Zaina Erhaim writes: Bustan al-Qasr is falling into the hands of the regime and its militias.” As I read these words, a multitude of images and thoughts pass through my mind. What has happened to those familiar faces living in that neighbourhood in Aleppo, with whom I shared a smile but also fear? I can only imagine the horror they are feeling, trapped there right now.
Those of us who are in exile, elsewhere in Syria or beyond, haven’t slept for the last four days, since receiving news of the city’s fall. We are scattered all over the world now, glued to our phones for the latest update. A notification can shake your heart with relief: “We are coming out of the siege.” Another can cause you to break down: “The deal is cancelled, we are being attacked again.” And the appearance of a few words on your screen is like being struck by lightning: “Your […] has been killed.” It is the end. Goodbye.
New levels of helplessness have developed over these last few terrible days. But we are the lucky ones. We have got out and have to be strong enough to give hope to our friends who are still there. A good imagination is necessary in these circumstances. For example, while reading that the Russian defence ministry is declaring that the “Syrian national army” will take over the besieged areas within two days, I translate this as: “They are using this as justification to get a better deal in the negotiations.” I reassure friends: “I am in touch with people, you will get out, it’s a matter of time, believe me.”
“I want nothing any more but to see my new daughter. My wife, Rania, is due next month,” my friend Malek told me. “I want to get out and be there for both of them.” Rania is 5km (three miles) away from him, and they haven’t seen each other for five months.
My husband, Mahmoud Rashwani, who is still in Syria, is busy keeping a record of all the wills he has received from his besieged friends and comrades. One common theme is that they would all prefer to be killed than captured by Assad militias. “I would have wanted the same, otherwise I will be wishing for death without getting it,” he tells me, speaking about the torture practised in Assad’s prisons that he knows too well from his own experiences. [Continue reading…]