Younger Syrians see themselves more as ‘survivors’ rather than ‘victims’
Mustapha Karkouti, my close friend, was a Syrian-born British journalist, who died of a heart attack last July. We would often have coffee and talk politics. Today, we would have ruminated about the Syrian spring which led to an unending, grave winter.
Ten years ago, on 15 March 2011, young idealists protested peacefully. All they wanted was a functioning and fair democratic system. For Syria’s dynastic autocracy, the demand was a punishable sin. President Bashar al-Assad went on a bloodthirsty spree.
The result so far: half a million deaths, countless maimed children, women and men, the displacement of millions of Syrians and a wrecked economy. Inevitably, the open sores attracted Islamist terrorists who have made everything inestimably worse.
Asma, his British-born wife, is now being investigated by the Met over terrorism allegations raised by a law firm. She is accused of supporting and encouraging terrorism. Iniquitous global players, Russia and Iran, have backed the tyrant. The West has barely intervened, and, with the exception of Germany’s Angela Merkel, has added immorality to inaction by seeming to keep out as many Syrian refugees as they can.
Mustapha found solace in the humanity, courage, resilience and aspirations of Syrians under unimaginable pressures. They should be the focus of today’s grim anniversary.
In the extensive, and still growing list of the brave hearts and burning spirits are the young men, who, in 2016, when the Assad regime was bombing urban areas indiscriminately, made a secret library in a collapsed building in a suburb of Damascus.
And Leila (not her real name), a university student I have come to know. All the men and boys in her extended family were killed by Assad’s soldiers. She told me: “We couldn’t cry forever. The women took over, earn money and have made a safe place for the children”.
And Marwa al-Sabouni, an architect in Homs, a place blasted and burnt out. She published a memoir, opened a bookshop with her husband, and is, as this paper reported last week, working on plans for post-war architectural renewal and emotional healing.
Uprooted Syrians have had to be creative and resourceful too. I once interviewed Razan Alsous, a refugee settled in Yorkshire with her family. The trained pharmacologist and her husband, an engineer, couldn’t get employment in their fields. Unable to find any haloumi in the local shops, she decided to make and sell some. It is now a thriving business.
Mo, a recently qualified doctor, and his parents live in Berkshire. He wants to go out and do voluntary medical work in hard to reach, war-torn areas. Hope keeps them all going.
Rising young activists, raised in a land full of discontent and brutality, have been speaking to Arab and foreign journalists in the past few days.
One of them, Hasna Issa, who was imprisoned by the regime, told The Guardian: “We are not just victims. We are survivors… We are raising the next generation in a way different to anything we could imagine before.”
Protests are again breaking out across Syria.
Leila flies back after her finals. She tells me, “No, I am not afraid. My friends and even you are complaining about lockdown and I just want to laugh. It’s nothing. Imagine what it like to be a Syrian. Then you won’t complain.”
I was chastised and humbled by her words. Syria will be free one day. Mustapha believed that and, now, so do I.
Metro piece by Faima Bakar