Evil Exposed: The Tadamon Massacre
Freedom’s Price is a series of articles aiming to shed light on the major massacres that have occurred during the ongoing conflict in Syria over the last 13 years. Each article will highlight the crimes the Syrian people have endured in the course of their revolution and the high cost of their struggle for freedom and dignity. This installment in the series “Evil Exposed” reveals the organized heartless methods the Assad regime employs to murder Syrian civilians. A reality the shocking footage of the 2013 Tadamon Massacre exposed to the world.
On April 27, 2021, The Guardian and New Lines Magazine released a pair of articles that would show the world the horrors the Syrian people had been living with for over a decade. The reports contained screen captures and edited clips from one of 26 videos recorded by members of the Assad regime as they carried out the act.
The video provided a glimpse into the systemic well-ordered and evil crimes of the Assad regime’s soldiers. Two men in uniforms laughed and joked and they murdered blindfolded and bound civilians. They mocked and abused them as they were dumped into a mass grave full of tires and kindling, before burning the bodies of 41 victims in the pit, like they were trash, before filling it in. The remaining footage records many more scenes of murder and other forms of violence.
Exposing the Architecture of Evil
The Tadamon Massacre, occurred in the Tadamon neighborhood of Damascus, Syria, in the southeastern part of the neighborhood, specifically in an area that was close to the line of contact with the opposition on Daaboul Street, opposite the Uthman Mosque. On April 16, 2013, soldiers affiliated with the Syrian Armed Forces, specifically Branch 227 (Damascus branch) of the Military Intelligence Directorate, killed at least 41 civilians on camera. However, researchers have determined that 288 civilians lost their lives during the Tadamon Massacre, including 7 women and 12 children.
Research indicates that the perpetrators selected their victims from apolitical, working, and middle-class families, who were arrested in Tadamon or at the checkpoints surrounding it, and were then transported to the massacre site, and executed. The executioners, carried out the killings with a practiced ease, joking around with each other as if it were a routine task.
The video evidence of the Tadamon Massacre emerged in April 2022, showing the perpetrators in action. Demonstrating the regime’s silent, industrial killing machine, shedding light on the inner workings of a regime that relied upon systemic mass executions. The researchers who analyzed the footage, Uğur Ümit Üngör and Annsar Shahhoud, eventually identified the perpetrators. Chief among them was the main shooter, a Military Intelligence Directorate officer named Amjad Yusef, who had spoken to the pair over several months, even confessing to the crimes and affirming that it was indeed him featured in the footage.
The video’s release played a significant role in validating the claims of survivors and confirming that the killings had indeed taken place in the area. It also exposed the cruelty and inhumanity of the militiamen in the video, and the international community condemned the massacre and demanded accountability. Yet most important it provided answers and closure for some of the families of the victims.
However, it would appear that the April incident was simply a small part of a wider policy and practice. Izz al-Din al-Ali, an activist in the Tadamon neighborhood, told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that the April 2013 massacre in Tadamon was not an isolated incident saying that in 2014 he documented the occurrence of at least 50 other corpses (15 of which were burned) in Tadamon with more uncovered in the areas surrounding the neighborhood.
As the video spread, it ignited a collective outcry for justice and accountability. The images, etched into the collective consciousness, compelled many to confront the stark realities of war and the urgent need to seek redress for the victims and their families. The images of the massacre lifted the veil of secrecy over Syrian war atrocities, leading to widespread condemnation and calls for justice. Such incontestable evidence clearly showing both the victims and the criminals not only provided a strong basis for bringing those accountable to task but also allowed family members and friends to discover the fate of the disappeared.
Among the first to be identified was a Palestinian-Syrian from the nearby Yarmouk camp. Wasim Siyyam was a father of two daughters whose wife and parents were left in limbo at his disappearance. Siyyam went missing after making a delivery of cinder blocks to the government’s Internal Trade and Consumer Protection Ministry, only to be discovered years later in the leaked film.
Siyyam’s parents recognized him in the video after having spent years agonizing looking for signs of their vanished son who was killed only 10 minutes away from where they lived saying, “We asked the government to update our family record and they had (Wasim) listed as alive. Justice must be served”, his father told the press, “I want justice for our loved ones.”
“Justice for our loved ones”
The international community must hold the Assad regime accountable for the Tadamon Massacre and other war crimes committed during the Syrian civil war. Videos and evidence related to the massacre have been handed over to prosecutors in the Netherlands, Germany, and France, leading to war crimes investigations and legal actions.
In May of 2022, 17 Syrian human rights and humanitarian groups wrote an open letter to the UN Security Council to convene a meeting to address the Tadamon Massacre and launch an independent investigation. In December of 2023, the UN released a report demanding that an investigation be officially launched regarding the 2013 massacre, over a decade after it had transpired and two years since it was made public. Among the most concerning issues raised in the document is that despite evidence on film of Yusef both committing the murders and confessing to them he is still free and maintains a position with Branch 227 in Damascus.
Another Ten Years?
The ongoing efforts for justice and accountability demonstrate the importance of exposing and addressing such crimes, reinforcing the need to ensure that war crimes in Syria do not go unpunished. The release of the Tadamon Massacre footage has had a significant impact in validating the claims of survivors and confirming the murders occurred in the area, and has also helped in raising awareness about the atrocities committed during the Syrian civil war and provided closure for grieving families. Yet it remains to be seen if crimes that occurred over 10 years ago will need another decade until those responsible are brought to justice.