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.
Fridays were holy days and “weekends” in Syria, but that was long before our revolution began.
I lost three very dear people to me – Salem, Kenan, and Dawud—on a Friday.
That day was the worst day of my life.
It did not begin in any peculiar way. Just another attempt to live our lives normally in an environment that was anything but normal.
Salem, his son Kenan, and his nephew Dawud were headed to my aunt’s home for breakfast that Friday morning. The town in which she lived in was targeted by local regime forces, and many of the main roads leading to it were closed off with makeshift barricades and military checkpoints. In an effort to find a way through and evade a confrontation with soldiers, Salem lead Kenan and Dawud down a different route that was seemingly safe.
Little did they know that there were snipers positioned right ahead. As the three walked along early that morning, they came across a man on the side of the road who began to call to them for help. As they moved towards him, a sniper began to shoot them down. Salem died instantly, and as his wounded son began to crawl towards him, Kenan’s soul left him before he reached his father. Dawud, injured in the neck, slowly crawled towards the man they had been walking to and hid behind his truck.
Salem and Kenan’s bodies remained sprawled in the middle of the road until the news reached my family. Two of our neighbors set out to try and drag the bodies away from harm, fully aware that they could easily end up in the same position as Kenan and his father. As they began to drag Salem’s body, one of the men bumped into a dumpster used to block off a side road and alerted the attention of regime soldiers nearby. They ran towards the two men and caught one of them, detaining him as if he were a criminal. The other man ran for his life, and later on fled the country after being identified and wanted by the police, leaving behind his wife and three-month old son.
When it was decided that dragging the bodies was too risky, my family began to plead with the soldiers, bribing them with money and asking them to simply allow for someone to bring the bodies home. One of the officers eventually agreed, after proper compensation for his “favor,” of course. But even bringing in the bodies to our apartment was a dangerous thing to do. Across from our building lived regime thugs, paid by the government to terrorize and kill as they pleased. If they spotted people taking bodies of the dead, it was unimaginable what they would do. So Salem and Kenan’s bodies were snuck in to the basement of our apartment building, and thank God the ordeal went unnoticed.
Salem’s mother and wife awaited him and his son, and upon seeing their bodies soaked in blood, the two women began to weep in deep anguish and despair. It broke my heart to watch Salem’s wife speak to his stiff, bloodied corpse. “Your martyrdom earned us a home in paradise, Salem. I hope you died quickly and didn’t suffer too much.” That night, our whole building was inhabited by fear and grief, and those painful images haunted us all.
The burial process was not any easier. At dawn of the next day, Salem and Kenan’s bodies were placed in a relative’s pick-up truck. Our family bid them a final farewell as the driver prepared for the huge risk he was about to take. The first attempt to drive across town under open fire earned him a gunshot in one of his arms. The second attempt involved heaving the truck up a stairway with a group of men in order to avoid a checkpoint. After many extremely risky maneuvers, the driver finally arrived to a grove near Salem’s childhood home. Salem and his fifteen-year-old son were buried there, as were many of the martyrs of our hometown
By the next day, our whole apartment building had fled their homes, as the terror of last night’s experience reined far too unbearable. My family and relatives all moved into one home in another area of Syria. We lived like sardines in a can, forty-five of us dwelling in one house for a period of three months. The pressure, fear, sadness, and overwhelming risks kept us all from leading ordinary lives; I had to leave school, and no one in my family had work. When the three months had passed, I fled the country to Egypt with many of my relatives. We yearned for a sanctuary there, and had one for a bit, until we were made scapegoats for politics that we played no role in.
As we later learned, Salem’s wife and son who remained in Syria were victims of a chemical weapons attack. Dawud, who was taken by the man on the side of the road the day he was shot, was hospitalized at a military hospital. Visits to his room were extremely limited, and eventually prohibited completely. The bullet remained in his neck, and he was later detained and moved from the hospital to a prison, with no consideration for his health.
Until today, no one knows anything about him. His mother is living a nightmare, facing complete uncertainty about the fate of her son.
All of us Syrians share her misery, as we mourn the obscure future of our country. We know the truth to be very clear, but continue to face the most absurd atrocities and injustices.
And so we continue to pray, and so should you.