When the photographer Mani and I arrived in Homs, in mid-January 2012, the Syrian revolution was reaching the end of its first year. In the city and the surrounding towns, the people were still gathering daily to demonstrate – calling for the fall of the regime, loudly asserting their belief in democracy, in justice, and in a tolerant, open, multi-confessional society, and clamoring for help from outside, for a NATO intervention, for a no-fly zone to stop the aerial bombardments. The Free Syrian Army (FSA), made up mostly of Army and secret services deserters disgusted by the repression, still believed its primary mission was defensive, to protect the opposition neighborhoods and the demonstrations from the regime snipers and the feared shabbiha (mafia thugs, mainly Alawite in Homs, formed into militias at the service of the al-Assad family). The Syrian citizen-journalists, like those that helped, guided, and protected us during our stay, still believed that the constant flow of atrocity videos they risked their lives every day to film and upload on YouTube would change the course of things, would shock Western consciousnesses and precipitate strong action against the regime. The people still believed that song, dance, slogans, and prayer were stronger than fear and bullets. They were wrong, of course, and their illusions would soon drown in a river of blood. America, traumatized by two useless and disastrous wars to the point of forgetting its own founding myth – that of a people rising against tyranny with their hunting guns, helped only by indomitable spirit and idealism – stood back and watched, petrified. Europe, weakened by economic crisis and self-doubt, followed suit, while the regime’s friends, Russia and Iran, occupied every inch of the political space thus made available. And geopolitics is always written with the blood of the people. The day after I left Homs, on February 3, a series of mortar shells targeted the neighborhood of al-Khalidiya, where I had spent so much time, killing over 140 civilians. As Talal Derki, the Syrian director and narrator of the magnificent documentary Return to Homs, comments at that point in his film, this mass murder was the turn of the revolution: “The dream of a revolution with songs and peaceful protests ended.”
Jonathan Littell, Syrian Notebooks: Inside the Homs Uprising.