Yahia Hakoum is a Syrian activist, and currently a PhD scholar residing in France. Born in 1985, he grew up in al-Sahel, in al-Qalamoun, before heading to Damascus for his university studies in French Literature.
On March 15, 2011, Yahia demonstrated in Damascus with few other people in the courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque, breaking the fear barrier, on a day that has come to be recounted as the first of the Syrian Revolution. This protest was soon broken up by security services with all demonstrators apprehended. Yahia spent 47 days in prison, initially in the notorious 254 Division before detainment in Idaret Amn el Dawla, Damascus. After three days of freedom, he was re-imprisoned for three weeks.
His detention was, like hundreds of thousands of Syrians, under the reign of torture. Systematic torture was continuous from the moment of his imprisonment till release. Within the confines of Idaret Amn el Dawla, Yahia shared a cell, 1.8 x 0.9 metre, with 11 men. Prisoners were forced to remain upright and standing in the cell, apart from when taken to individual torture sessions. There was no room to sleep lying down. Yahia recounts to us how the guards once forced him to trample on another prisoner lying on the ground, when to his horror, he heard a cry from the body recognizing it was a child. Starvation was another tool of torture. Prisoners were provided with a bottle of water a day to share amongst themselves and were fed in the morning with a meager portion of bread, sometimes with a piece of halawa and olive. Despite the hunger, Yahia and others would avoid eating as bathroom breaks were only permitted once a day and would coincide with demeaning torture on the way to and from the lavatories. To this day, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, more than 130,000 Syrians are still being arbitrarily detained by the regime in what Amnesty International has termed “torture centres” and “slaughterhouses”.
On his release, Yahia took refuge in Deir Mar Moussa (Monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian). The monastery, which dates back to the 11th century, housed a community led by the priest Paolo Dall’Oglio. Arriving from Italy in 1982, Father Paolo made inter-religious dialogue the main message of Mar Moussa. Three principles governed this place: the free welcome of all, dialogue with Islam, and participation in manual work. A steady stream of Syrians would pass through its door, with around 100,000 visitors in 2010. Father Paolo was summoned by the regime to leave Syria in March 2011; he was expelled in June 2012, after he openly condemned the regime’s many massacres, and called for a transition to democracy. However, Father Paolo would return the following year to Raqqa, the stronghold of Daesh, in an endeavour to negotiate with them for the release of the prisoners. He was abducted by Daesh shortly after his arrival, July 29, 2013.
In a notable interview in November 2012, Father Paolo, a man of peace, described the common future in which he believed in a pluralist Syria, a mosaic, and gave his support to the Revolution and the people’s aspirations. For him, in moments of crisis, “the man of religion is obliged to protest, to shout (the truth)”.
Precious words, to discover and listen to, in arabic : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yo7qSuqgydk&feature=emb_title And read, in French : https://souriahouria.com/interview-du-pere-paolo-dalloglio-du-25-novembre-2012/
After spending 6 months in Mar Moussa, Yahia has set on a path away from home emigrating to Egypt, then later to Belgium. He has majored in political science studies, and is currently a doctoral student in international relations at Sciences Po Paris. His research focus is centred on the local councils of the Revolution. These constitute over 450 local governance bodies created by Syrian civilians in areas outside the control of the regime, in order to self administer their lives, with various governance models.