There is a woman who lives alone in Hama, Syria. She has been in mourning for thirty-two years, tormented by memories of her survival. One night in February 1982, when she was a young woman in her twenties, military forces raided the basement where she and the women in her family had been hiding, huddled with their neighbours. They had thought they were safe, sheltered from the mass murders and arrests that had become everyday occurrences in the historically quiet and conservative city.
On 2 February, President Hafez al-Assad’s forces sealed Hama with tanks, effectively placing Syria’s fourth largest city — with a population of 800,000 people at the time — under siege. With no communications to the outside world, Hama’s men, women, and children lived alone in their terror— their cries unheard, their images unseen. By the end of that month, an estimated 20,000–40,000 people were killed. The exact number of dead will never be known. The mass graves will never be discovered. Countless others disappeared into Assad’s prisons to be tortured for years, even decades. These men were left to rot to death and forgotten forever.