Along the Orontes River, the citizens of Mhardeh carry the body of an NDF soldier killed in battle. The citizens refer to this soldier as a “shaheed” (“martyr” in English) for his gallantry on the battlefield; which, they consider martyrdom. For many of the civilians in this predominately Christian town, death is freedom from the hell they are immersed in everyday. With not a tear in their eye, the young men in their military uniforms exhibit a sense of stoicism as they pay tribute to this fallen soldier. These men appear cold, but hidden behind their facial expression is a sense of pride amalgamated with sorrow. They are no stranger to death; in fact, the last three years have taught these men two things: death is imminent and indiscriminate. 

 

The people of Mhardeh at the funeral for a fallen soldier.
The people of Mhardeh at the funeral for a fallen soldier.

The funeral procession is followed by a tumultuous sound heard from a distance. Suddenly, these stoic men begin to organize and direct civilians to safe areas in order to prepare for possible mortar shells and rockets fired by the Islamic Front. The citizens in this city do not appear frightened, but rather, determined. They are determined to not fall victim to defeat and occupation by insurgents their martyrs died fighting. Many of the civilians are armed with assault rifles and grenades – they say the grenades are only used to avoid capture. Avoid capture? A young woman fighting with the NDF (a militia comprised of Syrian civilians) responds that it is better to die than to be captured by the enemy. She ends with, “we are not Ma’aloula and Kassab, we will fight till the death.”

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The insurgents in Syria have used fear as a form of intimidation, thinking that scared civilians are more inclined to assist them – the people of Mhardeh disprove this theory. On the contrary, the insurgents are witnessing even more resistance than ever. The civilians of Mhardeh are not fearful of death, they are afraid to live in a country where their own people are no longer in control of their own fate. They fear laying down their arms will only lead to the perishing of their loved ones and the destruction of Mhardeh. Their cause is selfless and a testament to their resilient nature. The people of Mhardeh have adopted Emilio Zapata’s famous creed: “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”

 

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