When I randomly ran into that kid Ahmad aged 12, I did not expect him to be the son of an officer responsible for torture in one of the security branches in Damascus. When I asked him about his studies he replied enthusiastically, telling me about the weekly demonstrations he attended with friends and the sit-ins at school protesting against the educational system or a teacher’s behaviour. I asked him how he felt about these activities. His answer was that these protests are what he liked the most about school. They were the reason why he went there.
That school and that kid are no exception to the rule. Since the
beginning of the revolution here in Syria, students have been demanding the
fall of the school head. After-school gatherings provide an opportunity to
organise demonstrations demanding various things, from the fall of the regime
to new clothes for the holidays from their parents. The challenge for the
school management is to control these gathering and to disperse the students.
Other children like 15 year old Nizar are not content with school demonstrations and have taken upon themselves the task of spraying revolutionary slogans on every door and wall they pass by in a Damascus suburb. Every night Nizar goes out with his friend Wael who plays watchman, while Nizar climbs up high to spray his message where a lot of people can see it.
The new generations of children and students have been inspired by the
revolutionary uprising that has spread throughout the Arab world. They have
transcended the barriers of fear that was planted by the Syrian regime in past generations
in order to establish and maintain their dictatorships. During the time of Hafez El Assad ↑ , schools
were turned into army barracks. Children were treated like soldiers and forced to
wear military uniform and pledge loyalty to the one great leader every morning.
The curriculum consisted of extensive military training throughout the school
year with the application of military discipline. In addition all civil society
institutions and youth movements were, if not shut down, absorbed into the
Ba’ath party youth movement.
Under Bashar, who took over from his father in 2000, and despite the cessation of the military system of schooling in 2003, the morning assembly loyalty chants are still a regular thing. The chants cannot be challenged or stopped: all that has changed since the Hafez era is the name of the ruler. The structure remains the same, only now there dependence has changed to parties found in the villages and regions of Syria.
Now more than 14 months after the revolution began in Syria and with
more than 1000 children martyred, the whole question of children demonstrating
and participating in the revolution has become a topic of heated debate. Many
Syrians draw the line at this, convinced that it poses a threat to their lives. Many other parents
are proud of their children and indeed are out on the streets demonstrating
In any case it does not seem that the massacres and repressive measures the Syrian regime has enacted against it’s own people in places like Houla, are deterring this popular mobilization and somehow inexorable revolutionary rise. This feeling has even spread amongst people who would normally support the regime, and also some within the regime itself.