Lest you think that Assads killing Syrians en masse was some kind of recent phenomenon, a brief mention of the Hama Massacre, which took place during the month of February 1982, should disabuse you of that notion. Bashar al-Assad was just 16 when this massacre took place, and the idea of barrel bombing an open market in Aleppo for larfs was probably just a glimmer in his adolescent imagination. But I’m sure Hafez al-Assad’s decision to kill thousands of unruly citizens made quite an impact on impressionable dictator-in-training Bashar.
The Hama Massacre spun out of a much larger confrontation between the secular nationalist Syrian Baʿath Party, dominated by the Assads, and Sunnis affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Sound familiar? Although it didn’t spiral into a full-on civil war, the fault lines in Hama in 1982 looked a lot like the fault lines that started Syria’s current conflict over four years ago. Even the location sounds familiar. Hama was a historic center for Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and its resistance to the Baʿathists–massive rioting took place there in 1964, as a result of the 1963 coup that brought the Baʿath Party to power–and it’s no coincidence that the Siege of Hama in 2011 was really the first battle of the current civil war.
In the mid-1970s the Brotherhood, partly in reaction to Syria’s move to intervene in the Lebanese Civil War, began a serious campaign of terror throughout Syria, which was naturally met with an equally violent backlash from the Assad regime. By 1982 there had been at least one (obviously unsuccessful) attempt on Hafez al-Assad’s life (in 1980), which only inspired him to be more brutal toward his opposition. On February 2, 1982, a Syrian army unit sniffing around Hama for troublemakers was ambushed by a guerrilla resistance group, who then raised a general alarm throughout the city. In the uprising that immediately followed, government and Baʿath Party buildings were ransacked and captured, dozens of Baʿath officials were killed, and the rebels proclaimed Hama “liberated.”
The government responded quickly. Continue reading