They had a lot of children. In the order of their arrival, their younger children were a girl, a boy, a girl, a boy, a girl, a boy. Atef, their eldest son, was born right before them on December 25, 1959. He has three elder sisters. Together they were 10 and all of them left Syria. War made them go to Saudi Arabian diaspora, the Emirates, to Lebanon and Europe. Three sisters live in Germany. Just like Atef who does no longer start his days in Aleppo but in Berlin since he came here a year ago.
"I feel like a human being. For the first time in my life.
From the rooftop of his brother-in-law's house he could see his house, bombed and destroyed. His relatives opened their home to him, his wife and their youngest daughter after it fell into pieces, when stones became dust. He never talks about it as a mansion. He remembers it as a castle, rising like a phoenix in his thoughts. Located above the city - sublime and majestically - with people who could not live in this area, walking by at night - until 2012.
The neighbor had left the house to get some breakfast. Only two days ago she had given birth to her child. Snipers executed her. The woman died in the 1980s when Hafez Al Assad was dictator.
"It was terror", Atif says. "No one dared to say something." He still remembers the men, who were dragged out of their apartments by the military's henchmen and gunned down at the wall by 50s or 60s. The dictator would counter opposition with bombs and shells. He would massacre the cities of Hama and Idlip with its Benish district, the family's hometown. Back then his father was already in Rakkah, guarding a bank dam. In 1967, when Hafez came into power, he had quit the service as a professional soldier by choice. His last commitment ended with the 7-days-war in an Israeli army prison. When his father died in 1991 Atef became head of the family and took over responsibility.
"Bashar is even worse than Hafez, he is more dirty, more filthy. There are people at public authorities that did not even finish 9th grade. They sit next to postgraduates. It is like that under Bashar and it was like that under Hafez." Atef, who has been working in executive function with tax authorities in Aleppo knows what he is talking about. In a circle of likeminded people he would achieve small changes, staunchly defending his job against the regime's stalwarts.
"If there is justice - who would not want it? Everyone wants justice. The problem is that Arabian people are used to dictatorship." In 2012, his extensive network of relations would finally rescue him, when talking pro revolution in public and being arrested for it. They let him go with a warning: "Cut off your tongue if you like to live on." To live on meant to escape.
With her black glasses his wife looks severe. Until today, the professor of economics is responsible for the university of Aleppo's finances. A few days ago, their daughter Nour who had just turned 18, graduated from high-school (Abitur). As schools are closed she had to learn at home with the help of a private teacher. Atef never stops worrying about her in the city still being shelled in Northern Syria. Every day that goes by with nothing happening in terms of family unification, tortures him and makes him fear.
He misses is circle of friends and likeminded people more than all those precious possessions decorating the inside of his house. If ever war would end, he would go back to rebuild the city and his country. "But this is not going to happen. There will be more chaos and war." His foresight to Middle East is dark without hope.
"Europe takes away the pressure of the world. It is always peaceful. Europe releases stress and pressure from the world. The United States of America and Russia pull the strings of the marionettes. They have been playing and Europe suffered most."
He has even sympathy for those who struggle against all new arrivals. According to him everyone has the right to say "no" and says frankly "… to make it crystal clear: some of the people coming to Germany are so bad not even wastewater would absorb them. And this is not about a specific nationality."
He always wanted to live his life in Syria. He never imagined that war would hit him and his family so hard.
"I am an ordinary person. I like people and I respect people. I do not want to hurt anyone and I never meant to harm anyone. It's that easy."
He has suffered too much. However, his suffering has been relieved through German society that respects him: "I feel like a human being. For the first time in my life. That makes it so much easier to bear the misery that my family is not here with me, that my country is destroyed, that there is no more hope."
He brought his 24 years of job experience in Syria with him. Once it was his dream to calmly go into retirement and to enjoy life. Now he wants to build up something new for his family and himself because "those 24 years do not mean I don't want to live on anymore."
He believes in his possibilities of living life abundantly even when older and in Germany.
We talked to Atef on June 18, 2016.
On the 29th of April 2016 Serdar left Berlin to Dortmund. After more than one year of longing, he expected his family on May 6 landing with a plane from Beirut. Serdar lived in room 107 since May 5th. He had moved from Raum 102 only some doors further. For several months he had already shared the 16 sqm of room 102 with Mawlud.
Serdar has found the middle way in most things, when it comes to mourning, longing, and wanting for his family: he will not cut his hair until the subsequent immigration of his wife and three children is made possible.
When talking to him and Mawlud on April 5, the agricultural engineer was optimistic to be reunited with his wife and their children Ara and Aram in the near future. In the meantime, eight months have gone by. He has never seen his youngest son. The boy was born when Serdar was on the run.
