As the Assad air force has been dropping barrel bombs full of TNT and shrapnel on civilians in Aleppo over the past couple of days, I’ve been talking to talented Syrian professionals who have fled to Turkey to save their lives.
These young Syrians are their country’s best and brightest. Unlike the image that’s come to prevail in America of Syrians as Islamists or regime thugs, these men and women are dentists, doctors, lawyers, financial planners, and journalists. They are the country’s future, the human talent it can’t afford to lose.
But, because they believed their country needed to emerge from a corrupt, 43-year-old family dictatorship, because they volunteered in field hospitals, as citizen journalists, or civic activists, their names appeared on lists, they were targeted for arrest, torture and death, and they had to flee. Visit Gaziantep a historic city in southern Turkey, where the Syrian opposition’s transitional government has offices, and you will find these young people working in opposition offices, in aid agencies, as media activists or translators – or just trying to survive.
Most didn’t want their names used, out of fear their relatives would be targeted. So I will not use their full names. There is Rami, who had a successful interior design business in Aleppo, and Nabeel who gave up a successful career in finance to work as a media activist in Aleppo. There is Anwar a successful restauranteur in Aleppo who was arrested by the regime after setting up a soup kitchen for rural refugees fleeing to Aleppo to escape the fighting. He ran out the back door of his restaurant as Assad’s secret police broke in the front to get him.
There is Khalid, who worked for a government development agency, but dared to start an initiative demanding help for all war victims including those in rebel areas. The Assad government brought terrorism charges against him, because he wouldn’t turn over refugee names to the secret police. And Muder who gave up graduate school (his university was bombed anyway) to work as a media activist sending out stories of Assad’s war crimes, until the police got on his tail.
Most touching were a young couple I’ll call Nour and Nadim. She was a doctor – a religious woman, who welcomed me to her apartment in a flowing headscarf and long skirt. She volunteered to work at a field hospital in rural Homs province, knowing that the regime was determined to destroy rebel clinics and kill doctors. He volunteered to run supplies into the hospital for the rebels. They fell in love. She fled when she heard she was on a regime hit list. “I’d rather have been killed than captured,” she said, with an odd giggle, signifying, I believe, her horror at even hinting at what the regime does to women they arrest.
He followed her out. They got married two weeks ago, and are looking for work. One week ago, he heard that – after he had already lost three brothers to this war – a fourth has just gone missing as he tried to deliver relief supplies into Aleppo. The couple had no family memberspresent at their wedding, but they offered me traditional wedding sweets which they had bought to give out to friends.