PRE­SERV­ING HIS­TORY

Ac­tivist de­liv­ers pris­oner names on cloth scraps to mu­seum

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY BRIAN WITTE

A Syr­ian human-rights ac­tivist has pre­sented the U.S. Holo­caust Memo­rial Mu­seum’s re­search and preser­va­tion cen­ter with scraps of cloth that fel­low pris­on­ers had writ­ten their names on while us­ing a chicken bone as a quill and blood from their own gums as ink.

Man­sour Omari, who spent nearly a year in cap­tiv­ity, said he hoped mu­seum of­fi­cials would pre­serve the 82 names as ev­i­dence and, through dis­play­ing the items, raise aware­ness among vis­i­tors to the Washington mu­seum about the Syr­ian civil war, now in its sev­enth year.

Mr. Omari said he was tor­tured, blind­folded and kept in a crowded un­der­ground de­ten­tion cen­ter dur­ing part of his in­car­cer­a­tion.

“I want the vis­i­tors to know that these names, many of them, are still now un­der ground, and some of them are dy­ing,” he said, af­ter hand­ing the scraps of fab­ric and the note­book he kept them in to preser­va­tion­ists Tues­day.

Mr. Omari was work­ing with the Syr­ian Cen­ter for Me­dia and Free­dom of Ex­pres­sion to doc­u­ment cases of peo­ple who have dis­ap­peared un­der Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s gov­ern­ment when his of­fice was raided in 2012.

He said he de­cided to con­tinue his work while de­tained and teamed up with oth­ers to doc­u­ment the names of those around them. They used a chicken bone to write, Mr. Omari said, and they used their own bleed­ing gums as an inkwell, af­ter tomato soup didn’t work.

“I was doc­u­ment­ing the names of the peo­ple, and that’s why I was ar­rested, but part of the rea­son that led me to de­cide to doc­u­ment the names in this way is a chal­lenge to the gov­ern­ment — that no mat­ter what you did, even if you put us un­der­ground, we were still work­ing on what we be­lieve in, and you will never con­quer,” said Mr. Omari, who is 37 and now lives in Swe­den.

Mr. Omari said he ended up smug­gling out the cloth scraps — hid­ing them in a shirt — be­cause he was the first of sev­eral de­tainees he was work­ing with to be re­leased. He then sought out rel­a­tives of the peo­ple he had met.

Of the 82, Mr. Omari said he has con­firmed what has hap­pened to about 10 per­cent of them. Al­most half have died, and the other half are ei­ther still in prison or have been freed, he said.

Cameron Hud­son, di­rec­tor of the mu­seum’s Si­mon Skjodt Cen­ter for the Pre­ven­tion of Geno­cide, said a por­tion of the mu­seum con­tains ex­hibits of con­tem­po­rary mass atroc­i­ties.

“For the past two or three years, we’ve had an ex­hibit on Syria and the con­flict go­ing on in Syria, and try­ing to tell that story,” Mr. Hud­son said. “So, this story and his cloths will go into that ex­hibit in a few months, once they’ve been pre­served.”

Syria’s civil war has killed more than 400,000 peo­ple. More than 11 mil­lion peo­ple, nearly half of Syria’s pop­u­la­tion, have been driven from their homes by war since 2011, in­clud­ing 5 mil­lion who fled abroad as refugees.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHOTOGRAPHS

Man­sour Omari, a human-rights ac­tivist doc­u­ment­ing cases of peo­ple who have dis­ap­peared un­der Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s gov­ern­ment, de­liv­ered scraps of fab­ric to Jane Klinger, chief con­ser­va­tor for the United States Holo­caust Memo­rial Mu­seum.

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