"Those European countries, where social justice and democracy rule, those where the country where one does not survive but live. I envisioned living there."
Serdar: I was born and raised in a small village. When I was born, there were only 20 to 25 houses. This is where I went to school. The village next in size is Rimelan, petroleum territory. My grandparents and great-grandparents lived in this territory. They would plant and grow and eat their agricultural products when the government took the territory away from them without paying for it, because of the petroleum. In this area the grounds are contaminated and actually the government should provide us with means to decontaminate. A lot of people have cancer. The village is in the North-East of Syria.
Mawlud: It is called the border triangle Iraq-Turkey-Syria.
Serdar: My father was a farmer, back then he had no agricultural engines. My parents still live there. I have 12 brothers. One was killed last October but we don't know how. He lived in the city of Al-Malikiyah. He was a teacher.
Mawlud: That is even closer to the border triangle. It is the last Syrian city at the border.
Serdar: My father was married twice. I have 12 brothers and 6 sisters: Mohammad, Taufiq, Ali, Jalud, Bahzat, who is dead, Qahramana, Shirwan, Salwa, then me Serdar, Ghandi … Even though my father was a farmer he was very active in politics. When I was born my father was on the run from the Baath party. Edriss, Kadar, Khoraz, […] Samira, […], Shahin, Masoud … the mother of all those siblings is Amina. The mother of these siblings is Sara. She is my mother too. We would all live together but then each mother would move into her own house with all her children.
Mawlud: Every woman has her night and they would not cede the day. That was impossible.
Serdar: My father's name is Jusuf. That is our house and it belongs to Amina. There was a garden too. Bahsat, the brother who died, was my closest friend, even though he was not my mother's son. When we were children, there was a "first wife", that was my mother Sara, the other one was Amina. The second wife's children sometimes had problems. But now, that I am so far away, I miss all of them. Taufiq, the eldest, was born in 1954. The youngest, I think, is Masud. I don't know how old he is. Even my father can't answer this. We would never celebrate birthdays, that is new for us and I am doing it now for my children. We used to have 200 sheep. And even though we had a shepherd, I was in charge most of the time. I was born in 1966. I am 49 years old. I went to school in Rimelan. The school is destroyed now. Not because of the war but because it was build from loam and was really old. I went to school there until I could go to university. In the 1970s each winter was tough, because I had to walk all the way to school. Since 1986 I have studied agriculture / agribusiness in Damascus. After that, I lived in Qamischli. Not downtown but where we worked, close to the grain fields. I did not meet my wife [directly]. My nephew told me that he had seen a woman that was very nice and very beautiful and he asked me whether I wanted to get to know her. Then we met, I liked her and things would work out. For three years, I lived in Al-Malikiyah with my wife and Ara. Then we returned to Rimelan, where we rented an apartment for two or three years. Then I came to Germany. I keep saying that I am from Qamischli, as our village is not well known. I have never lived in a city other than Damascus but always in the countryside. From 1986-1996, that is to say for 10 years, I have lived in a city and got used to an urban life. Now I can live in the city and in the countryside.
I was never hoping to live in Syria because of my father and the Baath party. I would encourage my brothers who live in Canada and the Netherlands now, to leave Syria. But if there were no war in Syria, I would have stayed there as I miss it tremendously. This [he points to houses of loam in a picture] is what I miss the most.
Mawlud: I ever things get better in Syria I would go back.
Serdar: My wife, she too is a Kurd, went to school for seven years. She knows how to read and write. Three brothers are still in Syria. All others left: Some are in Kurdistan, two are in Germany, one is in Canada, one is in the Netherlands, and one is on his way. He is in Greece right now.
When did I decide to leave Syria? That is a difficult question. It must have been around 2012/13. The political situation was already difficult in Syria. It was a police state. In 2012 we would really understand what was going on. That there was no revolution but something else. Something weird. And then things became chaotic. Chaotic in a way that we started to think about leaving. I knew that I would have to go alone because we had heard all sorts of awful stories about what happened at the borders and all of that. I did not want to expose my children to that scenario. I am still convinced that this was the right decision. I want them to come here legally. I constantly keep in touch with them. They are in Syria, close to the Turkish border right now, together with my father-in-law and if ever something happens they will escape to Turkey. *
I ran away not for me but for my children. I am no better than those who stayed. If I had no wife and children I would have stayed in Syria. I don't care about my life. I took the risk for my wife and children. But if I stay here it will be hard to start working. I want to study some more, maybe start an apprenticeship. But most important would be that my children start their own life. However, for the time being it is difficult for me to live and to imagine a life, because I worry about my wife and my children. Right now, that bothers me day and night.
