BEIRUT — The blurry pictures circulating on social media showed several women in white, dressed as brides, standing shoulder to shoulder in a covered market in the old city of Damascus. The banners they carried were ostensibly innocuous, calling for “the end of all military operations.”
“Syria is for all of us,” they declared. “You are tired and we are tired. We want to live. Another solution. …”
Even that was a perilous act of defiance in November 2012, when peaceful protests had become rare in the center of the Syrian capital. The women, led by the activist Rima Dali, were arrested.
Ms. Dali had also been arrested seven months before, for standing silently in front of the Syrian Parliament with a sign that said, “Stop the killing.” Even then, many of President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents were turning to arms, and arrests and disappearances were beginning to chill what had once been frequent protests in and around Damascus. The bride protest was not only unusual — it was also a bold statement that peaceful, civilian opposition was still alive even as the conflict worsened.
Mr. Assad’s supporters argue that the Syrian uprising was never peaceful. His opponents — and even some Syrians who reject both the insurgency and the government’s handling of it — say that security forces deliberately arrested peaceful protesters before violent ones, and later focused military power on relatively moderate insurgents and their civilian supporters.
No one knows how many civilian activists remain detained or disappeared. What is clear is that leaders who could have been the faces of nonviolence and reconciliation, like Mazen Darwish, a journalist and rights activist arrested in February 2012, are languishing in jail.
And now, Syrians are posting pictures on Twitter of activists they say they have identified among the bodies of those who were arrested, photographed by the defector code-named Caesar.
The government is not the only culprit. Countless civilian activists have been jailed and killed by militants of the Islamic State and other jihadist groups — Razan Zeitouneh, the decorated human rights lawyer missing since December 2012, and three of her colleagues are believed to be held by the insurgent Army of Islam.
The “brides” stuck to nonviolent protest in the face of these developments. The demonstration in Damascus would be the only chance for the sisters Lubna and Kinda Zaour to wear wedding dresses. Their own nuptials, in exile in Turkey, were subdued and private, deflated by the pressures of war and sectarianism. Members of their extended family, who are part of the Druse minority, threatened Kinda for marrying a Sunni Kurd. As for Lubna, “No one was ready for a wedding,” she says. “We celebrated alone.”
The Trials of Spring is a six-part series about women who played important roles in their countries during the Arab Spring. The series is presented by The New York Times in conjunction with a feature-length documentary produced by ZAG Line Pictures LLC in association with Fork Films, Artemis Rising Foundation and the Center for Independent Documentary. For more, visit thetrialsofspring.com.
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(via NY Times)