“The cemeteries grow, the number of defenders decreases,
But the defence continues and will continue to the end.
And if the City falls and there is one survivor,
He will carry the City within him on the roads of exile.
He will be the City.
We look into the face of hunger, the face of fire, the face of death,
The worst of all – the face of betrayal.
And only our dreams have not been humiliated.” (Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert)
In 2014, I saw a photo of a man’s body covered with blood lying on a street, and a small child kneeling next to him. It was a photo from Syria, where the president has declared war in 2011 on his people. This war is a punishment for the people’s desire for freedom and for rising up against his tyranny.
I came to hear stories about people’s lives in besieged cities: Aleppo, Ghouta, Homs, etc. All became known in the world. Even in Poland there are demonstrations with a handful of people protesting the killing of children, women and men.
In Aleppo, my friends defend themselves from air raids by burning tires so that pilots, the messengers of death, do not see their house where their children and old people were sleeping. In Ghouta, Aoub’s sister dies in the bombing and his brother holds her body in his lap, like the divine mother and the body of Jesus.
In Aleppo, homes, hospitals, schools, kindergartens are bombed. A woman’s legs stick out of the ruins. In an alley, there is a pile of children’s bodies. Parents embrace them with dead arms. In their open eyes, despite the lack of life, one can still see despair. A small child is dying of hunger. Mohammad runs with milk and hides for a few hours so that the bomb doesn’t break the bottle. After all, the child will die. The nurses and paramedics collect human remains. If it is possible, they put them together. Weddings and births happen. Syrians love life.
In Douma, Youssef goes out at night to look for food and fuel. Only his mother and little sister are left at home. The father was torn apart by a bomb long ago. He returns with nothing. There are people hiding in the cellars. Between air raids, the father wants to take clothes from the house. A sniper’s bullet hits him. Bodies lie on the street. The sniper is hunting. He shoots when he sees movement.
Little Maya in the basement says to her doll: soon we will see the sky.
Exiled from the besieged cities, the survivors are displaced. They leave ruins of houses and graves of loved ones. They also leave homes that are being looted by Russian and Syrian soldiers. They are fleeing. They look for a safe place, but there is no such place in Syria anymore. Now there are 1.7 million people in 1,400 camps on the Syrian-Turkish border.
Millions have fled from death to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, where they live in abject poverty, with no opportunity to work or exploited like slaves by their employers. Also around the world live exiled people from besieged Syrian cities. In their hearts they have their families and friends. They remember their lost cities and homeland. Separated families cannot be reunited. No one can return to Syria. The regime treats such people as its enemies. The Syrian regime is cruel. For the slightest act of disobedience, it locks people in prisons where they are tortured and killed. Even children are tortured in Syrian prisons.
Syria in 2011, like Poland in 1980, wanted freedom and democracy. Every country pays a high price for freedom but the price of freedom in Syria is death, disability, loss of children, parents, mothers, fathers, houses and land. The suffering of the Syrian people has no end. People in camps on the Syrian-Turkish border are bombarded daily by Russian planes and artillery of the Syrian regime. The world’s interest has ended with demonstrations and offers to accept refugees from Syria, which have been rejected by governments. As if there was not enough imagination that these people who survived, lost all their possessions, homes, health, loved ones, need to be helped and given hope.
We must remember the people of Syria and help them live. After the displacement from Aleppo in 2016, they still try to live in exile with a future in mind: they look for new jobs, cultivate the land. However, after more refugees, there are no more jobs. There are no opportunities to grow and plan a future for themselves and their children in tents. This is why humanitarian aid, the fight for human rights in Syria and holding the Syrian regime accountable for crimes against humanity are so important.
“The siege lasts long, the enemies must change.
Nothing unites them except the desire for our annihilation.” (Zbigniew Herbert)