Fadwa Mahmoud is a political and civil activist. She was a member of the Women’s Advisory Board of the Syrian Negotiation Committee in Geneva 2016 and also a member of the Constitutional Committee’s Civil Society group in Geneva 2019.
Fadwa’s husband, Dr. AbdulAziz Khayer, is a Syrian intellectual and prominent figure of the opposition in Syria. He went missing in 2012 with his friend Iyas Ayash after they were abducted and taken to a Syrian regime detention center together with Fadwa’s son Maher Tahan.
In June 2011, just a few months into the Syrian uprising, Khayer had joined the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change. In September 2012, he and Ayash, who was also an executive member of the committee, traveled to China to discuss the Syrian crisis with the Chinese foreign minister. They returned to Syria on the night of September 20, 2012, where Fadwa’a son Maher had picked them up at the Damascus International Airport.
But somewhere between the airport and home, the three men disappeared.
Khayer was most likely arrested because of his efforts to convince the Russian and Chinese governments, both considered allies of Assad, to put pressure on the Syrian government to implement political reforms and a peaceful resolution to the ongoing crisis.
After leaving Syria, Fadwa became a co-founder of Families for Freedom, an organization that began with five Syrian women and campaigns for the liberation of detainees. “When talking about Families for Freedom, I feel the strength that we gained through our ability to form this movement to reach our goals,” she told SYRIAWISE in this interview.
In August 2021, Fadwa stood holding a portrait of her husband and son in the midst of 300 landline telephones during an event held in Bebelplatz Square in Berlin on the annual International Day of the Disappeared. The phones had been placed in the square by Syrian families as a call to governments to look for information about detained citizens in Syria.
Fadwa’s story is just one among millions of tragic Syrian stories created by the violations and criminality of Assad the father, and the son.
Here is the full text of the interview with Fadwa Mahmoud.
When did you start worrying about the fact that your son and your husband were late coming home?
After the end of a conference that was being held in Damascus on September 23. When intelligence hadn’t freed them as they had told me they would, I felt that there was something bigger going on.
Why are you disappointed with many international organizations?
Because there is inaction and negligence on the issue of detainees and missing persons. They disappointed us. Is it really such a difficult issue for them? Astana talks caused the most disappointment to all of us because the main point to be discussed was the release of detainees. I told Geir Pedersen that Astana talks are a true disappointment to all of us because the release of detainees should not include only the military from both sides, it should include all political and opinion detainees.
Did the Freedom Bus that you launched before reach its goal of spreading your message to the Europeans?
Our message is always to demand the release – and reveal the fate – of all detainees who have been forcibly disappeared, not only from the regime, but also from all parties, because they are the youth of Syria in the end. This is one of the goals of the Syrian revolution, which is to stand against any violation and dictatorship, and this is the message we deliver repeatedly. This movement is completely independent to the extent that we do not raise the flag of the Syrian revolution or any other flag because we are not a political movement but rather a civil, family movement.
We had a gathering and the idea was to cover the square where we were standing with landline phones to show that we are still waiting for any call or news or information regarding detainees and our beloved ones. It was a very symbolic message. Many German people joined us and we circulated informational pamphlets in three languages German, English, and Arabic about the issue of our protest in that spot.
Unfortunately, the era of Assad, the father, and son, has succeeded in creating much division in Syrian families. How do you personally relate to this?
The Assad regime was able to make a split or a crack within the same family and it was one of its strategies to do so. This cunning regime succeeded in washing the brains of many Syrians and also by recruiting many for important occupations. I call it a fascist regime. And my late brother, Adnan, was a true example of that. The Assad regime was able to recruit his support by assigning him as an officer in the intelligence apparatus.
You believe that displaced Syrians whose family members are still missing in Syria are united by their mission. The five organizations they have formed are the Ta’afi Initiative, Families for Freedom, the Coalition of Families of Kidnapped by ISIS, the Caesar Families Association, and the Association of Detainees and Missing Persons at Sednaya Prison. These families have no problems with coordinating their efforts. Together they have formulated the “Truth and Justice Charter. What is your most recent activity in this regard?
We are busy these days with creating a fate detection mechanism which will be discussed at the March 29 Conference for Human Rights in Geneva. It is enough for us just to know the status of detainees and I am not alone in this desire. Many Syrian families are like me and want to know the fate of their loved ones. We will not compromise on holding Assad accountable. But our priority right now is the release of those who are still alive. This mechanism stands as a means for holding Assad accountable for them.”
What is your dream?
My dream is that Syria will someday be without detention centers and my wish is for them to be turned into museums.
What do you miss most?
I miss Syria [said with much emotion]. My mind and soul are still in Syria since I came to Germany in 2015. The situation is not easy and this life is a struggle for all of us. But we must continue to be strong in facing all its hardships and struggles and living with the current situation; otherwise, we cannot continue. Indeed, I miss Syria, but a Syria without the Assad family!