Saturday 21 September 2019

Life in Syria ended when a sniper killed my husband

When INM editor-in-chief Stephen Rae met refugee Fatymah Mamoo, she was living with her children in an outhouse in Turkey

SHELTER: Syrians Fatymah Mamoo (38) and her daughter Zahida (15) at their home in Gaziantep, Turkey. Photo: Mark Condren
SHELTER: Syrians Fatymah Mamoo (38) and her daughter Zahida (15) at their home in Gaziantep, Turkey. Photo: Mark Condren

Stephen Rae in Turkey

It's the city that has come to signify the barbarity of the Syrian civil war. Aleppo has been pounded into the ground - and with it the hopes of a generation.

The physical scars on the once-thriving city of two million are only matched by the scars on its people.

Around three million Syrians have fled the war across the border to Turkey. While they have found refuge, many of those from Aleppo are haunted by what they witnessed in the incessant air raids and artillery barrages.

Mother-of-four Fatymah Mamoo (38) summoned up the courage to leave after her husband was shot dead by a sniper as he went looking for food for the family.

SAFE FROM SLAUGHTER: Children gather to play games in a makeshift playground, a reprieve from the barbarity of the Syrian civil war
SAFE FROM SLAUGHTER: Children gather to play games in a makeshift playground, a reprieve from the barbarity of the Syrian civil war

Home now for her young family is a single room on the Turkish border where they eat, sleep and live.

Their only income is from her 14-year-old son, who works in a backstreet garage and earns barely enough to pay the rent.

Recalling my meeting with Fatymah, two words described her state - vulnerable and fragile.

The only things that kept her going were ensuring her children could eat and that they could access education. She cannot sleep and is haunted by the killing of her husband, whose body she was unable to bury. "My husband disappeared. I received news he was dead but they couldn't find his body," she said.

"From what I've been told, he was hit by a sniper. But my family haven't told me everything about the killing because of my mental state."

The family was caught in the middle as President Bashar al-Assad's army attacked the rebel-held city.

"On one side we had the regime, on the other side the coalition forces," Fatymah said. "We were in the middle. We don't know exactly what happened but he was shot dead from a sniper's position. They have shown me photos of his body just lying there. The body is so badly damaged that it is hard to identify him."

Her eyes welled up and she paused as she remembered the nightmare days after her husband's killing, and the constant bombardment from regime helicopter gunships and heavy artillery.

"I sought shelter with my family but they couldn't accommodate us because they have their own responsibilities to their wives and families," she said. "They put me in a car park and I lived there with my children.

"It was horrific. My son was 12 at the time - he would go and try to gather some plants or something to eat. Even in Aleppo if you have money you are good, but if you don't you are nothing.

"My son, Zaid, eventually travelled ahead to Turkey, at the age of 12, on his own. We stayed apart from him for two years.

"He got a job in a tyre shop, where he earned 90 Turkish lira a week (about €25). He sent that home. After a while, he said, 'I work with good people - you should come to Turkey'. I have a brother who lives here in Turkey, so I asked for his support. He said he would do what he could, so we travelled after two years but, honestly, I was so traumatised I cried every night.

"When I arrived, they rented this place for me," she said, as she pointed out the simple first-floor room that costs €60 a month. It is no more than an outhouse with broken window panes but Fatymah had made it clean and homely.

"At first I couldn't stay alone, I was too traumatised," she said. "My brother stayed with me and we were all together at first in this room."

Her children and brother were so worried by Fatymah's lack of sleep and deep depression that they found her counselling with local voluntary group ASAM, which is funded by Unicef Ireland. "When my family told me about the centre, I went there for psychological support," Fatymah said.

"My friends suggested that I could benefit from the help. Now we're fine and good. Here is something to thank God for.

"My son is currently working in lots of different places. His uncle got him a job.

"He too needs psychological support. He has been completely traumatised by what he saw and what happened to his father. Everybody tells me he is not the same boy and that he gets distracted. But he hasn't the time to get help, he is the only one providing for us. "Often they say he isn't good enough at his work, and that's damaging for him. My next-eldest, daughter Zahida (15), goes to Koran school.

"Her two little sisters go to Turkish school, where they are doing well."

I suggested to Fatymah that she must be a strong woman to survive the ordeals she had encountered. She managed a faint smile.

"My children are the only thing keeping me going," she said. "Because of them I am strong. When I see that other children are getting stuff, like food, and my children are not getting these things, that makes me strong and I stand up to fight for them."

The contrast between her life now and before the war was stark. "I had my nest, my house, my home. My husband supported us and life was good," Fatymah said. She hoped that life might get better for her younger daughters Kamer (nine) and Eya (seven) if they could continue to go to school.

"My daughters are really talkative, cute and naughty," Fatymah said.

"If they were here they would be dominating the conversation, just talking all the time. The little one would have said she wants to be a teacher, and then the other one would have said the same thing."

Though it pained her, she still tried to keep up with what was going on in Aleppo, where the regime army took the last rebel strongholds.

"As far as I understand, the Syrian situation is not getting any better," Fatymah said.

"My sister came a month ago. She told me how she was caught between the two groups. Men were just raising their hands and surrendering to the army.

"I have lived through a lot of horrific events. My psychology became very bad. It's been difficult to overcome. Every time I recall I get bad again, so I'm not sure I want to talk about it."

Sunday Independent

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