A Grieving Mother Refuses to Give Up Hope

Um Ahmad still hopes that the Syrian revolution will be triumphant, that the regime will be overthrown and a new, free country will be built.

Now in her 70s, Um Ahmad is a mother whose life has been dedicated to raising her children and educating them to love God and country. But she has never once hesitated to give up all that is most valuable and precious to her for the sake of Syria and the revolution.

When the uprising began in March 2011, her eldest son Ahmad was one of the first to join the rebellion against injustice and tyranny. Ahmad was a religious scholar and a rights activist who was well-respected in Idlib. He worked day and night for the revolution, calling for the release of detainees and for people injured in peaceful demonstrations to be evacuated safely for medical treatment.

On February 1, 2012, security and military forces stationed on top of the municipality building targeted a protest march passing through the Sabeh Bahrat roundabout. Many people were killed and wounded, and army snipers prevented anyone from removing the wounded.

So Ahmad volunteered to help. He approached the area, calling out to the security forces, “Hold your fire, I come in peace!”

But his appeal went unheeded. One of the snipers shot him, and the bullet pierced his right lung. Ahmad held on for ten days, fighting for his life before he finally succumbed. Tens of thousands of people joined his funeral procession.

The day we received news of his death, I was looking after my sick grandmother and so was unable to go and say goodbye, or even deliver my condolences to his loved ones. I was very sad to lose Ahmad, who was an exceptional person, God rest his soul.

A week after his passing, I travelled to Idlib to see Um Ahmad. I was uncertain what I should say to her. Should they be words of condolence or congratulation? It was the first time I had attended such an event.

I went into Ahmad’s house, holding back my tears as I searched the faces of the mourners to find Um Ahmad. I felt as if a great distance separated us as I slowly walked over to where she was sitting, holding her prayer beads and muttering.

I approached her and she took me in her arms immediately. I could barely speak. The first thing I said was, “May the rest of his years go to you, Auntie, and may God welcome him in heaven.” But she interrupted me, saying, “Don’t console me – congratulate me, congratulate me, Ahmad is a martyr.”

The memorial event went on for hours, and afterwards I accompanied Um Ahmad to her home. There I met her other son Mohammad, who had taken leave from army service to say goodbye to his older brother and attend the funeral proceedings. He entered the room, carrying a huge picture of Ahmad to place on the wall. As soon as she saw it, Um Ahmad went to embrace the picture. It was as if she were embracing her lost son. Tears flooded her eyes and she could barely let go of the frame.

The next day we had to return to the village. As we made our way to the bus station, we learned that a protest rally had been planned. We wanted to join it, but were then told that the army had surrounded Idlib, ringing the city with 30 tanks.

The bombs began to fall thick and fast, and terrified people ran through the streets. We quickly went back to the bus station. With difficulty, we were able to leave Idlib, but our thoughts remained with its residents.

A few days later, Idlib fell to the regime. Mohammad announced that he was defecting from the army and would not be returning to his platoon. He left his parent’s house to hide somewhere far away from the regime thugs and the army. Then he left Syria altogether, to live in a Turkish refugee camp.

However, he could not stand being so far away from his family for long. He told me that he wanted to come back to Syria to see them and also to continue his medical treatment – he was suffering from a bacterial inflammation of the liver. I strongly advised him not to return to Idlib and suggested that he try instead to meet his family at our house, far from the area under regime control. He would not listen to me.

One Friday morning, the phone rang. It was Um Ahmad’s home number. I answered and was shocked to hear Mohammad’s voice at the other end. He had indeed been unable to stay away. We talked a little.

Before the day was out, we received news that he had been arrested. The security forces had rushed over and detained him in front of his mother, who was still mourning the death of her eldest son.

I visited Um Ahmad only once after that. She told me that she had seen Mohammad in a dream and that he was fine, and that someone had told her they had seen him alive at one of the security agencies’ headquarters in Damascus. She seemed comforted by this, and tried to console us too, but the truth was that she was really only trying to reassure herself.

Mohammed has been gone for a year and-a-half now. His name appeared on a list in one of the prisoner exchange deals between the army and the rebels, but the rumour is that he was executed in July 2013 and buried in a mass grave.

Um Ahmad is not convinced that her son died in prison; the family received no proof of his death, not even his personal identity card. Um Ahmad still has hope for the freedom of both her country and her son.

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