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As-Suwayda's First Martyr: The Murder of Jawad al-Barouki

Updated: Mar 29

The protests in southern Syria suffered their first casualty when security forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad shot and killed a married father of two on February 28, 2024.


As-Suwayda governorate is located in the southwest of Syria. Its center, As-Suwayda City, is the largest city of Hawran and Jabal Al-Arab (dubbed ''Jabal Al-Druze'') region. It is considered an open museum of landmarks and historical monuments, some of which date back to the Stone Age. It was named ''Little Rome'' due to the spread of Roman, Nabataean, Byzantine, and Greek monuments which are within its villages and main cities including Shahba and Salkhad.


As-Suwayda is best known for growing grapes and apples as well as its Druze majority and Christian minority populations. It was famous for its struggle against colonialism, as it was the last governorate to surrender to the colonial French mandate. And the Great Syrian Revolt of 1925 started in As-Suwayda under the command of Sultan Pasha Al-Atrash, started in As-Suwayda. 


Protests in As-Suwayda have occurred every day for more than six months, demanding political change and the implementation of the international United Nations Security Council resolution 2254.


The protests began in mid-September of 2023 against the deterioration of the political and economic situations, plus the lack of security in the governorate. That was because of the regime's policies that led to intentional economic stifling, the conscription of youth, the spread of militias in As-Suwayda, the widespread drug-use, and facilitation of drug smuggling on the Syrian-Jordanian borders.


Al-Karama Square (Dignity Square) at the center of As-Suwayda city, became the stage for daily expressions of the Syrian people's aspirations for freedom, social justice, and building a free and democratic Syria.


Since the revolts began, Yara, who goes to Al-Karama Square regularly, tells Hurriya: "The demonstrations will continue and we will not stop until our demands are met."


Imad, who is one of the protesters, emphasizes "As-Suwayda people’s belief in the necessity to get rid of the tyrannical regime, the protestors’ peaceful and civilized expression of – in a way – their desire to implement international resolutions, and that the uprising came as a continuation of the Syrian revolution since its inception."


Shortly after the start of the demonstrations, the Syrian government’s forces tried to stir up chaos, relying on some of its affiliated groups, but they were unable to achieve what they endeavored.


Anis, another protester in Al-Karama Square, highlighted the "peaceful nature of the movement," especially "after the regime's attempt to militarize the uprising." He also added, "We reject the policy of militarization. We are peaceful, and we will stay in the squares until a solution is found and the rule of law is implemented in a free and democratic country."


The spiritual leader of the Druze, Sheikh Hekmat al-Hajri, rejected the practices of the government's security forces, accusing them of attempting to infiltrate the movement and spread strife within it. He also called to continue the demonstrations. Al-Hajri added that "the people are practicing their right to demonstrate peacefully without any fear or hesitation."


During the six months, since the start of the demonstrations in Suwayda, that "uprising," as the residents of the governorate call it, has conducted "achievements, including closing the headquarters of the Baath Party, forming free civil unions, and political currents and bodies that have raised their voices against the authorities and the tyrannical regime."


A Martyr of Duty


On Wednesday, February 28, a citizen named Jawad al-Barouki was shot in his chest by the security forces during a protest around the so-called "Settlement Center" in As-Suwayda during the ongoing protests.Sweida 24 reported that a 52-year-old man died of his wounds after being shot by security forces, who were guarding a government building and opened fire on the nearby protesters.


The website added: the spiritual leader of the Druze sect, Sheikh Hekmat al-Hajri, met the protesters on Wednesday and described the man who was killed as a "martyr of duty."


Al-Barouki’s funeral was held on the following Thursday, where protesters chanted anti-government and anti-Assad slogans during the funeral. 


Explosions of unknown origins were also heard in the governorate after Al-Barouki's death. But the local media said that those bombs targeted security centers there.


The US State Department said it was "greatly concerned" over the “excessive use of force" by Syrian security forces while dealing with the protesters in the south of the country in As-Suwayda governorate after a protester was killed as security forces opened fire on a demonstration in the city, which has been witnessing protests against the ruling authority for seven months.


