In this series, Syrian refugees share their stories of being displaced as a result of the current atrocities occurring in that region. All accounts are factual, but may be written by a family member or a friend.
I am at a loss for words after my grandmother passed away. The sudden events that took place as my brother and I were simultaneously placed in jail by the Syrian regime may have caused her the traumatic strokes that ended her life. Am I to blame for causing her stress? Am I the one that should have been placed upon her deathbed? These are the questions that often circulate through my head. I can’t help it though. I long for the freedom that neither I nor my parents had.
It all started when Syrian citizens of all ages took to the streets. We peacefully protested the Syrian Regime, because we lacked basic human rights, a stable economy, and freedom at any level. We were sick of an authority that was brutal, a dictatorship that needed to be replaced with a government who benefited the citizens of this country and looked out for their best interest. At 24 years of age, I wanted to be out there, I wanted the future generations to experience the freedom and justice that we missed out on.
I faced many challenges by taking this route, internally and externally. I have six aunts and four uncles. Three are pro-regime, and the rest are against, but they do not take a public stance or do anything about it. I have one aunt who freely expresses her disgust with the regime, but that naturally happens since she lives in America. My mother is pro-regime, because she was one of Hassoun’s students1 ; she believed the government can do no wrong and blamed it on foreign interference. I often argued with her about everything I did to oppose the government. I did not have much support from the family. I lost a lot of friends and cousins due to my position. Some of them called me a sell-out and a shame to the family. They tried me and tested me with questions: How dare you defy the regime and put yourself out there with the scums that are protesting along your side?
Who are you to decide that the regime is corrupt and give our family a bad reputation?
I was picked up at a protest and held in jail for three months. It was the most horrid, terrifying experience of my life. I was fed rotten bread, just so I can live to bear the abuse in every inhumane way possible. Sometimes the rotten bread was flavored with urine; the attempt of the regime was to put our morale down as much as possible. This was the best case scenario for there was worse. We were sometimes urinated upon along with our food. We were beaten with wires so badly that maps were engraved onto our backs to tell our stories forever. They stripped us down, electrocuted our private parts and tongues. AlhamdulilLah (Praise be to God), I was finally let go three months later after my family begged and pleaded and paid 500 USD.
The dismay I experienced provided me with determination to move forward and demand change regardless of the consequences. I continued to protest by helping those hurt by the attacks of the regime. I took them to hospitals and documented everyday experiences through words, pictures, and videos. I was caught for the second time at a protest. I swallowed the SIM card and threw the phone on the floor because I did not want any of my contacts to get hurt or interrogated. My friends informed my mother that it was a peaceful protest. We had our cameras, phones, and flowers as we chanted, “Freedom, freedom!” I was finally bailed out after my family paid 1200 USD, but at this point I was broken. They got to me and took away any sense of dignity I had—that is the purpose of prison—but I will not back down.
At this point, my family decided to ship me out to Lebanon. I was taking too many risks and they wanted me out of their sight, because I was causing them too much trouble. I stayed in Lebanon for three months where I was active through Facebook in exposing the atrocities committed by the Syrian regime. I kept in touch with my fiance Amal who I loved dearly. I decided to sneak my way to Idlib and marry her because it seemed that the conflict was dragging longer than expected.
While I was away, the regime was unhappy with my virtual activism and they habitually visited my parents’ home asking for me. They were frustrated with the fact that I was absent and took my older brother instead. Ahmad was 28 years old, married with a daughter. His experience in jail was much worse than mine. It made me feel guilty that they took him on my behalf. He endured the same experiences I did, but to a greater level.
The regime specialized in ways to break each person who went through the jail experience, male or female. Ahmad spent three weeks in jail, he was fed meals that contained a type of substance that made people act irrationally. They forced the men and women in jail to strip naked and rape each other. He was defiantly scared. The problem with our culture is that we do not talk about these experiences to get over them or seek help, we just bring shame to the family and it ends there. We continue our lives as broken individuals who are not healed and do not know how to heal. I wanted to turn myself in so that my brother may be let go. My aunt convinced me out of it, because she knew that the regime had no mercy and would keep us both instead. My family was able to collect 1000 USD and bail Ahmad out after three weeks of his hellish experience.
I lived in Almarra for some time with Amal and her family, until I had to leave because it was getting attacked. We fled to Aleppo, but my parents’ house was shelled and therefore, we relocated to a village in the outskirts of Aleppo. My wife is pregnant, and we will be expecting any day now. I am grateful for the supportive family that I have, someone to rely on in times of hardship. I pray that my child experiences a Syria that is free, able to operate in a democratic fashion. I pray for her to enjoy a life my grandmother never imagined or fathomed. I pray for a victory very soon insha’Allah (God willing). For I want the upcoming Eid to be a holiday of true celebration and lack of bloodshed. Ameen
- Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria and a supporter of Bashar al-Assad [↩]