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In Syria, a once-quiet village tips into revolution

Anadan, in the shadow of Syria's second-largest city, has expelled Bashar Assad's forces. It's another tug on the tightrope the president is walking.

February 07, 2012|By Los Angeles Times staff
  • A photo provided by the Syrian government shows a rally in support of President Bashar Assad in Aleppo on Jan. 17. Syria's second-largest city has remained loyal to him amid the uprising, but now the unrest has reached its doorstep. A suburb ousted his forces late last week.
A photo provided by the Syrian government shows a rally in support of President… (Syrian Arab News Agency )

ANADAN, Syria — — Off the main highway leading from the city of Aleppo, a handful of Kalashnikov-toting young men, some with their faces covered in scarves, stand at a checkpoint near the entrance to this small village. Close by flutters the green, white and black flag of Syria's opposition.

Anadan is less than 10 minutes' drive from Aleppo, Syria's second-largest city, home to much of the country's merchant middle class that has benefited from President Bashar Assad's rule and has remained largely loyal to the longtime leader even as clashes rocked much of the country.

But now, the armed resistance has reached Aleppo's doorstep.

On Friday, Anadan's residents expelled Assad's security forces. And rebels here hope they will inspire similar takeovers of other communities around Aleppo.

Yet their uprising also risks provoking a violent backlash from Assad's forces. Violence continued to roar across the country Monday, with the government accused of killing 74 more people as it battered opposition strongholds in Damascus, the capital, and Homs, the third-largest city and site of some of the greatest carnage.

The Obama administration ordered its diplomats to leave Syria on Monday, citing fears for their safety. The move symbolized the apparent end to hopes for a quick diplomatic route out of the fighting, leaving Syrians with the specter of more bloodshed to come.

Along Anadan's muddy and winding roads, graffiti with such slogans as "Fall Bashar" and "Fall Iran's servant" are scrawled on walls. In a backroom on the third floor of a newer building is the ramshackle media arm of the newly created Revolutionary Council of Aleppo and Its Suburb.

"People here don't want the peaceful revolution, they want war," said Faraj, who works with the council and whose full name, like others in this report, has been withheld to protect him from possible retribution. "They have no passion for the peaceful revolution anymore; they always say we have gotten nowhere with the peaceful revolution."

In Anadan, it was violence that led to the takeover.

It began when three Anadan residents in a car were shot at as they approached a government checkpoint on their way back to the village. It's not clear what happened and there are different versions of the events, even among opposition forces. Some acknowledge the driver may have refused to stop or been suspected of having a gun.

In any case, one man in the car was killed and the others were injured.

Before the slain man's body was buried, residents attacked the government's only remaining outposts: a small intelligence office, whose employees surrendered immediately, and a police compound, where several of about 30 officers barricaded themselves on the second floor, a village leader said.

"As you know, the people were coming, and they had a martyr, [so] our side shot first," explained the leader, Abdulaziz, who now heads the local Revolutionary Council.

Gunfire was exchanged for about an hour, leaving seven rebel fighters injured before the officers surrendered.

Abdulaziz said all of the government officers were taken to Aleppo unharmed.

"Now the village doesn't have anything connected to the government," he said. "They could return, but we don't care. The minute we started on this path we knew martyrdom was an option."

It was not the first case of violence in Anadan since the national protest movement began in March.

Some residents of the community of 22,000 launched a series of peaceful demonstrations a month into the national uprising. From the beginning, though, there were others who remained supportive of the regime.

The protests were held after Friday prayers, and eventually were expanded to the rest of the week. Military and security officials would watch from nearby but didn't interfere. Then, on Oct. 15, government supporters in the village warned the protesters not to go out the next Friday because they would be attacked, according to Abdulaziz.

"And truly we went out and truly they shot at us," he said.

As a group of about 2,000 men gathered outside the village's large mosque that day, about 100 members of the security forces tossed tear gas canisters at the protesters. Many of the young men responded by throwing stones. That's when the government opened fire, killing two residents.

"When they started shooting at us, we started thinking about carrying weapons," Abdulaziz said.

Now that the last government agents have been booted from the usually quiet town, one that is rimmed by wheat and barley fields, residents say they feel more secure.

Two days after Assad's forces were driven out, men and women went about what little business still goes on in these parts.

"That first night was the first time we ever slept in peace," said a mechanic. "And you can see the air is so much cleaner in Anadan."

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