Syria: My Son's Unknown Fate

A mother searches for her son, who she believes is in a government prison.

Syria: My Son's Unknown Fate

A mother searches for her son, who she believes is in a government prison.

Wednesday, 4 November, 2015

For a mother, separation from her son is a bitter experience. Many Syrian women have suffered this since the beginning of the revolution, and I am one of them. I was separated from my eldest son Khalid when he was only 19.

By the time the Syrian revolution began in March 2011, Khalid had begun his military conscription. He was excited by the idea of serving his country, and was stationed in Daraa where the revolution erupted.

Months went by without him visiting home. During this time, I followed the news closely, fearing for his life. When he was finally granted leave and came to visit us, I couldn’t believe I was seeing him again.

During his leave, all we talked about was what he should do next. Should he return to his army unit, or desert it?

Neither decision would be an easy one. If he went back, I would be worried sick with the knowledge that he was fighting in the heart of the battle. But if he deserted, he would be a wanted man, and our home would become a target for raids by the security forces.

After long deliberations and many arguments, Khalid decided to desert from the army and join the opposition. Initially, he lived at home with us, but with each passing day, the raids on houses in Eastern Ghouta increased, and we found it more
and more difficult to find a hiding place for him.

In the end, Khalid had no choice but to escape and join the Ghouta rebels.

Months went by without any news from him. All I knew was that he was in Ghouta. I begged his uncles to find him and bring me to see him, but they never did. My tears and prayers for his safety became as familiar as friends during his absence.

One day during Ramadan, I heard fighting going on in the city centre. I raised my hands to the sky and prayed to God to keep the opposition fighters safe. I had no idea that my son Khalid was fighting among them in that battle.

A few days later, some friends of my son paid us a visit. In my heart, I sensed something was wrong, and I demanded they give me the truth. They told me Khalid had sustained a gunshot wound during the battle, and had been captured by government forces.

“This is what I feared,” I said as I wept, “Where is he? I want to see him. Take me to him.”

I broke down completely, knowing I had lost my precious son, and I fell into a faint.

A few hours later, I forced myself to calm down, and decided I would go and search for Khalid myself. I embarked on a long and difficult journey on which I left no stone unturned.

I went to police stations and security headquarters, but no one would give me any information. I went to the hospitals and searched among the injured. I even went to the morgues and searched among the dead.

Eventually, I was told that if I handed over a certain sum of money, I would receive the body of my son. I made the payment and waited. A few days later, an ambulance came to our house carrying three covered stretchers.

I had extremely conflicted feelings at that moment. I was eager to see my son’s face, but I feared seeing it and finding that he was gone. I went up to the first body and looked under the sheet covering it. It wasn’t Khalid. I looked under the second sheet, and that wasn’t Khalid, either. I looked under the third and once again, it wasn’t Khalid.

I felt a fresh surge of contradictory feelings. I was both happy that there was still hope I might see him alive, and sad that I hadn’t found him.

My search for my son is not over yet. One former detainee told me that Khalid was alive in a government prison, but I haven’t managed to find him.

I will never abandon my search, nor the hope that some day soon, we will be reunited. 

Malak Khalid is the pseudonym of a Damascus Bureau contributor from Eastern Ghouta, Syria.

This story was produced by Syria Stories (previously Damascus Bureau), IWPR’s news platform for Syrian journalists. 

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