Growing up the son of Syrian exiles is a unique experience that is unknown to the non-Syrian community; it’s a “smell but don’t touch” policy.
Syria to me is like this mythical land of fantasies where everyone around me would tell me how great it was, but it was something I only dreamt of. The other Syrian kids would be able to go visit, spend time with their extended family, travel the great cities of Syria, indulge in the delicious foods, and just generally have a blast there. But why not me?
Why was I never allowed to visit my grandparents in Syria? Why was I never allowed to roam the streets of the Hamdiya market in Damascus? Or visit the citadel of Aleppo? Or watch the water wheels of Hama spin? Or visit the grave of Khalid Bin Waleed in Homs? Why was I never allowed to brag to friends about how I created mischief in a foreign land? Why me? Why was I barred from entering my homeland? The land of my forefathers.
Why was I forced to go to countries other than Syria to visit my grandparents, aunts and uncles?
I’ll tell you why. It was because of one man, a defiant young man, who had the audacity to speak up about the atrocities that Hafiz al-assad was committing all over Syria. This young man, my uncle, dared to document some of the crimes the Assad regime of the 80’s was carrying out. This bold young man, my uncle, was arrested. This courageous young man, MY uncle, was tortured. This brave young man, MY UNCLE, was beaten. This fearless young man, MY UNCLE AYMAN, suffered so much, all for saying the truth. And then, my uncle was disappeared. This Hero’s family would forever be barred from entering Syria, lest they receive the same treatment he did.
All this happened when I was still a baby. As I grew older my father’s stories about our family olive grove became a distant mirage; you could only see it from far away, and never get close. My mother would always tell us stories about her parent’s villa in Syria, and how lovely it was. It was all just stories, nothing tangible. I came to the conclusion I was only Syrian by name and I really had nothing to do Syria. My friends used to brag about their ethnicity but I had nothing to brag about.
Why would I be proud to be from a place I have never been to? Why would I be proud to be a Syrian when, for over forty years, Syrians have been slaves to the Assad family. Why would I be proud to be from a place that didn’t want me? Or wanted to hurt my family and me? I wanted nothing to do with it; I was done with Syria.
Soon, when people would ask me, “where are you from”, I, knowing fully well what they were referring to, would say, Ohio. I no longer related to my Syrian heritage or culture. I was American, and that was it.
I had forgotten the history of the Syrian people. I had forgotten who Syrians really were. I had forgotten the bravery of my forefathers. My forefathers were Saladin Al Ayoubi and Khaled bin Alwalid. How could you not be proud of ancestors like that? How could I have forgotten the great men that called themselves Syrian?
And today, we have many great Syrian men and women. People like Abdul Basit Al Saroot, the soccer goalie turned revolutionary protest leader. I am proud to be from the same land that bore Ibrahim Qashoush, the author of the new Syrian national anthem, who was killed for his words. I’m proud to speak the same dialect as Khaled abu Salah and Danny Abdul Dayem, citizen journalists, risking their lives to document the unspeakable crimes of Bashar al assad and his mafia. I’m PROUD of courageous women like May Skaf and Fadwa Sulaiman, who left their acting careers to join the revolution.
I am proud of all the men, women and children who are risking their lives every day, every hour, and every minute, to speak up against the sadistic dictator and his sadistic thugs. Free Syrians, you have shown the world what true valor and courage is. You should be proud!
My uncle, Ayman, would have been part of this revolution had he been alive, or free. No one knows what happened to him, we have never heard whether he is alive or dead. He would be in his 50’s today. Khalo Ayman, I am proud to be your nephew; you are my hero. I hope to meet you one day, in this life or the next.
I am DAMN proud to be Syrian!