ALEPPO, Syria — The demonstrations calling for the departure of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad that have swept across opposition-held cities and towns in parts of northern Syria have managed to deliver an important message to the world: The Syrian revolution is far from over.
The protests were called amid Russian and regime forces mobilizing their forces near Idlib while threatening to invade the city. In condemning these threats, demonstrators in Idlib have taken to the streets every Friday since the beginning of September. In a step that rolled back the clock to the early days of the revolution, demonstrators have shown that the banner of the revolution that began in 2011 is the only banner they will hold. For them, there is no room for the colors of extremist jihad.
Residents in the opposition-held cities and towns of northern Syria in Idlib, the northern and western countryside of Aleppo and the northern countryside of Hama took part in mass demonstrations Sept. 28, reasserting the demands of the revolution and calling for the fate of detainees held by the regime to be made public.
On Sept. 21, some one million protesters had taken to the streets in dozens of Free Syrian Army-controlled cities and towns in Idlib province, the northern and western countryside of Aleppo and the northern countryside of Hama. “No constitution or reconstruction until Bashar has been overthrown,” demonstrators chanted.
Women, men, children and the elderly called for the overthrow of the regime, raising the banners and flags of the Syrian revolution. They declared that their movement was not a revolution of terrorists, while radical jihadists tried to counter them and raise their black banner to promote their cause.
On Sept. 14, tens of thousands of demonstrators had marched in the north in opposition-held areas to denounce Russian and regime threats to invade Idlib. “No alternative to overthrowing the regime,” they chanted. The revolution, they proclaimed, is not over. No jihadist banners belonging to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Hizb ut-Tahrir or other Islamic factions were visible that day, only that of the Syrian revolution.
On Sept. 7, members of the Islamist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, had attacked a large demonstration in the city of Idlib in an attempt to stop demonstrators from raising the flag of the Syrian revolution and to instead hoist their own.
Taher Sbai, who took part in the Sept. 7 demonstration, told Al-Monitor, “I was amazed by how demonstrators stood hand in hand against the people who tried to raise the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham banners. I helped force Islamists take down their banners, and we kicked them out of the demonstration. We were hundreds chanting against extremist groups. We only wanted the revolution's banner. We wanted freedom and dignity. Moving forward, nothing will prevent us from demanding our freedom.”
Activists, regular civilians and coordinators of the Peaceful Popular Movement have all been behind the revival of peaceful demonstrations in Idlib and the surrounding opposition-held areas in the countryside of Aleppo and Hama. They have called on the people to express their demands openly, oppose a regime attack and reject Assad's government by refusing to surrender or accept reconciliation.
Ibrahim al-Khateb, a reporter for Orient TV, told Al-Monitor, “The presence of demonstrators from across Syria — namely eastern Ghouta, south of Damascus, the areas surrounding the capital, Darayya, Daraa, Aleppo, the countryside of Homs, and Deir ez-Zor — was remarkable. Idlib and the surrounding opposition-held areas have turned into a mini-Syria, harboring people from several provinces. These people were displaced by the regime, Russia and Iranian militias over the past years. Everyone is united behind slogans calling for the departure of the regime and denouncing the terrorism practiced by the regime and its allies. Demonstrators raised one flag, the Syrian revolution flag. The demonstrations were surprisingly massive after all these years.”
Ghada Bakir, an activist from Saraqib, in the Idlib countryside, who helped organize demonstrations there, told Al-Monitor, “Popular protests are very necessary at this point. It is important to let the world know that there are still millions of free Syrians in Idlib who refuse to be classified as terrorists by the regime. We want to convey to the world a message that there are civilians in Idlib who are entitled to life and freedom. Demonstrators raised the flag of the Syrian revolution and rejected all other banners.”
Bakir continued, remarking, “As we hope against hope, peaceful demonstrations will continue in and around Idlib. Millions of Syrians are calling on the international community to help them gain their freedom and dignity as they try to deliver messages to the world that a humanitarian disaster would ensue should the regime invade Idlib.”
Preparations are currently underway for protests on Sept. 28, to continue speaking out and with the hope of keeping a regime attack at bay.
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