Hezbollah has lost scores of fighters in Syria, yet families claim to be proud of their dead, who are glorified as "martyrs". Was the bloodshed necessary– and where do the bodies end up?

Between a mechanic’s workshop and a busy highway in Beirut’s southern suburbs, a pale stone building houses the graves of young men killed fighting in Syria.

The entrance of Hezbollah’s Garden of the Two Martyrs mausoleum in Beirut’s southern suburb of Dahieh.
The entrance of Hezbollah’s Garden of the Two Martyrs mausoleum in Beirut’s southern suburb of Dahieh. (Leila Molana-Allen / TRTWorld)

This is the south Beirut stronghold of Hezbollah, the Lebanese political party and militia. Since the group publicly announced its military support for the Assad regime in May 2013, the Garden of Zainab’s Poplar Trees mausoleum has formed part of the street scene here. It joins the neat and tidy, Garden of the Two Martyrs cemetery, which houses the graves of men killed in the group’s eternal fight against Israel.

A toddler plays on gravestones as his mother tells him why he should revere the “martyrs.”
A toddler plays on gravestones as his mother tells him why he should revere the “martyrs.” (Leila Molana-Allen / TRTWorld)

The new mausoleum for Syria's dead houses some 200 oddly uniform graves. Often it is not even the families of the dead found at the tombs, but Hezbollah supporters who say they wish their male relatives would be killed in Syria.

Overcome by emotion over a fallen young fighter she did not know, a female visitor faints and has to be revived by attendants.
Overcome by emotion over a fallen young fighter she did not know, a female visitor faints and has to be revived by attendants. (Leila Molana-Allen / TRTWorld)

Iran-backed Hezbollah, prescribed as a terrorist organisation by the US, Gulf countries and Israel, does not reveal how many of its fighters have been killed over the border, where it has proved one of Assad’s most effective allies. But independent analyses have put the death toll in Syria at over 1,200.

Hezbollah regalia, featuring the face of Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, is displayed around the graves.
Hezbollah regalia, featuring the face of Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, is displayed around the graves. (Leila Molana-Allen / TRTWorld)

Evidence of the growing body count lies in the mausoleums such as the Garden of Zainab’s Poplar Trees. Cemeteries have spread in recent years in Hezbollah-loyalist areas of Lebanon as more and more men have been killed.

A young Hezbollah fighter pays his respects to a friend and comrade who died fighting in Syria.
A young Hezbollah fighter pays his respects to a friend and comrade who died fighting in Syria. (Leila Molana-Allen / TRTWorld)

But not everyone supports the Party of God’s intervention in Syria. It has divided Lebanon, which officially does not become involved in regional conflicts, while many Syrians blame the group for empowering the Assad regime.

Life-size cardboard figurines of fallen fighters line the pathways of the mausoleum.
Life-size cardboard figurines of fallen fighters line the pathways of the mausoleum. (Leila Molana-Allen / TRTWorld)

Martyrdom holds a significant place in the history of Shia Islam. Its followers revere Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, who was killed at the Battle of Karbala in 680.

Glass cases holding copies of the Quran available for prayers sit next to a tap for pre-prayer ablutions.
Glass cases holding copies of the Quran available for prayers sit next to a tap for pre-prayer ablutions. (Leila Molana-Allen / TRTWorld)

In signs of personal mourning, the "martyrs’" uniform headstones explode with personal decorations.

Airbrushed photographs, fairy lights and garlands of brightly coloured fake flowers decorate the graves, transforming them into personal shrines.
Airbrushed photographs, fairy lights and garlands of brightly coloured fake flowers decorate the graves, transforming them into personal shrines. (Leila Molana-Allen / TRTWorld)

Some observers believe that the mausoleums are part of Hezbollah's community-building exercise. In a country where the state has often been absent, the Party of God has provided partisans with scouts’ clubs, community centres and hospitals – the party’s social services wing has even held gardening workshops.

A teenage girl prays in front of images of Hezbollah’s most celebrated generals.
A teenage girl prays in front of images of Hezbollah’s most celebrated generals. (Leila Molana-Allen / TRTWorld)

The feelings "martyrs'" relatives describe are strange and often contradictory – mourning, sadness and pride all at once.

A young widow holds vigil at the gravestone of her husband, killed last year fighting in Syria.
A young widow holds vigil at the gravestone of her husband, killed last year fighting in Syria. (Leila Molana-Allen / TRTWorld)

In the south Lebanon city of Nabatieh, "martyrs" do not have their own mausoleum. Instead, their resting places mingle among hundreds of normal graves in the Garden of the Righteous cemetery, which is not run by Hezbollah. The fighters’ tombs stand out, though, thanks to their extravagant decorations.

Analysts believe that Hezbollah will maintain bases in Syria and carry out tours of duty. It will likely have an easier time convincing its Lebanese electorate of the need to stay, now that the number of dead fighters coming back across the border appears to be tailing off.

A pagoda flying Hezbollah flags stands over the grave of a fighter killed in Syria, in Nabatieh’s Garden of the Righteous, the city’s main graveyard.
A pagoda flying Hezbollah flags stands over the grave of a fighter killed in Syria, in Nabatieh’s Garden of the Righteous, the city’s main graveyard. (Leila Molana-Allen / TRTWorld)
Source: TRT World