Syria, to get the U.S. to aid the Syrians with more supplies and money.
“When we asked him why the Americans aren’t helping the Syrians even though they know about the suffering we are going through, I was shocked to hear him say the American people need to be convinced first,” Sawwan said. 12