A widow of Bayada and the death of Syria

Robin Yassin-Kassab writes: Our car turns through the crowded alleyways of single-storey breezeblock houses, foggy with coal smoke in the icy December morning. This is the poorest quarter of Reyhanli, a Turkish town just across the Syrian border, and it’s crammed with Syrian refugees.

The woman whose story I’ve come to hear puts on a niqab when the camera comes out. And she prefers to be nameless, because she fears for her two married daughters still living in regime-controlled territory.

She lives in an empty, unheated house. Her son sits with us, and her small daughter shivers under a blanket. The woman is in early middle age but looks older. Her face is long, worn, and haggard, her voice pain-strained and sharp.

Her husband, born in 1972, worked with the military security for seventeen years but retired early when he needed an operation on a vertebral disc. After that he opened a roast chicken place in his Homs neighbourhood, Bayada. The family lived what his wife describes as a working-class life “of an acceptable standard”. They had six children. Bayada comprised both Sunni and Alawi families, “and the relationship between us was very good, even if the state favoured Alawis. We drank maté together. There was no problem.”

The revolution broke out less than a year after her husband’s retirement, and the newly-pressured military security began asking him to return to work. He refused. “How could he work for them? At that time Bab Dreib was being shelled. In our area there were house searches and random arrests of young men. They even took women, those who attended demonstrations and those who shouted ‘God is Greater!’ from their windows at night.”

Her husband supported the revolution and was part of a local network which helped the revolutionaries, finding shelter for those on the run and collecting food, medical supplies and money. His wife believes an Alawi neighbour informed on him. On the other hand, it was an Alawi friend who warned him that his name was on the wanted list at regime checkpoints.

After that he stayed in his own neighbourhood. But one night at around nine the security arrived in five or six cars, and announced their arrival by drenching the street in tear gas. They broke down the family’s front door and directed a stream of insults at their ex-colleague, the kindest of which was ‘dog’. “Dog, why didn’t you return to work when you were told?” They beat him savagely in front of his children, then dragged him away.

Some days later they delivered his corpse. There was a bullet in the head, a bullet in the thigh, three bullets in the chest. Chunks of flesh had been carved out of the body, which was also covered with burns. It seems the latter injuries were inflicted while he was still alive. [Continue reading…]

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