As part of AOAV’s examination of the reverberating impacts from the use of explosive weapons in Syria, AOAV interviewed Zaina*, a Syrian refugee from Aleppo, in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2018.
How long have you been in Turkey?
I have been in Turkey for two years.
What violence did you experience in Aleppo?
In Aleppo, what violence did I not see? I have seen many people dead on the floor. My family and neighbours could not access water or food for three months because of the bombardment and siege. There wasn’t even any water for cleaning.
The bombs were not small – they turned the streets to dust.
My father and mother were wounded in an explosion near their home and I had to go and look after them. Whilst I was away our home was completely destroyed – it was lucky we were not there.
My husband was killed in an airstrike too. He was killed away from home. For three years my daughter would cry out for her father and scream for him. Sometimes I had to bring her to work with me, and she would just suddenly start crying and screaming. When I asked her why she did this, she could not give a reason – she just continued.
Is she OK now?
This lasted for about three years but she seems to be OK now.
And, what are the main challenges for your family here in Istanbul?
I have three daughters and one son here. One other son, the oldest, still lives in Aleppo, where he studies. Prior to the war we lived in a nice home and we had three businesses – we were in a very good economic situation. I had 1kg of gold and over the course of the war I have had to sell it to survive – it is all gone now. Now I sell tissues next to the mosque. With this I have to pay all the bills and feed my family – including sending money to my son in Aleppo, who is studying medicine.
When I arrived two years ago I had no home and we were sleeping out in the open next to the mosque where I sell the socks and tissues. My children slept their too. One day we met some Syrians who let us sleep at their home. We were very grateful and I said it would just be for a couple of days. After a while we stayed with another family and then another and we just kept moving between these families for shelter. The house I live in now I share with three other families – my family shares one room. Everything I earn goes on rent. My 17-year-old son wanted to study but he has to work too to help pay for the bills.
Are your other children able to attend school?
Two of my daughters are studying but one doesn’t. She is 14 and would need to be in the eighth grade but because she couldn’t speak Turkish she left. The others struggled for a year to learn the language and have now settled in – I only have to force them to go to school when they don’t want to occasionally.
My daughter that isn’t in school goes to the mosque and memorises the Quran.
Do you think you will ever return to Syria?
Though paying the rent and bills is a big problem for us here, I love Turkey and I don’t want to go back to Syria – there is no safety. I am constantly concerned about my son in Syria. He is in his fourth year of studying and still has two years until he is finished but there are some who have already finished and the regime withholds their diploma so Assad can take them into the army instead. National service used to last 18 months but now it is years. Some have been in national service since 2008.
Is there anything else you would like to add about the violence in Syria and the impact it has had on you and your family?
I sometimes think, “when will it end?” I ask this while I am working. I also have lumps in my chest and have to have a mammogram and another test. I cry about this all the time: what will happen to my children? What will happen if it is cancer? They have already lost their father and home. Where will they go if they don’t have me?
I cannot sleep at night and now I only get a few hours’ sleep at the most – I think I need to go to the doctor and get some sleeping pills.
But I thank God for everything we have here and the kindness that has been shown to me. Everyone knows me now at the mosque – one man wanted to marry me but was scared by my five children.
To read AOAV’s full report on the reverberating impacts from explosive violence in Syria, the key findings, the main sections, or related articles, further interviews and videos, please see here.
*Not her real name.
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