As he recounted in an interview, Hassoun hastily saw his family off in one direction, then donned an old overcoat and sunglasses and took off in a public bus in another.
Ten days later, he rejoined his wife and three sons in Turkey, leaving behind a privileged life but with no regrets about abandoning an institution he served for 31 years.
“I thought the army was built for the purpose of fighting foreign enemies, not targeting our own civilians,” said Hassoun, 49, looking like a prosperous businessman in his black suit.
What appears to be a growing number of defections by senior military, police and intelligence officers suggests that the brutal government campaign to quell the nearly 22-month-old rebellion is sapping the morale of some of the most elite members of Syrian society.
Although some officers have remained in Syria and are fighting alongside the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), the Turkish government has established a separate camp for defecting officers. It has not said how many officers it is sheltering, either in the camp or in private houses across the country.
Journalists are not permitted inside the well-guarded camp, making it difficult to judge whether the defections reflect a growing unhappiness with the conduct of the war, which the United Nations estimates has killed more than 60,000 Syrians, or a dawning realization that the rebels may defeat government troops.
One thing that few Syrians say it indicates, however, is that the conflict will end soon or before many more Syrians die. Although the military has been weakened, it remains a formidable force by all accounts.
“I think it will take more than six months,” said Hassoun, who taught engineering to about 1,000 army cadets at the Assad Military Academy in Aleppo, during an interview at an Antakya cafe. “The regime’s army is strong and well-trained. It has fighter jets and tanks.”
On his way to Turkey, Hassoun said, he met FSA fighters armed only with shotguns. “The regime can do more killing with one airstrike than the FSA can do with many attacks,” he said.
Although his is just one man’s account, Hassoun’s decision to defect, and the dangers it entailed, helps explain why even more officers have not followed suit.
Hassoun said he spent his adult life in the army, entering the Aleppo academy when he was 18.
He said he was optimistic in 2000, when Bashar al-Assad became president. Hassoun hoped that the son of Hafez al-Assad, the late president, would usher in reforms for society and the military.
But the uprising was deeply unsettling for career military officers. Protesters in Hassoun’s village were shot at and arrested. His brother was arrested, but nobody told Hassoun anything about it for a long time.