The last week of May marks the 11th anniversary of an event in Syria that became the point of no return for many Syrians formerly ambivalent towards the pro-democracy uprising that had erupted in their homeland 10 weeks earlier. That was when the mutilated corpse of Hamza al-Khateeb, a cherub-faced 13-year-old from the Syrian countryside 10 kilometers east of the city of Daraa, was delivered to his horrified family bearing the unmistakable evidence of the prolonged torture that had led to his death.
Until Tuesday, May 24, Hamza, whose hobby was raising homing pigeons, had been one of 51 participants of a weekly Friday demonstration who had seemed to have disappeared after being detained by Syria’s much-feared Airforce Intelligence on April 29. For almost four weeks the boy’s family had not known where he was, if he was even alive, or when he would be released if he was.
Even as we now know that many Syrian detainees had been summarily executed by the Assad regime and buried in mass graves, at the time Hamza’s body was one of several that were deliberately returned to their families as a warning to all who opposed Assad that no one was safe from experiencing a similar fate if the revolution continued.
Although Syrians understood very well the message being communicated to them at the time, the Assad regime tried to explain away the evidence of torture on Hamza’s body as “normal decomposition” in its manufactured propaganda aimed at diverting the international media’s focus on the extent of its brutality being waged upon the Syrian people.
For many Syrians who had been sitting on the fence, hoping that the revolution would fizzle out before they were forced to choose a side, the regime’s apparent willingness to torture children to death in an effort to keep Assad in power was the tipping point as tens of thousands began taking up the revolution slogan, “We are all Hamza al-Khateeb!”