The State Department added in its post: "We regret the loss of civilian life and offer condolences to all those harmed, and to their families. Syrians in As-Suwayda and everywhere deserve peace, dignity, security and justice."


The UK's envoy for Syria, Anna Snow, confirmed her support for the movement in As-Suwayda during a call with the spiritual leader of the Druze community, Sheikh Hekmat al-Hajri, where she said: "I spoke with Sheikh Hekmat al-Hajri, as part of a series of calls with those involved in the protest movement," adding that Britain is "closely monitoring the situation.."


The British diplomat emphasized that "the Syrian-led, UN-facilitated political process, in line with the UN Security Council Resolution 2254, is the only way to protect the rights of all Syrians."


Al-Hajri had previously received calls from US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ethan Goldrich, as well as from MEP Catherine Langsben, who is the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Syrian file officer in the Green Party Group in the German Parliament, during which she expressed her support for the uprising of the people of As-Suwayda.


Al-Hajri received separate calls in the past few days from 3 US Congressmen, the first from Republican Congressman French Hill, followed by a call from Democratic Congressman Brendan Boyle, and the last from Republican Congressman Joe Wilson. During these calls, they confirmed the support of the two parties for the peaceful movement in As-Suwayda.


The local website Sweida 24 revealed, quoting special sources, that a Russian delegation visited the city of As-Suwayda, surveying the security situation in the governorate, after the tension that followed the killing of a protester by the security forces’ fires last week.


The sources clarified that the Russian military delegation included reconnaissance officers from the Russian forces command center in Damascus. They added that the delegation toured the security headquarters in the city of As-Suwayda: Military Security, National Security, and Air Intelligence.


They pointed out that the Russian delegation met with the heads of these headquarters and some security officers and inquired about the developments of the last week after the security forces killed a protester in front of the Settlement Center, and the subsequent tensions and attacks that targeted the security centers.


The sources indicated that the Russian delegation, as a "guarantor of the settlement agreement" in the southern region, called on the leaders of the security services to maintain the de-escalation.and the delegation called for preserving the path of reconciliation in the southern region. The Russian delegation also inquired about the situation in the desert of As-Suwayda and the drug trafficking file in the border area between Syria and Jordan.


The website indicated that the recent Russian visit is not that important, according to the sources, as this delegation was primarily tasked with surveying the situation in the governorate and transferring information to the Russian forces command. However, it is noteworthy that the Russian side only listened to the narrative of the security services, which does not go beyond the framework of the "universal conspiracy" theory.


On the other hand, the Syrian opposition website "Al-Asima" said that the head of Syrian Major-General Intelligence, General Hossam Louka, made several visits to Jordan, aiming to exchange Jordanian assistance in calming the popular protests in As-Suwayda, and Damascus' response to the regional efforts that aimed to fight drug trafficking in return. The site also revealed "Russian mediation" with Israel for the same purpose.


The focus on the peaceful nature of the popular movement by the protesters came during a difficult time for the city on the security level, as the security situation is likely to escalate, especially after the killing of Jawad al-Barouki. 


In addition, sounds of bombs and explosions were heard in recent days in some areas close to the security and party centers in As-Suwayda, followed by the closure of the Baath Party headquarters. This increased fears of an armed confrontation between the local people and the regime forces and its ally Iran, and its militias that play a major role in escalating the situation. 


However, the demonstrations that took place cut off the route to put the uprising into a cycle of violence and armament, and that is the only game that the regime and its allies use to suppress the demonstrators. This has not happened yet because the people of As-Suwayda are aware of the regime’s strategy of provoking violence as a pretext to violently suppress what began as peaceful protests. 


It is difficult for Bashar al-Assad to escalate militarily and security-wise, since doing so against As-Suwayda and its people would undermine the regime’s narrative of being a “protector of minorities.” This is especially the case because the predominantly Druze protesters have refrained from arming themselves, making it harder for state media to label them “terrorists,” as they did with Syrians who rose up for freedom and dignity in the past.


“Syria is ours and does not belong to the Assad family!” Jawad al-Barouki reportedly chanted moments before he was fatally shot. Thousands of As-Suwayda residents attended his funeral and publicly condemned the regime while decrying his killing. 


“Bashar al-Assad is a killer!” joined their earlier chants.


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