The Eurozone crisis is rather dominating the news of late, to the extent that the continued violence in Syria is being somewhat drowned out. Yet today Human Rights Watch has released a dossier of evidence that shows systematic crimes against humanity are occuring in the country. The document catalogues evidence of torture and unlawful killings in the town of Homs; at least 587 civilians are known to have been killed.

Mum and I were in Homs briefly in 2009 to have a look at a huge crusader castle, the Krak des Chevaliers (above), during our holiday in Syria. The next day we went to Hama, a nearby city that made it into the news in 1981 when current President Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, ordered the violent suppression of a revolt: no one knows how many people died, but the lowest estimate starts at 10,000. When we were there it was one of those things that Syrian people didn’t want to talk about yet were keen for foreigners to know. The city looked modern, as the majority of the old city had been destroyed in 1981/2.

We were in Hama for the ancient water wheels (norias)  in the centre of the city: big Byzantine structures that still work, taking water from the Orontes River. As you can see in the picture below, while we were there some daft teenagers were testing themselves in Hama’s own extreme sport: riding around inside the water wheel as it turned. Some of them were very adept at it, managing to keep themselves upright in the spokes as the wheel spun. It looked both fun and bloody dangerous: I bet many a boy’s limbs, head and mother’s heart have been broken as a result.

Like Homs, Hama has been in the news lately as a site of mass demonstrations against the government and therefore, inevitably, as a site of lethal repressions by the state. When the news first hit it struck me that the boys I’d seen riding the water wheels are exactly the sort of daredevil, act-before-you-think kids who would be in the centre of any demonstration going on in the city, throwing rocks at the police, bellowing demands for freedom. Obviously I have no idea whether they were actually involved, but it really brings home the tragedy of the situation when I think about what might be happening to them, those ordinary teenage boys who should be getting up to no good on the water wheels of Hama; and all the limbs and heads and hearts broken by this latest repression.


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