This is for Those Who Can’t Return

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The victory seems closer now than ever. Assad has been able to push the rebels out of some of their strongholds. The regime and it’s allies are bombing the humanity out of Aleppo. The opposition is weak and fighting each other.

On social media, photos from pages such as Syria Tourism and Tartous2day are uploading photos as if it’s the summer of 2010: dressed up young people attending a party; ice cream desserts enjoyed in the center of Damascus; Syrian restaurants serving food to it’s guests, the trade mark fountain bubbling in the middle. Hope seems to make its way back into the common perception of Syria; in this sense, hope meaning the hope of peace.

If the regime will win the war, peace might happen in the near future. The regime will then need to rebuild parts of the country from scratch. Hospitals, schools, roads, buildings; in some areas, all of this needs to be rebuilt. But there will be peace, and many of the Syrians in exile will be able to go back to their beloved, beautiful country, without fear. They will be able to make use of their summer vacations to return to Syria and go swim in Latakia. Stroll in the old souk of Damascus. Dine out in one of the outdoor restaurants. I dare to say that I believe all Syrians have now been waiting for this for a long time.

But, there are those who won’t be able to enjoy an upcoming peace in Syria, the way peace seems likely now. Those who can’t go back despite any peace agreement if the regime stays in power. The people who once stood up against the regime, demanding human rights, a society where free speech was accepted. A society where you could live without fear.

These people once risked their lives for their own country, and they will receive nothing in return. They’ve been imprisoned, tortured, raped, before – if they were lucky – escaping the country.

Many of them that I know, are not happy with and would never have chosen the exile. A young woman who early on received permanent asylum in Sweden, and who has done quite well in maintaining her career and her profession, has done less well in appreciating the safety Sweden has provided her. Despite her freedom of speech, her ability to maintain her activism against the regime, her huge network all around Europe, she seems to dislike almost every aspect of her life in exile; her life in her new home country; the country itself. She’s aching so much for the Syria she once had. Despite all the terrible things she was put through, as an open activist against the regime.

One day, her Facebook status update simply stated: “I want to go home!”

The way the events in Syria are unfolding right now, that might never be possible.

Photo credit: www.facebook.com/tartous2day/

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Happy Assyrian New Year!

Yesterday it was the Assyrian New Year, the year of 6766. Happy Assyrian New Year, everyone!

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The Iraqi and the Assyrian flag

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Girls in traditional Assyrian dresses

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Photo credits: Tourism in Iraq and Assyrian National National Library

 

 

#SyriaB4War – Hashtag Gone Wrong

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UNHCR Northern Europe wanted to launch a hashtag on Syria to remind people on how Syria was before the war. Little did they probably suspect that Syrian activists – these admirable, young, brave people – would take over the hashtag to remind the world of what was going on behind the beautiful scenery of their homeland. UNHCR even happily encouraged twitters to publish their photos of Syria before the war, seemingly disregarding the Syrian activists using Twitter as their main forum for resistance towards the regime.

Everyone agrees that Syria was a beautiful country before the war, but if you happened to be against the regime, to be one of those who wanted to speak, read and write whatever they wanted to, Syria could show a very ugly face. This, many people seem to have forgotten by now. The Twitter activists quickly took the opportunity to remind of this, and to show an excerpt of their remarkably dark humour:

“#SyriaB4War: is where you have to watch the criminal dictator pictures in all streets” (attached, a photo with the ever-smiling Bashar Al Assad)

“#SyriaB4War: Farm for Bashar al-Assad and his family”

“#SyriaB4War: Thousands of writers and the opposition were in prison”

“#SyriaB4War: is where the civil society activism was only for Asthma Assad and her entourage”

“#SyriaB4War: is where families dream of eating meat without being able to fulfil that dream with their miserable salaries”

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And the last touché: one twitterer attached a photo of the Tadomour prison in Syria: “who goes there never return”.

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I bet UNHCR’s communication department will think twice next time.

The Forgotten, Beaten and Tired Syrian Activists

I remember the beginning of the Syrian revolution. Young Syrians; girls in their pastel-colored clothes that marked the spring of 2011; young men in leather jackets protecting them against the chilly March weather.

They were so cool. They were hopeful. They were saying things in public that previously had made you, if you happened to be in Syria, shiver. They were forming cells; established independent news outlets; traded news about which activist was in which underground prison; helped kids who had become orphans when their parents disappeared; speaking openly about the sexual abuse the female members of the opposition endured in prison.

The activists that I knew were journalists, medical doctors, university scholars, NGO employees by day; activists by night. Keeping in touch with other fellow activists on social media and the in the Middle East so loved Blackberry.

The topics of politics and justice flowed easily among them; sitting with some Syrian activists, they always started talking politics, you could break night with them just to hear their ideas, their bright thoughts about the future, when their generation would be the first one to conquer the long-lived illness of living under a totalitarian regime. They would bring up their kids in a society where you could say whatever you liked. Where fear didn’t seep in everywhere. Where the beautiful, amazing country of Syria didn’t have that silenced cover over it all: where freedom prospered. Where you could talk as openly in the street as you could a few hours away from Damascus, on the other side of the border in Lebanon.

And soon we are at the five year landmark. In a few weeks it’s March 2016. What happened to the cool young Syrian activists, with their high-flying dreams? The one who were chanting in the streets?

My own answer is so sad that I have to write about it.

The Syrian activists that I know are tired and beaten and worst of all, forgotten. No one will assign them with a human rights award. No one will call them on a stage in front of an international audience and praise them for all the brave things they did for their own country. How they started free press online. How they cared for other people’s children. How they treated wounded civilians with a minimum of medical supplies.

The Syrian activists, the ones who started it all, before Daesh, before Al Nosra front, before the foreign interventions, are in worst case dead; tortured and starved until they caved in in one of the regime’s dreaded dungeons. If they’re better off, they’re released and living in constant fear of being detained again. Leaving the country starts to become more and more impossible for those who are still left.

If they’re better off they have been able to leave the country and are scattered around the globe, refugees in other countries. They are often unwelcome.  They’re struggling with psychological problems many can’t imagine. They are depressed, suffering from anxiety attacks, insomnia. And being traumatised doesn’t always make you a better person. Being traumatised doesn’t make you nicer. It makes you angry, and you take out the anger on anyone. It makes you bitter and you take out the bitterness on anything.

The mental health care system in my own country often can’t cope with their traumas. Psychologists I’ve heard of break down in tears themselves when hearing the horrific ordeal the Syrian regime put the activists through, the civil war that tore the country in pieces.

Being a Syrian activist in 2016 – you’re forgotten. The pastel colours from the spring of 2011 has faded a long time ago. The activists were left with no support and here we have the results. What’s left is a regional war, a war by proxy, that’s escalating into an international war, in a place where the so promising feelings of hope and trust once grew.

Travel to Kurdistan

Despite the ongoing threat from Daesh, Kurdistan is trying to hold the fort. Many Kurds I know try to keep up the vibes by sharing positive photos and news from their country.

Travel to Kurdistan is a beautiful Facebook page with one clear aim in mind.

Wanna go somewhere exciting? Somewhere different? Try Iraqi Kurdistan next time. here’s a few reasons why (all captions, when there are, are from the Travel to Kurdistan’s page):

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“Zaxo, Kurdistan”

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“Our colourful flag must wave in all weather and at all time to survive.”

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Photo credits: Travel to Kurdistan’s Facebook page