My life was very difficult. However, my childhood is close to my heart. I may have been poor, compared to what you have in Germany, but it was nice. Even the weather was nicer back then. The birds would sing, and there were butterflies … I have a lot of good memories. But in the 80s and with all those crises in the world, things became more difficult. This is not how I envisioned life. It was only after graduation, when we started to show an interest in politics and to understand it, that we would realize what is going on and that we live in bad times.
Those European countries, where social justice and democracy rule, those where the countries where one does not survive but live. I envisioned living there.
Mawlud: Germany is known for being neural and cooperative. Especially towards Kurds. It has a special place in our hearts.
Serdar: Most of the philosophers that we studied, such as Marx, Hegel, and Feuerbach were Germans. I really liked that and learned with a lot of passion. However, today's Germany does not fulfill my expectations. It is not heaven as we expected - here too jiggery-pokery is going on in politics.
Mawlud: Sometimes it is a little difficult to live here. At times, I would work 18 or 19 hours in Syria. That was not difficult. It is more difficult now to drive for an hour only to pick up a slip of paper. Sometimes you come across an employee who is not too friendly and says: "Come back tomorrow with a translator" or "You are too late." That sucks. I still have not figured out whether people think I am a human being, as I am not yet able to communicate with them. That is going to change. And as long as my family is not here all of this is temporary for me. Only when my family gets here I will feel home again. My family is still in Syria and every day the police are coming to ask them where I am. "Where is Mawlud?" because I am in uniform. They learned only ten days ago that I am in Germany. Actually, I was a supervisor in the customs division, that is to say a civilian. I worked in Al-Hasaka but I lived in Qamischli. I had a staff car to go to work. However, in 2014 the government decided that I had to be on the reserve list and that left me with only two possibilities: either to work with them or to leave. Then PKP came, wanting to take my staff car as they thought I was working with Assad. I told them that I had the car, as I was a public servant not because I was working for Assad. This is when I knew that I had to call it off. Even if I joined the military I would not know which side to take. If there had been a war against a foreign country I would have stayed and would have borne arms for my country. But when government is battling against civilians, citizens against citizens … Even if you want to stay home, if you didn't want to fight you had to have arms. This is Syria now. I won't be a party to that. I don't know who is fighting against whom.
We would wait, thinking that he might change things. But I was a civil servant and still got my salary. After his second speech he would give us a pay raise. We did not need it though - the poor needed it. So we were even more upset. It was not us who needed the money but the poor who took to the street. Why would he give me the money? I am a civil servant, I will stay in Syria. What he did was not right. There are families of ten people with no one having a job. It would have been easier to give the money to them until one gets a job. But this is not going to happen.
I am not afraid. I can tell you everything.
Al foreigners were considered as enemies.
Even before 2011, when I had to go to Turkey for work, we were pursued and observed. I wanted to go shopping and they would wait for me outside. That was for security reasons too.
I got away crossing the Syrian-Turkish border. They would shoot at us in the first night. In the second or third night we were lucky. They [the Turkish] do not consider us as human. All in all, it took me a month to come here. We took the car to Austria and came to Berlin via Munich. I have a brother, who was with the army too, who is in Berlin now. I paid the driver to take me to Germany. But then I told him that I wanted to go to Berlin. I had to pay extra.
Serdar: Actually, that is an exception. Usually, it takes longer.
Mawlud: I have paid a lot more. I have sold my car and even my house. Originally, I was a bus driver and worked for seven years as such. Now, everything depends on my family. If ever they get here, I will stay. But I want to find a job. As a bus driver for example. My father was a bus driver; he owned many busses. I have done quite a few things but I enjoyed nothing as much as driving busses. Sometimes, I would drive 24 hours from Damascus to Qamischli and straight back after a short break. It was fabulous. Those four weeks to escape from Syria to Germany were more strenuous and stressful than those 38 years that I lived in Syria.
Serdar: We were so young but over the last ten months we have grown old, with wrinkles and such.
Mawlud: Serdar talks to his family all the time. I don't talk to them quite as often.
Serdar: I have told my family if I would talk to my friends in German then I would be able to speak German by now. But they won't leave me alone; they always want to talk to me.
Mawlud: My family is in Syria and they should come here now but we don't know how. German consulate in Erbil does not accept any refugees at all any more. We don't know why.**
Our talk with Serdar and Mawlud took place in April 5, 2015. Safaa Moussa transcribed it.
* As per May 5, 2015
** Mawlud's family arrived in Berlin in mid November. The family moved into an apartment.