The Partisans’ Home can be seen off in the distance on the right… Italians don’t often get much respect, but I do not believe that is entirely justified. After all, this is the culture that gave us the Roman Empire and then the Renaissance. How many countries can claim two turns at the top of the world? The Chinese, the British, the Americans – we have all had one turn at the top. The Italians have had two though. Continuing with this theme of a lack of respect, I turn to the partisan resistance in Italy. We hear often of the French Resistance or the Yugoslav Partisans. However, we hear little of the resistance activities of the Italians. Perhaps this is understandable given Mussolini and the seemingly fluid loyalties of the Italians. Yet, this isn’t particularly fair as many Italians were fierce anti-fascists. And the Italian partisans played an instrumental role in derailing at least seven German divisions and obtaining the surrender of an additional two divisions. These actions disrupted the German military forces operating in Italy and ultimately led to their destruction. Additionally, the partisans helped escaping POWs reach Switzerland or areas under Allied control. And the Italian population suffered tremendously at the hands of Nazi Germany for these actions undertaken by the partisans… During the course of the war, more than 45,000 Italian partisan fighters were killed, more than 15,000 Italian civilians were killed in reprisals for partisan attacks on German soldiers (mass rapes and looting were also widespread) and more than 40,000 former Italian soldiers perished in concentration camps. Even historians in the employ of the CIA indicate that the Italian partisans do not get enough credit for their contribution to the war effort. Dovetailing into this theme of respect for Italians and the partisans… It just so happens that a former safe house utilized by the Italian partisans is in close proximity to The Velvet Rocket’s Italian base of operations in Rome. The farmhouse, long since abandoned, is known locally simply as The Partisans’ Home. And I am particularly fond of it and the area around it.
A road leading through the fields to the safe house (visible in the distance to the right): Moving closer to the home: The Partisans’ Home: The back of the former safe house: Entering the home: These days The Partisans’ Home gets little respect despite its heroic and historically significant pedigree. Instead, it is a place for kids to drink and get high, away from intrusive adults, and judging from the tattered mattress inside, it has, at times, served as a shelter for those in need of a temporary home. The remains of a fireplace in the corner: The stairs leading up to the second story… The fact that they are still stable and functional is a testament to the solid construction underpinning the farmhouse: A view back down the stairs: Being here, I am reminded of the insurgency in Iraq. There, as in Italy, insurgents ran unchecked through the countryside, meeting in farmhouses to plot attacks and resting up in safe houses such as The Partisans’ Home between these forays. Even Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a farmhouse outside Baquba that was not all that different from the one pictured here… Now, before I get any hate email, I am not comparing the Americans to the Nazis, but instead I am drawing a comparison to the setting for these two theaters of war and the similarities between all insurgents or guerrilla fighters (or whatever one wishes to call them). In this case, swap out the Korans for some wine and pasta, the AK-47s for Carcano rifles, the RPGs for “potato masher” hand grenades and you’re not that far off… And just as Iraq had foreign fighters pour in from Syria, Egypt, Sudan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and many others, so too did the Italian partisans have Greeks, Poles, Americans, Russians, Ukrainians and even Germans disillusioned with fascism among their ranks. Italian insurgents: The foreign fighters, the tactics, the explosives, the functional clothing – none of this would be unfamiliar to the Iraqi insurgents or the Italian partisans if they switched places. A view out over the fields through a window on the second story… I imagine such a viewpoint was helpful from a defensive perspective: Looking up through the roof that was burned out long ago: Some of the wooden beams still remain: But nature is slowly reclaiming The Partisans’ Home: The remains of a workshop and garage attached to the farmhouse – now just filled with trash, which is periodically burned: A sophisticated (for its era) pump and water trough to the side of The Partisans’ Home: Leaving the farm on another of the many roads leading in and out…
This is awesome.
Or, apparently, you can swap out Iraq for Syria…
On the front lines of Syria’s guerrilla war
Tracey Shelton Last Modified: 13 Jun 2012
Idlib Province, Syria – Dawn broke over the northern mountains of Jabal al-Zawiya late last month to find a group of anti-government fighters hiding along a ridge line, waiting for their remote-controlled bomb to destroy an army convoy on the road below.
The roughly 100 guerrillas were members of a larger group known as the Sham Falcons. Like many of the hundreds of ad hoc rebel groups that have sprung up across Syria, they are loosely trained but closely knit, and armed only with Kalashnikov rifles, PKT machine guns and a few rocket-propelled grenades.
Like other armed fighting groups, they were drawn from local towns and villages that carried fierce resistance to the Damascus government of President Bashar al-Assad and claimed to have suffered from its brutality. Like so many Syrians, they decided to fight back.
In the distance, headlights approached. Dozens of government soldiers approached in a procession of pick-up trucks and an armoured infantry vehicle. The night before, the rebels had planted a roadside TNT explosive at a key point on the way to a government position.
As the convoy passed below, the designated triggerman detonated the bomb with a converted garage-door opener. The ensuing blast ripped up a massive section of road, but was detonated too soon to destroy the infantry carrier that was the target of the attack.
Return fire came within seconds. Mortars and gunfire from the pursuing government soldiers filled the mountains as the rebel fighters ran several kilometres to escape.
On this day, the men were lucky. They sustained no injuries, and rebel fighter Hamza Fatalah said the ambush had killed three enemy soldiers. The morning’s bombing was a small victory for the Sham Falcons, but its leaders were realistic.
“We are using very simple weapons against the highly sophisticated weapons of the regime,” said Fatalah, a former Syrian army lieutenant who defected at the beginning of the uprising.
