The United Nations estimates some 8,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began one year ago. One of them was Abdulrahman Abu Lebdeh, 24, who was killed in the town of Tal Kalakh last fall. His parents, his brother and one of his friends, who was also an activist, told the story of his life and death to NPR’s Kelly McEvers and Lava Selo.
Brother: He was the first one in our family to go out and demonstrate. It was when the regime first started killing protesters, in the [southern] city of Daraa. That’s where our revolution began. One Friday, in the mosque, he heard the sheikh praising the president of Syria. “You should praise the people who are dying,” he told the sheikh. “The president is the one who is killing them.”
Friend: We young people started protesting because the government was unfair to us, because there is corruption, and because the security services bothered us too much. But then, after Daraa, we started protesting because the regime was killing people, and we wanted the regime to fall.
Brother: He told people in the mosque, “Anyone who doesn’t support the people of Daraa has no honor.” He wasn’t a leader. He was a truck driver. He just wanted people to stop being afraid. He started praying every day. He believed that if we protested, we could become pure, like the people in Daraa.
Mother: I was sick with pain in my feet. We heard the army was coming to surround our town. We escaped out of Syria — me, his father, and his sister. But he stayed to take care of our house.
Fighting in Tal Kalakh
Friend: We woke up to the sound of gunshots and children screaming and soldiers swearing at everyone. I started moving from house to house, and that’s where I ran into him. We knew they were looking for young men. Eight of us ended up in one house, and the army surrounded it.
Brother: We were in touch by phone. He asked to talk to our father. “If I ever did something wrong, please forgive me,” he said. The last time we heard from him was around 5:30 p.m. “If you don’t hear from us by nighttime,” he said, “we are dead.”
Friend: The soldiers were calling on a loudspeaker, telling us to turn ourselves in. We could hear them but we couldn’t see them. We were hiding on the stairwell. Three guys went to turn themselves in. He was one of them. He said, “Whatever happens to us, we are not different from other people. Let it be.”
As soon as they opened the door to turn themselves in, the soldiers started shooting. The boys were wounded in their hands and legs and shoulders.
He was shot in the hand. The others went to help the wounded. They were shot, too. I stayed upstairs because I’m very young, and I hoped they wouldn’t take me. They dragged all the others outside and beat them with sticks and the butts of their rifles.
“You want freedom?” they said as they beat them. “We’ll give you freedom.” Then they came upstairs after me. They beat me and stabbed me twice in the back with a bayonet. The last thing I saw was my friends lying on the ground. In the hospital they beat me more. They detained me there in my room. Seven days later they took me to the military hospital to identify the bodies. They said I had to do it or I would face the same fate. They waited seven more days before they contacted the family.
Word Of The Death
Mother: It was my son’s cousin who told us. It was morning and I was here, sitting in the house. The father told me he was going back to Syria. I asked him why. He said because our son was martyred.
Father: The body was at the military hospital. I had to go identify it. There were some 200 people there, from all over Syria. Their sons were dead, too. I had to stay quiet. I knew they would kill me otherwise. I opened the plastic and saw my son. It was obvious he was tortured. His hand was broken, his neck was broken, and they shot him in the chest. His skin was gone in some places. It looked like he had been dragged.
Father: I hired a taxi and brought him home. All the neighbors came to the house, then came to help us bury him.
Brother: If he had died in a natural way, it would be one thing. But to be killed like this, by the regime? It’s something you can’t take.
Father: The regime sends the bodies back because they want us to show everybody, so people will be afraid. But they made a mistake. They people only became more angry. They told us only 15 people could go to the burial. Hundreds came. All the way they were chanting for the martyrs and for the downfall of the regime and for freedom.
Brother: That’s another martyr. Another one of our friends. We just got word that he was killed at a protest. Before my brother died, I was only protesting. Now I’m an activist. I take videos of protests and bring them out of Syria to be uploaded and sent out on the Internet. I only hope I can be a martyr one day, too. I hope I can die for the sake of my country.
Father: I’m afraid i will lose my other sons. But they have to stand up against this regime. They have to stand and fight until the regime falls.
Brother: It’s worth it to stand and fight. It’s worth it if the next generation can have a better life.