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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 26 October, 2016

‘Five years ago, everything was going my way. Today, I’ve lost my brothers and my business’

“It is as if destiny wanted to examine our patience.”


MY NAME IS Mohammed*.

I am 34 years of age and I am from Syria.

In March 2011, around the time the revolution began in my country, I was the happiest I have ever been in my life.

Married with four children, I was an MA student in the University of Aleppo and working with four of my brothers in our successful family trading business.

Mideast Syria Aleppo, as it was in 2007 Source: AP/Press Association Images

With a BA in English literature, I was also doing some part-time translation work for another company and teaching students in a nearby institute for an hour or two every day. I was even working as a tourist guide during my holidays for people visiting the old city of Aleppo.

Yes, five years ago, everything was going my way.

Nothing changed much in the first year of the revolution. But soon after the Free Syrian Army (FSA) entered Aleppo in the summer of 2012, regime planes began to bomb the city.

In that year alone, these bombs destroyed our shop, our factory and our home. We lost everything. We had no choice but to escape from the death and destruction. We moved to Al-Tabaka, where my father’s family lived.

In Al-Tabaka, my father asked us to join his work. Along with his own father, he had started a successful business in trade in the late 1970s and in a few years had become one of the most famous in the whole of Al-Raqqa district because of their good reputation and sincerity.

This was at the end of 2012. But soon my father became sick of a heart disease. I took him to a Turkish hospital to treat him but unfortunately he died there in May 2013.

It was while bringing my father’s body back to bury him in Al-Raqqa that I met Isis for the first time.

Soldiers travelling in cars with black flags stopped our vehicles. I asked them whether they were the FSA, but they said they were the soldiers of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, and had come to apply ‘the God laws’ (Islamic Sharia law) on this earth, and would fight those called the Free Syrian Army because they (the FSA) do not want to apply Sharia law.

They let us go, but their words let fear occupy my heart about the future of the Syrian revolution with such ideas.

Around the end of 2013, the battles between the FSA and Isis spread to Al-Raqqa governorate, the place where we were now living and working. Soon, Isis defeated the FSA and occupied Al-Raqqa city, Al-Tabaka and surrounding towns.

It was at this time – the beginning of 2014 – that I saw how Isis were killing the rebels in cold blood. They cut off their heads and put them in the general squares of Al-Raqqa and Al-Tabaka.

They planted terror in our hearts.

Syria conflict Screen grab taken from undated footage issued by Islamic State militants showing the execution of five men accused of being spies for the UK. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

When we were in Al-Tabaka, one of my brothers was killed by a rocket when he went to collect goods from Homs. It was at this time that we decided to move back to Aleppo district.

After we left Al-Tabaka, Isis accused those whose shops and houses were closed in Al-Tabaka and Al-Raqqa of being FSA supporters. They took everything and gave them to Isis soldiers. Our houses and shops were gone again. It was the summer of 2014. Once more, we had nothing in the world.

Family responsibilities 

As the eldest, I became responsible for my family of seven brothers and four sisters after my father’s death. I was also responsible for my two brothers and two sisters from my father’s second marriage after my mother died in 2002.

I didn’t know what to do. I had worked as a civil media and relief activist in Al-Raqqa and Al-Tabaka, helping local councils distribute relief aid provided by international organisations, and I wrote reports for some local news networks about the revolution.

I decided to continue the same work with the local council in the northern Aleppo town where we went to live.

I also worked as a translator for Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF) in a hospital until it was forced to close because of the conflict. I worked for a short while teaching English to Syrian students in Kilis, Turkey, but I could not bring my family to Turkey because of the low salary and the expensive cost of living in Kilis.

I started to search for a better job, either in Turkey or in Syria.

In March, 2015, I heard for the first time about Goal. I was in Kilis hospital with my injured brother when Syrian people around me started talking about Goal, and how the organisation had helped them and their families.

Mideast Jordan Syrian Refugees Syrian refugees sit in a Jordanian army vehicle after crossing into Jordanian territory with their families

I decided to apply for a job with them and, fortunately, I was successful. I have been working with them in northern Syria since June 2015. There are 400 of us – all Syrian. It satisfies me to live with my family and help my own people.

While all this gave me patience to deal with what had happened in the past, the pain did not stop.

I lost another of my brothers when he was killed by a rocket in the northern Aleppo countryside in September 2015. In addition to this, another four of my brothers have been disabled, or badly injured. One of them is still in hospital today.

In all, I have lost about 25 friends (from childhood, university and work) in the conflict. My family in Syria has been forced to move home on 10 occasions since the war began.

It is as if destiny wanted to examine our patience.

This is my story, but there are millions more like it in Syria.

This conflict began when the Syrian people protested like many other countries were doing at the time. My country is still at war but the revolution is a distant memory.

No one seems to care about the Syrian people and the blood we have all shed. The countries who have come to Syria don’t have our welfare at heart; they have come to save their own people from similar bloodshed.

*Mohammed’s name has been changed to protect his identity. He is an aid worker with Goal in Syria. On Tuesday 19 January Goal will host The Caesar Photographs at The RHA Gallery at Ely Place, Dublin, from 9am to 4pm. The graphic display of photographs shows some of the victims of atrocities carried out in prisons of the Syrian regime.

Read: Aid trucks reach Syrian town where people are starving to death

More: Shocking videos show the starving children trapped in a Syrian town

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