Freedom’s Price: Documenting Syria’s Massacres


Sifting through the Ashes of Al-Qubeir


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 highlights the crimes the Syrian people have endured in the course of their revolution and the high cost in their struggle for freedom and dignity. On June 6, 2012, the Syrian village of Al-Qubeir became the site of an atrocity that shocked the world. The massacre, which left approximately 70 civilians dead, was a stark reminder of the brutal tactics employed by the Assad regime throughout the Syrian revolution.

The Spring and Summer of 2012 saw the Assad regime spread across various parts of the country, using extreme measures in a desperate bid to quash dissent. Al-Qubeir, a small farming village near Hama, found itself caught in the crossfire. The village’s strategic location and its residents’ opposition to the regime made it a primary target for government forces and their allied militias.

Bloodied Walls and Burnt Flesh

According to an eyewitness account from Abdulsabour al-Shahid, who spoke to L24 using a pseudonym to protect himself and his family from reprisals, the massacre began around 1:30 PM on June 6, 2012, when security vehicles surrounded Al-Qubeir and Shabiha, sectarian militias loyal to the Assad family, commenced their assault.

Al-Qubeir was an easy target due to its isolation, an island of Sunni opposition in a sea of Alawite loyalists, “As a village, we were against the regime, and the Alawites were close to us, about two kilometers away or less. Some villages were further away, and we were almost completely surrounded by Alawite villages,” al-Shahid told L24.

When the attack began that afternoon, those with light weapons tried to mount a defense yet found they were outnumbered and outgunned. “We had some light weapons and began to resist,” said al-Shahid remembering that fateful day, “they entered the village with armored vehicles because we couldn’t continue resisting due to the lack of (adequate) weaponry.”

(A burnt and shelled house in Al-Qubeir where witnesses say at least 78 civillians were massacred) [Unknown/Reuters]

“They entered homes and slaughtered men, women, and children, about 70 people in total,” he recalled. The brutality of the attack was captured in an article by Ruth Sherlock, describing how victims were shot, stabbed, and burned. Eyewitness Laith al-Hemary recounted the horror of hearing his brother’s last words over the phone before the line went dead. When he later entered the village, he found his family members brutally killed. “They had been beaten on the head by sticks and stabbed with knives,” al-Hemary said.

“On the day of the massacre,” recalls Shahid mournfully, “no one was spared—neither child, young man, old man, nor woman. We tried to defend ourselves with simple weapons against their heavy weapons. They didn’t just kill people, they killed livestock and sheep, and looted everything—cars, agricultural machinery, furniture, motorcycles.” what was not stolen was burned, ensuring no one could live in the village and to destroy the evidence of the slaughter.

UN monitors who visited Al-Qubeir two days after the massacre reported evidence of a horrific crime. Observing blood on the walls, the acrid odor of burned flesh, and the unmistakable tracks of large military vehicles. Despite the overwhelming evidence, the Assad regime denied responsibility, blaming “terrorist groups.”

One of those “terrorists” was al-Shahid, who had been “spared” from the massacre to serve a different purpose, “I was arrested, beaten, and brutally tortured, after my arrest, I was forced to appear on Al-Dunya TV to say that I was with the ‘terrorist gangs.’ A few days later, the United Nations held a session to discuss the massacre. The regime brought me out to them to give a testimony, and they coached me on what to say—that there were armed ‘terrorist gangs’ and that the Syrian army helped us get rid of them. After this coerced testimony, which they extracted from me by force, they released me from prison. I moved to northern Aleppo, where I now reside.”

Swift and Ineffective

The international community’s response to the Al-Qubeir massacre was swift but ultimately ineffective in preventing further atrocities. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the massacre, describing the killings as “unspeakable barbarity.” The UN monitors’ attempts to investigate were met with resistance, and they were even shot at while trying to reach the village.

Despite widespread condemnation, concrete actions to hold Assad accountable have been lacking. The regime’s close ties with Russia and China have shielded it from significant international repercussions. Both countries have repeatedly vetoed UN Security Council resolutions aimed at imposing sanctions on Syria or authorizing military intervention.

(Bullet holes and blood marr the walls of a house in Al-Qubeir) [Unknown/AFP]

L24 spoke with Obaida al-Arnaout, spokesperson for the Syrian Salvation Government’s Department of Political Affairs, who emphasized the massacre’s impact on the Syrian revolution. “The Qubair Massacre was one of the most horrific atrocities that shocked the conscience of the Syrian people… This heinous event deeply impacted the Syrian revolution, strengthening the resolve of the free Syrian people to continue their revolution against the oppressive regime, demanding freedom, justice, and dignity.”

He highlighted the revolution’s efforts in seeking justice, “Since the start of the Syrian revolution, one of its primary goals has been to hold accountable those responsible for crimes against humanity committed by the criminal regime. Revolutionary forces have worked to document these crimes and gather evidence to present to international courts.”

A Path Full of Obstacles

In the years since the massacre, efforts to achieve justice for the victims have been met with numerous challenges. Human rights organizations and activists have tirelessly documented the crimes committed by the Assad regime, but the path to accountability remains fraught with obstacles. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has faced difficulties in pursuing cases against Syrian officials due to the lack of jurisdiction and the need for a UN Security Council referral, which Russia and China have blocked.

Despite these challenges, there have been some positive developments. Several countries, including Germany and France, have invoked the principle of universal jurisdiction to prosecute Syrian officials involved in war crimes. These cases have provided a glimmer of hope for the victims and their families, demonstrating that justice can be pursued even in the face of significant political barriers.

(UN Supervision in Syria (UNSMIS) interviews a resident of Al-Qubeir in the aftermath of the massacre) [David Manyua/UN]

Activists continue to call for greater international support to address the ongoing human rights violations in Syria.

Al-Shahid, reflecting on his experience, emphasized the need for continued efforts to free detainees and hold the regime accountable, “We must not forget the detainees because those who died have gone to the Most Merciful, while we must strive to free the detainees,” he said.

Arnaout echoed these sentiments, urging the international community to act. “Our message to the international community is clear and unequivocal: the perpetrators of the Qubair Massacre and other crimes against humanity must not be allowed to escape punishment. Failure to hold the Syrian regime and its leaders accountable for these crimes constitutes a violation of the principles of international justice and encourages the continuation of such atrocities.”

We Have Only God …

The Al-Qubeir massacre remains a stark example of the Syrian regime’s brutality and the international community’s failure to protect civilians. As the conflict in Syria continues, the world mustn’t turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed. Justice for the victims of Al-Qubeir and other massacres is essential for lasting peace in Syria.

(Syrian girl takes part in rally calling on international community to take action, May 2012) [Unknown/Daily Maverick]

Al-Shahid expressed feelings of betrayal by the international community, “No Western countries will feel our pain or seek to help us. After all these massacres, we relied on the Arabs and the West to help the Syrian people, but we were sadly disappointed not only by them but also by the leaders of the (military) factions and the (Syrian) coalition.”

“In the end,” sighs al-Shahid, “we only have God, who knows our situation. We stood to defend our honor, religion, and revolution, only to be shocked today by how everything has been forgotten.” However, Arnaout, despite all the setbacks remains resolute, “We reaffirm our commitment to seek justice for all the innocent victims who lost their lives in the Qubair massacre and other crimes committed against the revolutionary Syrian people.”


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