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Douma4 (Originally published on Al-Quds Al-Arabi), 27 May 2014 – Translated by Murhaf Fares

After four years of imprisonment (1987–1991), Samira, who comes from the Homs region, chose to live independently in Damascus. She worked in typesetting and formatting books, a job that merely earned her $100 per month at the time. It is not common for a single woman to live alone in Syria, yet Samira decided that no one can decide on her behalf how her life should be.

Since late 2000 we were together, our choices were interwoven and so were our lives. We got married after nearly two years without a prior consent from her parents. Consequently, her relationship with her father was interrupted for years. This was difficult for Samira as she loves her father very much, but she sided with her freedom of choice and her heart. Years later, we were welcome guests in her father’s house.

For more than a decade of our life together, we weren’t away from each other for more than a week or so, and that’s when one of us would visit Homs, Aleppo, Latakia, al-Raqqah or Beirut alone. I visited Beirut a few times between 2003 and 2004, before I was barred from leaving the country.

Samira also visited Beirut two or three times in 2006 for preliminary discussions leading up to the Beirut–Damascus Declaration, the statement that dealt with Syrian-Lebanese relations issued that year. Despite my insistence, Samira refrained from trying to obtain a passport for herself. She was determined: we either travel together or stay together. Samira says that she is certain she would not enjoy visiting my brothers in Europe if we were not together. She knew that I would feel desolate and rush her return whenever she is away. She was aware of my inexperience in managing daily life issues, therefore she always preferred to stay with me and handle these difficult matters.

The first time we were apart is when I went to Ghouta, early April 2013, en route to northern Syria.

Samira remained in Damascus with some mutual friends. But after a short time, Samira became wanted by the regime because of a report written by an informant ‘incriminating’ her, me and our relatives. Supposedly, we should have said bad things about the regime some time before the revolution! Forced to hide in Damascus, and after one month and a half of being separated, Samira and I decided that she should join me in East Ghouta where my stay turned out to be longer than expected. On May 18, 2013, the short-haired Samira was to reach a town in Ghouta on the back of a motorcycle with two young revolutionaries.

This was a whole new world to her. She kept a diary in a special notebook, and posted
some observations on her Facebook profile which was closed after her abduction and forced disappearance on December 9, 2013. We spent the following weeks between al-Mleha and Douma.

In the latter, we stayed in the same house with our old friend Razan Zeitouneh, the writer, dissident and brave human rights defender. Razan Zeitouneh has founded the Violation Documentation Center (VDC) and opened an office for it in Douma. The life conditions became increasingly difficult in an area exposed to daily shelling by the regime forces and absolute siege because of which the prices of food and fuel were surging. Samira wasn’t complaining at all, living as other people do, she didn’t expect any special treatment. Any food of any quality was enough. For my part, I was not feeling at ease. I came as a transient to Ghouta, where I had no friends, and because I left my place in Damascus I didn’t want to stay permanently anywhere anymore. As if she were born here [in Ghouta], Samira was quiet and relaxed. She would always busy herself with something, such as speaking to the attendees of the VDC center, participating in handling our daily life affairs, or communicating with our friends using the satellite Internet, which Razan was able to secure shortly after my arrival in Ghouta on April 25, 2013.

When it comes to listening to people, Sammour* is second to none; everyone Sammour listens to becomes immediately attached to her. Sammour doesn’t harm, and hasn’t harmed, anyone in her life.

I am her family and she is my family. I was always worried whether she was feeling good, doing what she likes among the ones she likes, and not being forced to do something she doesn’t like or doesn’t feel comfortable with. Samira was eager to make me feel comfortable also. Gradually after our marriage, I became her own project, and she wanted for this project to bear fruit.

On the afternoon of July 10, I was suddenly informed that we would leave at night toward the North. I was waiting for the opportunity for nearly 100 days. We hastily talked it over; it’s a perilous journey and nothing is guaranteed, but Sammour knew that I preferred leaving. She insisted on a young friend, who wanted to travel to northern Syria, to accompany me on the journey that night, not subsequently as he had planned. And that’s what happened. I embraced her that evening. I knew that what disturbs Sammour the most is our separation, but we hoped that we will be reunited soon.

Sammour wasn’t worried about herself in Ghouta, she was nervous only about my stay in al-Raqqah, on which ISIS was increasingly tightening its grip; she was hearing disturbing stories coming out from al-Raqqah. She was relieved when I finally arrived in Turkey. We started planning how she would join me in Turkey, but Sammour wasn’t in a hurry to leave. She was satisfied doing her job among the grassroots and other activities in Ghouta.

Samira Khalil, who was arrested by Hafez al-Assad for four years and tortured by his agents in a previous generation, is now absent with Razan Zaitouneh, Wael Hamada and Nazem al-Hammadi for more than seven months. Her abductors represent an Islamist recreation of the cruelty against which the revolution originally erupted. The case of Samira and her colleagues represents the case of Syria, trapped between the regime, the embodiment of brutality, and the Islamists, the embodiment of inhumanity. For the two, the prisons were the first thing they cared about in whatever area they control.

Like Syria, Samira is my cause, the cause of freedom.

*Sammour is a hypocoristic name for Samira.

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