My Friend the Martyr

An activist disappears, and those left behind can only wonder as to his fate.

“My friend the martyr.” An entire year has passed between my writing that sentence and now these lines. When I wrote “my friend the martyr”, my fingers went numb, and my mind drifted back to the four years in which we shared both smiles and tears.

Our journey began at the first media training sessions we attended with a group of friends. When the revolution started, the Media East office shut down, taking with it our dream job.

Then we were swept up in the waves of revolution, using our simple mobile phone cameras to bear witness like other young Syrians. It was a year of brief moments in time together. I sheltered in your shadow so that no one knew I was working with you in the Deir al-Zor Coordination office.

Our path continued when we fled to Qamishli, where we began our civil society organisation, SAMA Human Rights. Our first activities were in cooperation with an Assyrian organisation, but our longing for our home place, Deir al-Zor, was stronger than our desire to expend energy away from it. So we returned to our beloved city with whatever hopes and dreams we had. We began working again, we faced hardship, competed with other local organisations, and clashed with the ruling parties.

Yet all this was accompanied with your faintly hopeful smile, and your daily ring on the doorbell every morning. You'd exchange snatches of conversation with my family, who became your family, and the family of all the young people on our team.

On July 20, 2013, I received an invitation to a training workshop with the Syrian Emergency Task Force, but the situation required me to travel with a mahram [male chaperone], so you had to accompany me to the session.

At this point, we were talking to the institutions sponsoring us to secure funding for a workshop to provide psychological support for children. After we returned to Deir al-Zor, one of our sponsors approved our funding request, and said it was imperative for one of us to travel to Turkey to sign the contract. As usual, you volunteered for the job so as not to expose me to the hardships of travel and winter cold.

I had no idea that this would be a journey of no return for you. The days passed, and we were oblivious of future joys and miseries.

On September 27 that year, you called to tell me happily that you had managed to get a holiday from work, and that you’d also secured funding for another project for our organisation, an election project.

Then you disappeared.

Your parents and some of our friends accused me of informing on you to Islamic State. They didn’t know that what doomed you, what claimed your beautiful spirit, was just a few words on your Facebook page, spontaneously composed on your laptop keyboard.

One read, “May the time come for my nation”, and the other, “All is chaos.”

You and those who were with you disappeared as if into a black hole, like a mysterious cosmic phenomenon. I began to beat myself up, and was only able to cope with the world by remaining silent and muting all memories of my time with you.

I ask myself continuously – my friend the martyr, did they throw you in prison? What is a prison, anyhow? Only a room in which you are isolated, alone. How I suffer, my friend, for my inability to isolate myself, to seclude myself from this world crowded with random accusations?

Did they curse you? What does a curse mean, anyway? It is no more than a word that people agree humiliates the other party, even if it lacks meaning or is said in a language that the recipient doesn’t understand.

Did they attack you? What does an attack entail? Your body is far more fragile than it should be.

Did they whip you? What does it mean if they whipped you? Does it mean they hit your back with a switch? Those poor, ignorant idiots, they had no idea that they were merely whipping a collection of millions of cells, while you remained apart, revisiting your memories and reciting verses from the Koran. They had no idea that pain no longer has any meaning for us Syrians.

This story was produced by the Damascus Bureau, IWPR’s news platform for Syrian journalists.