September 21st and Invisible victims
It is a big lie that describes the entry of Houthi armed group into the Yemeni capital Sana'a taking over the power on September 21st 2014 as white and bloodless. That entry, however, has its own invisible civilian victims that successive catastrophes and horribly escalating violations drew our attention away preventing us from even documenting their tragedies in the public awareness.
On this day September 21, 2015, I can not cherish any memories except for those of the victims whose tragic stories – told by their relatives- continue to ring in my ears. Those victims we were able to reach and many others who we could not due to the ongoing-armed conflict then between Houthi armed group and the governmental forces under the leadership of President Abdo Rabo Mansour Hadi. These two liable conflict parties exchanged fire for four consecutive days in various parts of Sana'a before Houthis managed to take control of the capital city, Sana'a, on Sept. 21, 2014.
Mwatana Organization for Human Rights then managed to document forty civilian victims including five women and seven children. Mwatana has a list of their names and ages collected by field visits of its teams during September and October 2014 to different areas and neighborhoods that witnessed armed clashes among them are Madhbah, Al-Nahdha neighborhood, Shamlan, Thirty St., and Al-Jeraf Quarter.
In its methodical process of collecting data, Mwatana had met the victims' relatives and eyewitnesses. The forty victims fell during Sept. 18- 23, 2014. Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014, was the bloodiest as most of the victims fell on this day either due to indiscriminate shelling or stray and directed bullets. On that day and the two preceding days, residential neighborhoods woke up to heavy deployment of Houthi gunmen inside them in the capital. These neighborhoods, therefore, became caught between hammer of Houthi fighters and anvil of shells very loosely launched from governmental forces military camps.
I will take you into some narratives that documented a slight part of that war misery. Let's start with a tragic incident that took place in a neighborhood in Al-Jeraf northern the city, behind Al-Thawra sport Stadium on Sept. 20, 2014. On this day, a shell killed nine civilian as it fell on a crowd of residents were gathering at a building's gate. According to some eye-witnesses, the shell came from a hill near the state TV district.
Sister of one of the victims told Mwatana: "On Saturday morning the shelling started. I could hear it while a large number of Houthis were in the street. My brother had his breakfast and went down to talk with the neighbors. All of a sudden, something exploded and rocked the whole house. I rushed to the window to see what happened and, to my shock, noticed my brother lying prostrate on the ground. I rushed downstairs and held my brother as he was breathing his last. My brother's tragedy is not known for the general public as nobody talks about it on TV as if it didn't happen."
The wife of another victim Said to Mwatana: "On Saturday at 11:20 am, I heard an explosion that shook the whole building and heard some women and children crying. I went downstairs and asked them what happened. They told me with one voice: "They killed them". Surprisingly, I asked, "Who?". They told me that all those who were standing at the door were killed. The building's door was then shut and I could see blood everywhere. I took a peak out of a hole in the door and saw my husband lying on the ground. I screamed at the top of my voice to open the door for me. Meanwhile they were busy taking photos at a time they were supposed to rush the victims to the hospital. My husband was still alive. I hurried in and brought in a blanket. Then I rushed to the street to hail a taxicab. Finally, a Pick-up driver pulled over. We rushed my husband to Al-Muaid Hospital as it was nearby. They gave my husband First-Aid while he was bleeding intensively. He then was rushed to Al-Thawra Hospital. He was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit and was given blood transfusion. The doctors told me that they would discharge him from the Operation Theater at 4:00pm. However, he passed away. Had he been rushed to the hospital immediately, he would have survived."
In Al-Nahdha neighborhood, a brother of one of the victims gave us an account of his sibling's death saying, " On Saturday 20, my brother's room was targeted by gunfire coming from a neighbor's house stormed by Houthis. I saw my brother injured. We tried to rescue him, but they (Houthis) were shooting at anyone trying to get close to him. The women were crying but in vain. We called our neighbors who in turn talked to Houthi fighters to let us get out. We were asked to raise our hands: men, women, children. Then we got out feeling traumatized. Shortly after we got out of our house, Houthis barged in. We got out only with our clothes on. They got into the house and started shooting gunfire from the rooftop. Despite our pleas, they refused to hand over my brother's corpse. His room was on fire. They burned his room after he died."
Not so far from the afore-mentioned incident, another incident took place on the same day. Two people (a landlord and one of his workers) got killed. An eye-witness relayed to us what happened saying, " It was 5:30pm when the landlord was in the basement because he refused to get out of his house. However, when his house was targeted, he had no option but to flee. He was about to get into his car when another shell struck. He along with one of his workers sustained injuries by shrapnel and died on the spot. We saw him dead. At 10:00am on Sunday, we tried to drag the dead body, but we couldn't. Then a relative turned up and we could tug the dead bodies. We found another person lying injured beside the dead bodies due to some injuries sustained in the same incident. He was rushed to the hospital by Houthis.
On the same day and hour but in Shamlan Quarter where Houthi fighter maintained high presence, a stray bullet chose to penetrate a window and two shut door to settle in a heart of a woman who was still in her twenties sitting in her home. A female relative of the victim related that tragic incident saying," We were sitting in the room and the victim was sitting in front of a window breastfeeding her baby girl. A bullet went through the window and through the first and second doors and settled in her heart. We cried and asked whom the bullet had just hit. The victim tearfully replied," It hit me." She then put her hand on her chest after she dropped her baby, headed towards Kibla and lay on her back. Then she chocked on blood and died. Her baby girl is named after her mom now. The deceased had a son aged six who witnessed the fatal incident and gave his mum a hug. He was crying, "Mum don’t leave me, or I will die after you." He now explains to people how his mother got killed and where the bullet came from.
Harat Al-Lail (the Night's Neighborhood) witnessed a tragic incident on Sept. 20.2014. A two-and-a-half year old girl fell victim after she sustained some injuries caused by shrapnel that pierced into her head "She was playing with her in the room while her mother was beside her. All of a sudden, they heard a something penetrating their window. To their shock, they saw Remas, the girl, covered with blood. Her father was in tears, but the girl heard nothing. Shortly after, she passed away." The girl's grandmother told us.
This was just a part of narrative that provides a simple sample of invisible victims whose tragedies have been forgotten and not even recognized by all. Few days away on the heel of controlling Sana'a by Houthi armed group, I paid a visit to a bereaved woman who lost her husband and son by the shell that struck the crowd of residents behind Al-Thawra Stadium.
She said to me: "We are not there, invisible, I have been watching TV, but can't see us." " Nobody talks about us." She added.