War & Peace

Homs, The Syrian Revolution, and the Icon

Abdel Basset Sarout breaks from silence to tell his side of the Syrian Civil War.

Something that bothers me deeply about the western world is our relationship with Syrians. We have a real lack of awareness for the actual conflict happening there. Even now, all people are aware of the Syrian refugees whereas few understand the utter destruction of their homes, their whole world. In the early period of peaceful protests, before civil war and long before the “battle royale” of sectarian militancy that it has become, there was the star goalkeeper for the Syrian national soccer team, Abdel Basset Sarout. By singing songs with thousands of protestors that winter of 2011, in the City of Homs, in solidarity with all the people calling for change across nations of the region, Basset joined the right side of history. By summer that year, he was on the front line of the armed resistance, making himself a point of controversy and a target.

Homs became an epicenter for the social revolution in Syria calling for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has dominated the executive office for generations. As Commander-in-Chief of Syria from the capital  Damascus, Assad used his security officers to violently crackdown on protests. Basset views it like a birthright to defend the people of his city. But when bombs started dropping, most of the people fled in terror, becoming the refugees that newscasters and politicians speak of today.

His story was documented in the 2013 film Return to Homs which received critical acclaim and international distribution. In the film, you see Basset under siege, watching his city and relationships deteriorate, fighting for a fleeing population, defending a place that is demolished. In the final scene of the film, he’s in the back of a flatbed truck with half a dozen men, going again onto the front lines. To be continued. But when I reached out to the filmmaker, he admitted to me that he lost touch with Basset.

So in July of 2015, I asked the question, “Where is Abdel Basset Sarout?” The result became this publication’s most viewed post, without contest. Within that, I made some predictions, because at the time of publication I had no absolute confirmation that he was alive or dead.

I believed that he was fighting somewhere north of Homs, in a pocket that remained in rebel control, according to numerous territorial maps drawn by academic studies and news services. Everything has become unclear in the multi-faceted conflicts of Syria, but I could not believe rumors that he joined Islamic State (ISIS). So I figured, based upon the evidence, that where he was didn’t involve any faction other than a Syrian nationalist one, and moreover, that he always intended to defend Homs.

Basset with activist journalist Abu Salah, in Turkey.
Basset with activist journalist Abo Salah, in Turkey.

Finally a little over a month ago, on April 22, Basset broke his silence in a video interview produced by Khaled Abo Salah, somewhere in Turkey. The interview published to Youtube is not yet captioned in English, but a translation was provided by someone known under the Twitter handle @Malcolmite, apparently based out of England. His post onto Google Sites featured supplementary videos that help support the story and context of the interview. Because the translation contains errors, I decided to provide an American English copy, to my best ability, including all the videos provided within the original publication of this interview.

Basset explains his side of a revolution that evolved from solidarity among his people, escalated into bloodshed and destruction, and has transformed into something factional, pitting muslims against one another, revealing some of the inner workings of Shariah court systems operating in contested territory. Basset appears to have relinquished his role in the fight, at least for now, but he believes that the purpose of the revolution has been won, that the conflict has peaked, and Assad’s regime cannot withstand another five years of this impossible situation.

Please note that Abdul Baset al-Saroot is another common spelling of his name. I have decided to remain consistent with my first published story and other sources.

Sean Ongley

By Sean Ongley

Co-Founder of THRU Media. A background in non-profit, music, and radio preceded my ambitions here. Now, I aspire to produce new media and publish independent journalism at this site and beyond.

2 replies on “Homs, The Syrian Revolution, and the Icon”

Thanks for translating! I used to be a supporter of the revolution but the last year I find the actions of some of these rebel groups utterly terrible. I guess the story of Abdel Basset Sarout is the story of how the moderate opposition was pushed aside. Respect for keeping it real. I hope peace comes soon.

Have anything to say?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.