styles of political violence: protest, revolt at Syrian Embassies

The Syrian Civil War has continued and worsened. At news of the latest massacre in Homs, protests erupted around the world. I will not try to discuss events in general; others can do that better. I just want to highlight how Syrians have protested in other countries, how they have used political violence – against buildings, not people – to deny the murderous state’s legitimacy; and to physically establish a new, revolutionary democratic state (in both senses of the word). They have (a) style.

[Edited… immediately. These diaspora revolts are live; I will be behind the news, but I will try to keep up.]

In my post on Armenian Genocide archaeology at risk, I gave a little background and a few sources on the Syrian Civil War; but the news is everywhere now. As Zeynep Tüfekçi (@techsoc) observed, ‘I follow 100s around the world & my timeline is all #Syria, all #Homs, all #Hama. I want to live in a world where Assad can’t survive this.’ I follow very few people connected with North Africa; but it has been the same for me. This is my minimal contribution.

Syrians’ efforts have ranged from simple protests, to suppressed or limited revolts, to dislodging the autocratic regime from places of power, to installing the democratic revolution. Here, I have collated descriptions of the diaspora’s actions; at the end, I have drawn out the style of their revolutionary activity. And they do have great style.

Simple protests

Naturally, there were embassy protests against the Syrian regime before the Homs massacre; for example, one outside the Russian Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, on 29th January, and one outside the Syrian Embassy in Nicosia, the Republic of Cyprus, on 3rd February. But I want to try to document the protests since the massacre.

Since the Homs massacre, there have been protests outside Syria’s Embassy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE); its Embassy in Doha, Qatar (after the place had been inaccessible for days, ‘fully surrounded by police‘); its Embassy in Nouakchott, Mauritania; its Washington, D.C., its Mission in New York, and its Office of the Honorary Consulate General in Troy, USA; its Consulate in Montreal, Canada; its Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden; its Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark; its Embassy in Prague, Czech Republic; its Embassy in Valletta, Malta; its Embassy in Ankara, Turkey; its Embassy in Manama, Bahrain; its Embassy in Tokyo, Japan.

As Sara Marei (@saramarei) observed of the first protest in Saudi Arabia on the 4th of February, ‘[a]lthough [it] might seem insignificant, it’s a really big deal’. Upon seeing the second protest there on the 10th, Mobisher Rabbani (@MobisherR) simply said ‘[w]ow epic’.

Communication specialist and human rights activist Leila Nachawati (@leila_na) livecast and tweeted a protest outside the Syrian Embassy in Madrid, Spain (which I heard about via the International Business Times).

In Beirut, Lebanon, there were simultaneous anti-regime and pro-regime protests outside the Russian Embassy. Apparently, the anti-regime protests were linked to al-Jamaa al-Islamiya. Syrians, Kurds and al-Jamaa al-Islamiya (the Lebanese Muslim Brotherhood) held the anti-regime protest. Either Russian Internal Security Forces or Lebanese security forces kept the protests apart. There have been similar for-and-against protests in Muscat, Oman.

Away from sites of diplomacy, there have been protests in Europa Passage in Germany’s second city, Hamburg; in Parade Square in another German city, Mannheim; and in Hyde Park in Australia’s second city, Sydney.  There was a flash mob on Queen Street, Cardiff, Wales. The Morning Star reported that ‘protesters clashed with police’; but there was no sign of that in the video, and no reports of that on Twitter or YouTube.

Suppressed revolts

In Amman, Jordan, men and women protested outside the embassy. The regime’s Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) – which freely admits that it is ‘linked to the Ministry of Information‘ – produced anti-revolutionary propaganda about the protest. However, in doing so, it acknowledged that the ‘saboteurs‘ ‘tried to break into… the Syrian Embassy’ (though Jordanian security forces prevented the occupation). (They have also protested outside the Russian Embassy.)

In Saudi Arabia’s second city, Jeddah, security forces suppressed the protests outside the Syrian Mission.

On 4th February, in Turkey’s second city, Istanbul, Turks joined Syrians in protest at the Syrian Consulate. But there was no violence; they did not try to occupy the building, and the Turkish security forces did not try to drive them away. On the 5th February, however, Turkish police prevented protesters from occupying the Consulate; they tear-gassed the crowd.

According to Zilal (@Zilal1), Milan-based Syrian activists got into the Syrian Embassy in Rome, ‘broke the picture of Assad‘ and raised the free Syrian flag; but according to the Italian National Agency of Associated Press (ANSA), the police prevented them (hat tip, @ItaliaNEWS).

Yemen has increased security around the Syrian Embassy in Sanaa, in order to prevent any revolt (hat tip, Yemen Watch (@YemenWatch)).

Limited revolts

In Ottawa, Canada, ‘a few young guys with rage inside them’ red paint-bombed the Syrian Embassy entrance. Protester Abdullah al-Haj stated that the building was ‘dirty with the blood of civilians killed in Syria’.

In London, England, protesters demanded that they wanted ‘to close the embassy‘ and realise a ‘free Syria’. They too paint-bombed the Syrian Embassy’s door; and bottled and stoned the building, smashed windows, then broke into the building.  British riot police drove them back, but they have laid siege to the embassy. A Syrian doctor (@hell_raiser87) reported a fear that Syrian security service agents in the embassy had ‘film[ed] protesters & us[ed the] footage to intimidate relatives in Syria’.

