As Syria’s deadly repression of widespread anti-government protests rolls into a fourth month, a peculiar pattern seems to have emerged – each crackdown is followed by the systematic destruction of bikes and scooters.
The most recent spate of violence took place on Sunday, August 14, in the country’s western port city of Latakia, which left at least 26 people dead. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, almost 1,800 civilians have been killed since protests began in March.
In the wake of each government crackdown, videos depicting “mountains” of mangled two-wheelers in cities and towns across the country quickly surface on the Internet. The majority of the images appear to have been recorded by Syrian security forces.
A heap of burnt motorcycles in the city of Hama. Video posted on Youtube by SHAMSNN on August 8.
Syrian tanks destroyed dozens of scooters in Latakia during a crackdown in May. Video posted on YouTube by VexZeez on July 22.
"Having two wheels makes it easier to escape security forces”
Mona Syria (not her real name) is one of our Observers based in the flashpoint city Homs, in western Syria.
The practice of destroying protesters’ means of transportation is a tactic that originally appeared in Deraa, when the demonstrations first began. The tactic has since been applied in every town that has served as a stage for demonstrations, and has been carried out in the most restive neighbourhoods. In general, it seems as though security forces don’t have a method behind what vehicles they attack – it seems to be completely at random.
“Today, anyone on two wheels is considered to be a suspect”
The last few times security forces have stormed Homs, cars were crushed by tanks – but in general two-wheelers seem to be the primary target. This is because cars aren’t allowed to circulate in cities during opposition demonstrations, so protesters get around on bikes or scooters. Syrian cities and towns are often made up of tiny, cramped streets, so having two-wheels not only allows people to travel quickly, but also to easily ditch security forces if they are being chased.
Today, anyone on two wheels is considered to be a suspect. Once, when I was in a car with my cousin in Homs, we watched as a cyclist was arrested without reason. His only crime was riding a bike.
These images were filmed close to the beginning of Syria’s protest movement, in the southern town of Tafas, just a few kilometres away from Deraa. Security forces burn bikes and scooters by the dozen. Video posted on YouTube by souryhurr on May 24.
This video was filmed in the southern town of El Taebah, which lies to the southeast of Deraa, where security forces burned a stack a brand new tyres. Video posted on YouTube by zamanalthora2 on August 10.
In the northwestern town of Jabal Zawyeh, security forces destroy a motorcycle. Video posted on YouTube by fnnsyria on June 28.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Ségolène Malterre.