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Why Saraqeb Activists Paint Victims Portraits on City Walls

At a time when the Syrian regime’s air force conducts daily raids on the city of Saraqeb and uses barrel bombs to bring death and destruction, activists in the city eagerly wait for nightfall to continue their four-month-old mission of painting portraits on the city walls.

Written by Mohammad Dibo / Syria Untold Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes

At one point, a jihadi group deemed the paintings to be against Islam and the Quran. But who are these activists who work secretly for the revolution?

In May 2014, the Leftist Collective of Saraqeb, which is part of the Syrian Leftist Coalition, launched a campaign to paint the portraits of all the revolution’s dead on the city walls. The aim was to pay tribute to them as well as to highlight the religious diversity of the people who took part in the Syrian revolution. This was an indirect response all those who claimed that the revolution was monopolized by a certain sect or ethnic group.

Activists taking part in the campaign paid for the paint and brushes out of their own pockets before choosing which individuals they would want to paint on the walls of a city that has been turned into a ghost town. They waited for night to fall before going to work. The idea was to avoid the regime’s air force, which could easily spot and target them during the day. However, to their surprise, opposition came from a different group.

Soon after painting the faces of Bassel Shehadeh, Father Boulus, Mathna al-Hussein, Masaab Hajj Ismail, Ghayath Matar and Ammar Jaabar, the activists were surprised to find that their work had been painted over by several extremist factions that claimed the portraits were against Islam. The activists took the matter to the leadership of these factions and learned, after speaking with their leader, that the acts of vandalism were not approved by the leadership. Rogue elements from the faction had taken it upon themselves to paint over the portraits. All of a sudden, it seemed as if there was a new regime in place. The Assad regime often justified its crimes as combatting the acts of “rogue members.” Fortunately, the artistic activists were allowed to carry on with their campaign.

Yet the heavy shelling by the regime air forces stopped them from continuing with their work. Now, they patiently wait for the day when the fronts will quieten or for the intensity of the shelling to lessen. They are determined to fill the walls of their city with the portraits of the martyrs who paved the way to freedom.

But what if the regime doesn’t stop its shelling? Activist Wathab Ezzo told Syria Untold that “we will wait until winter. The air raids are less then and the shelling is less accurate.”

The journey of these activists is evidence of their commitment to the cause and the peaceful and creative work that’s being done despite all of the opposition that surrounds them. They are determined to get their freedom, regardless of how long it will take.

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