They have also protested outside the Chinese Embassy in London.

On the 8th of February, a group entered the Syrian Embassy compound in Belgrade, Serbia; they wrote graffiti and smashed windows.

Overturning the established order, dislodging the regime

Even one restricted revolt was successful. On the morning of the 4th of February, in Tunis, Tunisia, protesters ripped down one of the regime’s flags from the embassy; then Tunisian police dispersed the protesters. However, Tunisia has since withdrawn recognition of the Assad regime; and the Syrian Embassy has lowered the regime’s flag.

In the evening, anti-revolutionary “Tunisians Unveiling the Role of the media in Distorting the Truth in Syria” ‘cleaned’ the walls of the ‘mob”s writings and ‘put back the Syrian national flag‘.

Dislodging the regime, creating a symbol of democratic revolution

Some of the diaspora revolts have managed not only to disrupt the embassy’s operation, but also to turn the embassy into a symbolic site of revolution.

On 3rd February, in Berlin, Germany, protesters ‘broke into and vandalized‘, partially ‘demolish[ed]’ the embassy; they defaced images of Assad, wrote red slogans calling for ‘revolution‘ on the wall, and hung a new flag from a window. As Josh Shahryar (@JShahryar), Andy Carvin (@acarvin) and JD Davis (@jadt65) noted, the protesters stormed the embassy ‘before [the] attack on Homs so likely not in response to the massacre there’ (hat tip, @OccupyLSX).

After the Homs massacre, ‘enraged Syrians‘ stormed the embassy in Cairo, Egypt; broke down the gate; smashed furniture, computers and other equipment; and burned some of the building.

In Kuwait City, Kuwait, Kuwaiti and Syrian demonstrators broke windows and stormed the embassy; they destroyed facilities, tore down the Syrian dictatorship’s flag and raised the Syrian opposition’s.

On the 4th of February, protesters chanted ‘liberté, liberté [liberty, liberty]’, scaled the walls, and entered the Syrian Embassy compound in Brussels, Belgium, where they unfurled free Syria flags.

https://twitter.com/#!/DSyrer/status/166341729967026178

According to SANA, on the 5th of February, they broke the windows, entered and smashed equipment and furniture.

In Athens, Greece, protesters broke into the embassy, smashed windows and painted anti-regime slogans.

In Canberra, Australia, men forced entry and ‘smash[ed] up‘ the embassy; they caused ‘considerable damage‘.

Dislodging the regime, converting the embassy into a site of revolution

One revolt has even managed not just to dislodge the regime from the embassy, but to convert the embassy into a site of permanent revolutionary activity.

On the morning of the 4th of February, in Tripoli, Libya, protesters broke the embassy’s windows, climbed onto its roof and changed its flag for the revolutionary one. Then, the Syrian regime’s security guards drove the protesters out of the embassy compound and changed the flag back. (At some point, the Assad staff left the building.) In the afternoon, men, women and children returned, with the Syrian National Council’s authorisation to take over the building; and the Libyan guards let the protesters pass.

The SNC’s representatives entered and occupied the embassy, and began to search for documentary evidence of the Syrian regime’s crimes. The Libyan National Council has officially recognised the place as the Embassy of the Syrian National Council.

They have also attempted to occupy the Russian and Chinese embassies in Tripoli. Murad Merali (@OhSweetArabia) reported that Syrians had successfully occupied the Chinese Embassy; but Reuters only acknowledged that Syrians and Libyans had pelted it with stones, eggs and tomatoes (hat tip, @newsate). Libyans and Syrians climbed on top of the Russian Embassy, removed the Russian flag and replaced it with the flag of free Syria. The Libyan National Council has now promised to provide security for the Russian Embassy (hat tip, Merlyn Grossmeyer (@MerlynGrossmeye).

Style in the Syrian democratic revolution

To show their rejection of the legitimacy and the sanctity of the Syrian state’s embassies, protesters smashed their windows and paint-bombed their entrances.

(Many host states tried to protect the embassies, because it was a legal duty, and because they feared retaliation against their own embassies; but some security forces were overpowered; and some host states had withdrawn recognition from the Assad regime, and thus left the site to be converted into a site of permanent revolutionary activity.)

However they got in, the Syrian revolutionaries then physically destroyed the regime’s places of power, the tools of its operation. The revolutionaries removed symbols of the regime – tearing down flags, burning pictures; and they replaced them with symbols of the revolution – raising the flag of a free Syria, writing their uprising in revolutionary red.

A note on memory and amnesia

As the Agence France-Presse (AFP) observed,

The attack on the Syrian embassy in Canberra has echoes of another event almost 20 years ago when [Mujahideen-e-Khalq-linked Iranian] dissidents attacked the Iranian embassy.
On April 6, 1992, a group of about 10-15 men charged into the embassy, trashing the chancery, setting fire to papers, smashing furniture, scrawling slogans on walls and assaulting staff.

The Iranian dissidents tried to cripple the state by causing institutional amnesia; they hoped to prevent it from acting by preventing it from remembering. Some of the Syrian dissidents may have tried to do the same by destroying the regime’s computers; or the computers may have been other symbols of the regime.

Yet some of the Syrian revolutionaries tried to destroy the state by preserving its archives, by preserving its history.

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