Friday, February 02, 2007

February 2

Today is the 25th anniversary of the start of the El-Hama Massacre, a month-long slaughter of Sunni Muslims and Christians carried out by Syrian forces under the pretext of rooting out a few hundred affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood. During the early 1980s, the Baathist regime of Hafez el-Asad was plagued by bomb attacks and assassinations carried out by a variety of organizations demanding the introduction of Islamic law throughout the land, the release of political prisoners, the reinstatement of dissident professors, and “total freedom” for all Syrians.

Dozens of senior party officials -- and sometimes their entire families -- had been killed on behalf of this vision. By late 1981, the ancient city of Hama was in a state of near revolt, and the Syrian mukhabarrat -- the state secret police -- began arresting, torturing and killing doctors, engineers, and others believed to be involved in the plots against the regime. On 2 February 1982, the Syrian armed forces sealed off the city and began shelling it while the mukhabarrat continued to round up suspected members of the ikhwan, the Brotherhood.

One of the survivors described a mass killing that occurred in the Sriheen neighborhood
I was among a huge number of people, so crowded that we almost could not breeze, and we were taken to Sriheen, where we were ordered to step out of the trucks, so we did as told. First thing we noticed was those hundreds of shoes scattered everywhere on the ground. It was then when we realized that it meant that hundreds of our fellow citizens were killed and we were next to face the same imminent death. We were searched afterwards, and any cash or watches were taken off us. Then, the elements of the Syrian authorities ordered us to move forward towards a deeply dug trench, which stretched long. . . . When I stepped forward to my spot by the trench, I saw the pile of bodies in there, still tainted by running blood, which horrified me so much that I had to close my eyes and I had to contain myself to avoid falling off. As expected, streams of bullets were fired towards us and everyone fell in their blood into the trenches, whilst the ones who were inside the other trench got shot inside the trench where they stood.
Residents of Hama perished in numbers that still cannot be accurately conveyed -- estimates range from 10,000 to 48,000 killed.


On this date in 1951, the first four of the “Martinsville seven” were put to death in Virginia’s electric chair. Accused of raping a white woman in early 1949, the seven young African American men were tried and convicted in a mere six hours. In decades past, the seven men would most certainly have been lynched; as the American South entered a more enlightened era, the state sought to monopolize the authority to lynch its residents. Joe Henry Hampton, Howard Hairston, Brooke Milner and Frank Hairston were the first of the seven to be electrocuted on February 2. Beginning at 8:02 a.m., the young men were killed at 12-minute intervals.

From 1908 to 1954, 191 of the 221 Virginians sent to the electric chair were black. Of the 37 men executed for rape and of the 13 killed for attempted rape -- none were white.

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