The photo exhibit presented by Aid to the Church in Need Canada took place February 19 to March 3 at the Relais Mont-Royal, in Montreal, and gave opportunity for some very nice meetings. Notably, with Aziz (a fictitious name we will give to this witness of the Syrian war, preferring to stay anonymous to protect the safety of his family). Aziz, a man in his forties, originating from Syria, bears witness to 6 months spent in Syria between May and November 2012.
Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada
Translation: Amanda Bridget Griffin
Aziz lived in Syria until the age of 16 before settling in Québec with his family. Each year, this Syrian routinely returned to his native country. He would go primarily to study and after a while, for love, for enjoyment and to reunite with his family and friends.
After communicating with friends in Aleppo last May to enquire about the situation, and after learning that peace prevailed, he decided to leave on his own for two or three months to visit his home and nearby friends. Then, a few weeks later, everything suddenly changed.
War. It arrived as an undesirable guest, shaking up the tranquility of this city once considered to be among the most beautiful in the world. The majority of the 1,693, 803 Aleppites braced themselves as they watched their life transform a bit at a time. From this point onward, the crashing sounds bombs, overlaid with the deafening sounds of rifle and machine gun fires, would drown out the sound of music in the cafés, send the most basic of necessities up in smoke and interfere with every available method of communication.
So many ghosts left to deal with
“No longer could we move about freely; the price of food rose to drastic heights and the price of fuel just to just as steep; and I am not even talking about the failings in the communications systems which kept us from reassuring our loved ones; we were also deprived of electricity and of running water during long periods,” said Aziz and adding: “We sometimes had to wait in line for 8 to 24 hours to get food because the shortage was so great.”
He who wished to return home and exchange pleasantries with his neighbours now must resign himself to the exchange of fears and sufferings. “I witnessed the death of two people, directly behind me. I avoided turning around so as not to impress the images in my mind, but I still retained the pain,” he said, still troubled by the scene.
Numerous are the memories he wished to forget, but with which from now on, he must learn to live with. “When we were walking around during the day, we learned or discovered all kinds of things. One day, we ran into some children meandering in the streets, separated from their family which had been torn apart by the attacks and leaving them homeless. Later we saw people camping in the parks and using them as refuge, and another time, we heard it was rumoured that some person or another had to, in order to save one of their own, dole out such a high ransom that the probability of assembling it was almost nil.”
However, above all others, there was one episode which shook him more deeply and haunts his memory persistently: “I remember this seven year old child who was sleeping on the sidewalk and who had lost track of his family. We gave him something to eat and my neighbour took him in to protect him.” For Aziz, there are so many ghosts left to deal with.
The ultimate decision
Finally, discouraged, and without a single glimmer of hope for any kind of settlement after living six months of dread – rather than the two or three he had expected to stay initially, he decided to come home praying to God that He would journey with him. Aziz then risked going to the airport.
“I knew I was stepping on to Death Road. I heard of these four Armenians, who, after taking a taxi to the airport, were killed before arriving at their destination. I also knew that many Aleppites, after shoving themselves onto buses and hoping to leave Damascus, were kidnapped or quite simply killed before half the trip was over. But I could not imagine an end to the chaos,” said Aziz with a tremor in his voice.
“The taxi which cost me $2 upon arrival now was going to cost me $100 to do the trip which would be perilous for both the driver, and me. I decided to trust the driver, could I have done otherwise?” concludes Aziz.
When questioned about whether he thought he might die, he answers with: “You know, we lived day to day under threat of falling shells which landed just about anywhere, sniper shots flying at just about anyone, and rigged cars set to explode at any given time. Of course I was scared to die. “One day, I saw, a priest leaning out over his windowsill, get shot at. Thankfully, the bullet missed, but I can still vividly see the mark it left in the wall.”
Aziz, having been deeply marked by the experience, today is happy to have been reunited with his family and to be able to, at long last, move around the city securely and to do so at night, which he could not do while in Aleppo.
Aziz wishes to offer this message, one he judges fundamental in this year of Faith:
“I hope to invite everyone to believe that God isn’t simply here to bail us out in times of trouble, but rather to be a guide who we must follow at all times.”
An excerpt from tomorrow’s story:
‘Never give up hope!’
“Everyone is afraid. They don’t know how long they have to live. When someone goes to work he doesn’t know if he’ll come home again. Fear permeates the whole of life.”