Before the revolution many, like Fatalah, worked as police officers or soldiers for the government. Others were students, farmers or taxi drivers. United by the government’s alleged atrocities, Fatalah said they now fight like brothers.
In pockets of resistance across Syria, groups such as these carry out missions against an army equipped with tanks and helicopters. They fight back with homemade bombs, limited weapons and meagre medical supplies. Many of these operations are carried out on foot or on motorbikes, with the occasional pick-up truck concealed beneath trees a safe distance away.
After the narrow escape, the men regrouped and returned to their various village bases.
In the village of Shanan, the men from Fatalah’s unit discussed various aspects of the mission and plans for the next one while they sipped tea under the shade of a large fruit tree.
“I’m responsible for planning operations and discussing them with the other fighters,” Fatalah said.
“Before an operation, we first monitor the location and plan the attack, making sure we have a secure withdrawal.”
The Sham Falcons of Jabal al-Zawiya claim to number about 2,000 armed men, broken down into eight 250-man battalions.
Of the 36 villages that form the Jabal al-Zawiya region in the province of Idlib, eight are currently under rebel control. These opposition villages form the core of the Sham Falcon network, bases that control security, conduct checkpoints and carry out missions in the surrounding areas against Assad’s forces.
Most are sniper operations or roadside bombs, the Sham Falcons’ leaders said. Sometimes they launch full-scale attacks on government checkpoints and weapons caches.
“At first, we used our own money to buy hunting rifles,” said Sham Falcon commander Ahmed al-Sheikh.
“Some businessmen began to donate money for weapons, but anyone supporting the revolution was targeted by the regime and many became scared. Now, most of our weapons we capture during operations like this.”
Al-Sheikh said of the weapons and ammunition purchased, the majority is brought from the regime itself. Corrupt officers sell government weapons stocks at inflated prices. Kalashnikov bullets that once sold for $0.40 a piece have risen to $4 each.
“These men are mercenaries,” he said of his suppliers. “Their only belief is in money.”
Rest and recuperation
Back in the village of Shanan, the fighters gathered for lunch on the floor around a spread of falafel, hummus and vegetables.
The majority of the men are fathers with families living nearby. Since the uprising, their lives now centre around the fight and most of their meals are shared at the base. On any given night, around half of the men sleep at the base with rotating shifts to stand guard and man the radio.
As he dipped bread into a bowl of hummus, unit commander Asad Ibrahim said their meals are basic, but hearty.
“We eat this every day. It gives us fast legs so we can run from the enemy,” he joked.
The following day, that mobility was definitely in order. Government helicopters found the men during a meeting in an area that offered only the feeble cover of olive trees, and strafed them with heavy fire.
Helicopter attacks are frequent in these mountains, the men said. In the neighbouring village of Kafr Ruma, the smoke from air and artillery shelling rose in columns for three days. Al Jazeera witnessed as two helicopters circled the area, the deadly spray of their indiscriminate gunfire echoing in the distance.
Among those killed in the attacks were an eight-year-old boy and his father, who were shot en route to the government hospital, where the man’s wife had just given birth to their second child. In this same hospital, a 15-year-old girl lay in critical condition, injured by tank fire. Village leaders say 80 more were injured in the attacks.
Government crackdowns like these have led many men to leave the army and join the Sham Falcons in their fight to topple the Assad regime.
For Mohmoud Tara, who defected six months ago to the Falcons, it was one scene in particular that convinced him to leave his post in Aleppo.
“We were ordered to shoot the protesters demonstrating at Aleppo University,” he said.
“Most of the time I would shoot in the air, but many of my colleagues would use excessive force, hitting, cursing and humiliating those arrested. They dropped one student from the top of a six-storey building onto the grounds of the university. They continued as if nothing had happened. It was a horrible feeling. I felt pity but I could say nothing or I would be treated like those students.”
Tara soon defected and joined the rebel forces.
Al Shiekh said the goal of the Sham Falcons and other rebel groups operating throughout Syria is simply to protect the Syrian people, to end the bloodshed and insure a fair and democratic political system is installed.
“We want the people of the world to understand us as people, to see our revolution from a human prospective,” said Al Sheikh. “The Syrian people can not turn back. We must fight until victory.”
Speechless. Finally some truth. Wish there was something I could do aside from forwarding this post.
Great photos and story. I want to paint them all. What is that wonderful camera?
Will we see you at Twain Harte the week after next??
PS: Have you read Mark Twain’s “Innocent’s Abroad” or “Roughing It”? Lots of late 19th C travel to the Holy Land — Beirut and Damascus figure heavily in it and it’s interesting to get the perspective of 140 years ago.
I have indeed read them and they are great books. I’m glad you made me think of them though as I should have the Italian read them…
Any other book recommendations?
The kind of story you just want to believe, but anyone who travels hears lots of these: The Salvadoran beach the Japanese somehow managed to steal lock, stock, barrel in the 1930s; the panhandling crones every local believes is as rich as Croesus. That vista of empty fields stretching well into the distance seems like good fields of fire for defense, but the now-empty fields would presumably be full of concealment-rich crops for much of the year. However, siting insurgent operations in a place with many escape routes is, indeed, standard procedure. However, Mussolini was the first fascist head of state, coming to power a decade before Hitler. Mussolini actually won some elections. Anti-fascist partisan activities in a country where a plurality of voters voluntarily chose fascism seems to stand somewhat starkly in contrast to the fight in other countries against foreign military conquerors and their jackbooted minions. A good story.
Somehow, this post makes me feel comfortably “at home”. I guess I vicariously lived in one of these.
Thank you as always Justin.