Water Wheels: Syria's Symbols of Protest

In a new era of violence and protest, the ancient wheels have taken on renewed significance.

Over the past week, as violence has escalated within Syria and at its embassies around the world, protesters have created several symbols of the country’s turmoil. In person, they paint their faces with red tears. Online, a Facebook group called We Are All Hamza Alkhateeb, created in memory of a 13-year-old boy who was arrested and brutally tortured by government forces on April 29, 2011, changed its profile picture to a symbol of what looks like a pyramid encircled by a beaming red sun.

It's a depiction of a noria, a vertical water wheel powered by the rushing water that strikes its blades. Mounted around the rim of the water wheel, wooden boxes or pots scoop water out of the river below, carrying it up to the top where it is either used for irrigation or nourishment. Though water wheels were simultaneously developed all over the ancient world, the earliest evidence of the structure was discovered in a Syrian mosaic dating from the second century A.D.

Only 17 norias still stand in the Syrian city of Hama, mostly along the Orontes river, which cuts through the city. Last Friday, parts of the norias were covered in red paint to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Syria's attack on the city, when then-President Hafez al-Assad, the father of current leader Bashar al-Assad, deployed tanks and aerial bombs to quash government opposition in the Sunni Islamist community. The attack killed an estimated 30,000 citizens and flattened entire neighborhoods, and the Hama massacre still ranks as one of the most brutal events in modern Arab history. The sound of the norias (listen here), heard throughout the city, is haunting. When the wheel turns, it makes a sound that residents liken to a human cry. Most are no longer operational, standing as tourist landmarks that commemorate the city’s tragic history.

In a new era of violence and protest, they've taken on renewed significance. In the past, the anniversary of the Hama massacre was observed quietly by Syrians, for fear of attracting attention from the government. Yet the current brutality of the area has opened old wounds, inciting much of the country to openly commemorate the tragedy as a sign of resolve against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Until now, the noria has been the symbol of Hama, a tourist attraction that conceals the pain of the past, remembered by many. Images from the Local Coordination Committees of Syria show support pillars of the norias, painted with the Syrian Independence flag, as well as the phrase, “Hafez Assad Died but Hama Did Not.” In other Syrian cities, thousands gathered in a demonstration called, “We are Sorry Hama—Forgive Us,” where some protestors exhibited scaled-down replicas of the famous water wheels.

As the violence continues in Syria, where protesters continue to sympathize with the rebels of the past, perhaps the noria will serve as a symbol for all Syrians speaking out against al-Assad. But Associated Press reporters Zeina Karam and Bassem Mroue are careful to point out the vast difference between the past uprising in Hama versus today. “[T]he devastation of Hama came after a campaign of terror led by the Sunni fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood… In contrast, the current uprising began in March with peaceful protests that have since spread around the nation, demanding Assad’s ouster.”

While Bashar al-Assad has not yet followed in his father's footsteps, his recent campaign against outspoken Syrians is becoming more fatal by the day. The world is watching while the wheels keep turning.

Photo (cc) via Flickr user ncarey.

via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

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via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

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For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

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In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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