Berlin, Germany – Syrian flags fluttered against the grey afternoon sky as a steady line of protesters gathered under Brandenburg Gate in the German capital to mark the fifth anniversary of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
About 500 Syrian activists and refugees gathered on Tuesday chanting: “Long live Syria and down with Assad.”
Sitting on a fellow protester’s shoulders, one man addressed the crowd in Arabic: “Five years later and the revolution lives inside us stronger than ever.”
From the square, the crowd marched in columns to the nearby Russian embassy, chanting in unison against Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Want to stop the refugee wave? Stop Assad and Putin in Syria,” one banner read.
‘Birthday of revolution’
A close ally of the Assad government, Russia expanded its role in the Syrian conflict when it began carrying out air strikes across the country five and a half months ago.
“This is the birthday of the Syrian revolution,” Loay Alhamedi, a 22-year-old Syrian who came to Germany a year ago, told Al Jazeera.
A member of the Syrian Activists in Berlin network, Alhamedi said that “five years on and the Syrian people are still one”.
Originally from Raqqa, he argued that protests would continue inside and outside Syria until the Assad government was gone.
“Our revolution was peaceful from the beginning,” Alhamedi said. “We never wanted an armed revolution, but the regime made it an armed [conflict].”
The Syrian conflict started as a largely unarmed uprising in March 2011 before launching into an armed conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 260,000 people, according to the UN.
Throughout that period, UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, said more than 4.8 million Syrians have been displaced from their homeland.
“Unfortunately, Syria became an international conflict in 2015 and not just a Syrian decision,” Alhamedi said.
Since February 27, a ceasefire has stuck in most of Syria, though limited clashes have continued in many areas.
Alhamedi, however, does not believe it will last.
“The ceasefire was a loss for the regime. But at the same time, the warplanes continue to bomb Raqqa, Deir az-Zor and other places.”
On Monday, the Russia announced start of withdrawal of the main part of its forces from Syria.
Sharif Nashashibi, a London-based writer and political analyst, said the ceasefire is “doomed without diplomatic progress”, which he argued is unlikely as long as Assad maintains the presidency.
“If the talks are doomed, so is the cessation of hostilities … unless there is a sincere willingness to discuss Assad’s fate,” Nashishibi told Al Jazeera.
Yet, the break in fighting witnessed renewed protests against the government across Syria.
On Friday, hundreds protested in Saqba, a town in the Eastern Ghouta region of the Damascus countryside, calling for Assad’s removal.
“These protests show that the Syrian people, despite everything that has happened, still want nothing to do with the regime,” Nashishibi said.
“Islamist groups such as al-Nusra Front have tried to break up these protests. But what’s important is that they show the principles on which the revolution was started still exist.”
At Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, meanwhile, Hamedi stood in front of the chanting crowd and explained that he is optimistic.
“After five years of killing, slaughter, destruction and displacement, Syrian people have re-emerged with the same demands as the first protest.”
Follow Patrick Strickland on Twitter: @P_Strickland_