“There were rivers of blood and worms dripping from the corpses. Once upon a time, I couldn’t eat anything for days. Some of the bodies were completely rotten and their faces unrecognizable, as if they had been deliberately mutilated with chemicals. The stench of rotting corpses is what bothered me most and still does. The smell stayed in my nose even after I had taken a bath at home. “
This is what the Syrian witness “Z” (Z) said in the German court, which has been looking into the crimes of the Bashar al-Assad regime since last August in the quiet town of Koblenz against two regime officials, Anwar Raslan and Iyad al-Gharib, according to report It was published by the American magazine Foreign Policy.
for the first time
The court was revealing one witness at a time – in the testimonies of torture survivors in Syrian prisons, relatives of the dead, experts, and testimonies belonging to the regime – of the extent of the Syrian government’s crimes against humanity. And for the first time, she said, non-Syrians could perceive how atrocities under Assad’s leadership had become a routine way of life.
Last September 9, the 30th day of the trial, was the most important testimony of the court. That’s when a Syrian funeral director, part of a team that has buried countless mutilated bodies, appeared before her.
His testimony described how bodies are brought not only from the State Security Intelligence Directorate led by Raslan in Damascus, also known as Branch 251, but from multiple departments in the Syrian intelligence services, including those affiliated with the army, between 2011 and 2017.
For the safety of his family
To preserve the safety of his family in Syria, the undertaker appeared in court with his face covered, and was described as “Z”.
Local and international activists had previously reported widespread torture of the civilian population, including the famous military photographer, Caesar, who had already leaked 5,000 photos as evidence of torture and extrajudicial killing.
Witness Z’s contribution came to paint a picture of what followed. He informed the court about the situation in which the bodies were found and what was happening to them. The magazine said it had obtained a full copy of his testimony.
She added that “Z” was a small cog in the larger regime’s mechanism that arrested peaceful demonstrators and anyone who was either with the opposition or even appeared in favor of it, and tortured them in detention centers and prisons, before executing many of them, and then organizing their secret burial. Zed was part of the final chapter.
The smell of corpses
Because of his inability to bear the smell of corpses, “Z” was tasked with transporting those who bury the bodies and also recording the numbers of dead in exchange for the intelligence branch from which they were brought, that is, the government intelligence departments responsible for killing each of them.
“Z” was previously a part of the Syrian administration in Damascus governorate burying those who died from natural causes until the uprising began in 2011. A few months after the outbreak of anti-regime protests, an intelligence officer approached him and ordered him to drive a truck, without a license plate but covered with Assad stickers. To cemeteries on the outskirts of the city.
In this truck, with others numbering between 8 and 12, he drove his car sometimes directly to the cemeteries of Najha and Qatifa, and on other occasions he waited first in the Tishreen and Harasta military hospitals. “Z” saw refrigerated trucks, 35 feet long, parked outside, stuffed with between 200 and 700 bodies, accompanied by at least one military officer, who followed them to the cemeteries.
And remember that the cemeteries seemed to be camps of different units of the army, as civilians were prohibited from entering them. There was a checkpoint at the intersection leading to a burial site run by a “colonel” officer to identify the trucks.
Vast pits of thousands of corpses
At the cemeteries, Z. said, his colleagues, who are also hired by the regime, open refrigerated trucks and dump the bodies one by one in an unorganized manner in trenches 6 feet deep and 160 to 330 feet long. After about 40 to 50 loads, these pits are completely filled.
“Z” goes on to say that the burials are carried out 4 times a week, for a period of at least 6 years, and thousands of bodies were buried without observing the requirements of human dignity. There were no relatives, no prayers. Just a big hole by the vast desert in the countryside.
“Z” confirmed the allegations of Caesar, who photographed the bodies in military hospitals, when he told the court that each body had a number from the intelligence or military branch written on the front and chest.
At the cemeteries, ZN helps the regime officers immediately in determining the number and source of the dead. In the court, the witness named some of the most feared intelligence branches in the country, such as “Al-Khatib,” “Palestine Branch,” and Air Force Intelligence, including Military Intelligence, from all departments of the Syrian regime.
The impact of the trial on Assad and refugees
The magazine pointed out in the beginning of its report that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may never be tried, at least as long as his sponsors in Russia do not want to replace him, but the ongoing trial in the quiet city of Koblenz slowly but surely dispels any hopes Assad may have that Europe will normalize Its ties with his regime any time soon.
Foreign Policy concluded that the trial also gives millions of Syrian refugees in Germany, who lived in fear, in the hope that they will not be forced to return to their countries of origin, and that their hosts will finally understand their weakness.