Sydney Palumbo, Daniela Flamini, Andrea de Francesco
Over the past three months, Daniela Flamini, Andrea de Francesco, and I have had the unique and incredible opportunity to get to know Ghayath Abd Alaziz, a young man originally from the city of Salamiyah in Syria. As he was serving his country’s compulsory military service, the conflict in Syria erupted and he was ultimately driven to desert the army and escape to Lebanon. Here, he lived secretly for three years and worked in hiding as a journalist and translator, as well as a teacher for NaTakallam. Finally, he was connected to an organization called Mediterranean Hope that not only brought him safely and legally to Europe, but also helped him begin a new life in Padua, Italy where he currently resides, works, and studies. Through the following compilation of conversations we’ve shared with Ghayath from January to March, we hope to continue telling the story of an extremely talented and inspirational young man we’ve had the opportunity to interview over the course of the semester. To learn more about his experiences from Ghayath himself, we encourage you to read his article published by Middle East Eye, “Why I Deserted the Syrian Army.”
“I escaped from Syria in 2013. Before the revolution, I was doing my military service and suddenly everything happened, and my service changed to three years and so simply I deserted in the first chance. Then I escaped to Lebanon after a siege in my point and after I have injury in my head. Support groups sent me to a military hospital to get treatment there and during this period, I had planned for my escaping and I escaped to Lebanon. When I decided to escape, I didn’t want any news to arrive or to reach the security forces there because then that would put my family in danger.
“So I lived secretly for three years–you can say this–three in Lebanon. I was moved carefully, only for important matters to move or to go out of my house. I was working in my home as an Arabic teacher with NaTakallam, as a writer also–freelance writer–sometimes translating–freelance translating, also. I applied in many embassies in Beirut. The only response was from the French embassy in Beirut and they gave me appointment and I made interview and said to me, ‘We will call you,’ and after two years, they called me and they said to me, ‘You are rejected.’
“Mediterranean Hope helped me to arrive Italy legally safe–by plane, not by boat. They were looking for people who can integrate [into] Italian society. They choose carefully and they did with me six or seven interviews before they accept, and finally I got the visa and now I’m here in the city of Padua. I can say that they put me on the right way here to start my life here. They helped me with school, they helped me with job chances, they sent my CV for many schools also maybe to teach Arabic here [in] many institutes, and the introduced me to this family and now I am very happy here in this house after I moved.
“You can’t feel like you are in your home like your original country. Kind of, but not like a real home. People are very kind here and they help me a lot here and they offered a lot of things for me here, and I like Italy, especially Padua. I like the city. But I can’t say–maybe one day it will be my real home if I get a citizenship or nationality one day, maybe after ten years. I will not say it is Syria now because also Syria is not Syria that I was living [in] now. It’s not our Syria today like in the past. So I can say that I [am] displaced; I don’t have a home now. When I feel that Syria is a safe place to live again, I can take an easy decision to go back, but I can’t, I don’t think that it will be maybe in the close future. In fourteen years, maybe it will not be a good place to live again. It’s really complicated for me; my family each one in a place now–two in Italy, one in France, one in Turkey, two in Syria–and maybe in Syria, they will travel in the future if they accept it. I don’t know if one day I went back to Syria, what can I do ’cause I lost everything there.
“If I tell this story one thousand times it would still hurt because it’s really a bad memory for me. I lost a lot of my friends–they died–one of them died between my hands and it’s really hard. It’s important to tell people what’s going on because now all stories with the media–its about political events–about peace talks maybe, and about this battle and this battle, and regime entered this city and entered this village. But nobody cares about the truth. I think its important for people out of Syria to know exactly what’s going on in the small details like you said now, because these details mention to many, many truth, I think, but nobody talks about personal stories. And if you want just to make a small search inside Syria, you will find one million personal stories and each story is different from the others I think. And all of those stories are important to understand exactly what’s going on on the ground there.”