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9 March 2018updated 09 Sep 2021 5:03pm

Phonecall from Eastern Ghouta: “If we die, humanity dies with us”

A father in the besieged Syrian city of Douma calls. 

By Ahmad Khanshour

What can I see right now? It is almost night – there is no light in Eastern Ghouta. One reason is because there is no power in Eastern Ghouta. The other reason is if we have any little lights in any window, a Russian or regime plane will bomb it. Right now Eastern Ghouta is 100 square kilometres of darkness.

So I’ll tell you what I can hear. I can hear war planes and helicopters – regime ones and more advanced Russian ones. I can hear the crying of the babies.

There are some calm times like now, but there will be much more noise in a few minutes. I haven’t had any sleep for a couple of weeks – I can sleep for just one hour or two. The bombardment is very noise, and it makes the women and children panic. It can go on and on. It’s unbearable. It’s a nightmare.

I myself have two sons, aged three and one. My house was somewhere else, but it was targeted and destroyed so I moved to my family home. Right now I’m sitting on the first floor, because the internet doesn’t work in the basement.

Eastern Ghouta is a bunch of small cities and towns. Before 2011, two million people lived here – now it’s 400,000, and they are underground in the cellars. People are trying to find some peace in the basements, but they are going crazy. They can’t go out into the sun, or do their daily work and so their situation is deteriorating. The water is polluted. Some people have spent three days without a meal. The luckiest people are having one meal a day.

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There is supposed to be ceasefire – what ceasefire? It is a joke, but we are crying, not laughing. My cousin was injured during the ceasefire. Yesterday 12 people were killed during the ceasefire.

Life for is like playing Russian Roulette, only you have sevens odds against you and one with you. In the mornings, I go out to try to find food for my family. I know I may come back – or I may not. If we are lucky, I come back with something to eat, and they welcome me as if I came back from the end of the world.

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A very little thing may cost you your life. Just trying to get a few litres of water may cost you your life. A thousand people have been killed in the last 18 days. Can you imagine? Each family in Eastern Ghouta has somebody dear to them to cry about.

I love travelling. Before the crisis, and the siege of Eastern Ghouta, I had been to Turkey, Lebanon and many other countries. I was doing some import-export business and had a branch in Turkey. Our life was OK but we were living under a dictatorship.

In 2011, there were protests in my city, Douma, and more than a million people participated. That is why the regime is punishing this area. In 2011, our protest was peaceful and all we asked for was our freedom to choose. We demanded real elections, not the dictatorship kind where 99.9 per cent vote for the same result. We were asking for democratic rights. We thought the whole world would sympathise with our demands.

There is no weapon the regime hasn’t tried on us, from starvation policy, cluster bombs, shelling, phosphorous, and – as reported worldwide in 2013 – chemical attacks. It breaks my heart every time I go out and see what the regime is doing to our city. There are many photos on the internet.

The regime is trying to hide what it is doing by saying there are terrorists in Eastern Ghouta. It’s a lie. We’re normal people, moderate people. The Free Syrian Army were the first group here to fight Isis, even before anyone called them Isis. There are around 200 people out of a population of 400,000 affiliated to Jabhat al-Nusra and the FSA has them in custody.

I appreciate your call. I am used to spending time in here and talking to the internet – no problem. I’d like to say I’m ashamed as a human being that the whole world is watching Eastern Ghouta being destroyed. People have been starved and besieged for six years and right now they are being bombed and shelled. I am ashamed as a human being.

Everybody now should try to do something. Send letters to your MP. Make some noise. Because if we die, then humanity will die with us.

It is not fair to bomb one person – so how about 400,000 people? It is not fair to kill one person – 100 people are dying every day. It is not fair to say if you don’t want to be killed by bombardment you have to go somewhere else.

It really is a disgrace of human nature that I have to die with my kids under bombardment, or I have to go somewhere else where there is a chance the regime will detain me, or I will have to be smuggled to a European country, and become a refugee.

I don’t want to leave my house. It has memories. This is where my home is.

As told to Julia Rampen. This is an edited version of Ahmad Khanshour’s transcribed phone call from Eastern Ghouta. He is a Ghouta-based activist. You can find more voices from Ghouta here, more information about casualty figures here. The New Statesman is unable to independently check the number of extremist fighters in Eastern Ghouta: more information about them can be found here. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has however claimed there are “a few hundred” fighters.