Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Syria: When No News is Bad News

"Something inside me refuses to believe that Ismail is gone. I live in hope that some day he will be released."
By Hadia Mansour

Months had passed since I had last seen my brother Ismail, so when I answered my front door in early October 2012 and found him standing there, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

We hugged fiercely. He had travelled all the way from Damascus to Kfar Nabel to see me.

Ismail stayed at my house for three days, and we spent every minute of that time talking.

He told me about his long and difficult journey to Kfar Nabel. Government soldiers stopped him at the Khan Sheykhun checkpoint and ordered him to turn back. Luckily, he found a different route.

Ismail asked after our mother and our siblings – our father passed away long ago – but I had no news to share with him. A fierce battle had recently started in their town, Maarat al-Numan, and all communications had been cut off.

He missed them terribly, and told me he had been hoping to visit them. We were both extremely worried, but I tried to comfort him. I told him they had probably taken refuge in a neighbouring village until the battle was over.

Ismail told me of his life in Damascus. He worked as a taxi driver, and like many others, the ongoing war was affecting his livelihood. Checkpoints had been set up every 100 metres and fuel prices were rising continuously. Many people were now resorting to walking instead of using public transport.

Ismail spent his days crossing one checkpoint after another while driving his customers to their destinations. He tried to be as friendly as possible with the soldiers manning them, but on more than one occasion, his car was impounded and he was almost arrested.

Towards the end of the three days, I asked Ismail to stay a little longer, but he declined and left. When I look back on his visit, I feel as if he made that long journey to bid me farewell.

Three months later, Ismail called me from Damascus with some good news. His wife had just given birth to a baby girl and he was now the proud father of four boys and three girls.

I congratulated him and gave him some good news too. Our mother and siblings were all safe. They visited me a few days after he had left and were very disappointed to have just missed him.

Almost a month after our telephone conversation, I received more news about Ismail. This time it was devastating. The security forces had raided his house in Damascus and arrested him.

I couldn’t understand how and why this had happened. Ismail hadn’t been involved in any revolutionary activities; he was just a father who spent his days working and looking after his family.

Our elderly mother travelled to Damascus to search for him and find out what charges he faced. She visited one security-service headquarters after another, but was turned away from them all with no information.

She hired a lawyer to search for Ismail, but he just took her money and gave her no answers.

Disheartened, my mother returned to Maarat al-Numan. She had asked Ismail’s wife to come and join her, but she had refused. She had just found a new job and wanted to stay in Damascus to keep looking for Ismail.

Two years went by with no news from Ismail, but we did hear some strange news about his wife. She had remarried.

When we contacted her, she told us she had seen photos of prisoners who had died in detention, and had identified Ismail among them.

I couldn’t believe the news. I still cannot believe it.

Something inside me refuses to believe that Ismail is gone. I live in hope that some day he will be released, and that once again he will come knocking on my door.

Hadia Mansour is the pseudonym of a Damascus Bureau contributor from Idlib, Syria.

This story was produced by the Damascus Bureau, IWPR’s news platform for Syrian journalists.