Fatima, 45, is the widowed mother of twin sons: Hassan and Hussein. Hussein is fighting with the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo, while Hassan is with the Syrian Arab Army in Latakia.
Fatima’s family is a civil war in miniature: son against son, and a mother forced into impartiality by her love of both of them.
“The very last time my sons were together, they had a huge fight about staying in Assad’s forces,’” Fatima, who asked that only her first name be published, tells Syria Direct’s Bahira Zarier.
“Mother.” Photo courtesy of Ismail Al Rifai and Creative Memory.
Originally from the town of al-Qaryatayn in the southeast Homs countryside, Fatima fled the city in August 2015 when the Islamic State took control, and has since lived in the Atma camps close to the Turkish border with northern Idlib.
“For me, they both died the moment they started fighting each other,” says Fatima. She lives alone in the camp and refuses to speak to her sons until they settle their differences, which began when Hassan defected from the Syrian army two years ago.
“The revolution has divided my family and made my sons enemies,” Fatima said.
“This isn’t just my situation, it’s the same for a lot of the families from my town.”
Q: Can you tell us about yourself and your sons?
I’m the mother of twin boys, Hassan and Hussein. I’m illiterate. I used to live in Qaryatayn with my husband, who died 10 years ago. I refused to remarry after that, instead worked as a seamstress to give my sons everything they needed.
I watched my sons grow up, looked at them with eyes filled with joy. They finished high school, but didn’t keep studying, instead working as metalworkers so they could help me in my daily life. We were happy. I used to see my future in them: getting married, having children before I die.
Then the revolution started.
At the end of the second year of the revolution, my sons were 18 years old and had to sign up for mandatory military service. After they joined up, they were separated: Hussein went to Aleppo, Hassan to Latakia.
A year went by. When my sons were home together on leave, they would talk about the revolution and in every discussion, they would immediately start fighting.
The very last time my sons were together, they had a huge fight about staying in Assad’s forces. Hussein was telling his brother that they were killing our own people, but Hassan had the completely opposite view, saying they were safeguarding our country from destruction and collapse. Their voices were raised and they were going to hit each other, so I got up and broke them apart. I fell apart crying, wishing for death, which would be better than the hostility I was witnessing between my sons.
Q: What caused the fight?
Hussein had asked Hassan to defect with him and join the Free Syrian Army. A few days later, Hussein called me and told me he had defected with some of his friends.
When I told Hassan [who was still at home with me], he called him in front of me. He said: I will kill you with my own hands, you dog. That’s what you deserve for what you’ve done.
Q: What do you think of the revolution? What do your sons think of it?
The revolution has divided my family and made my sons enemies. This isn’t just my situation, it’s the same for a lot of the families from my town.
: Al-Qaryatayn, in the southeastern Homs countryside, was largely free of fighting for the first few years of the war in Syria. For a time, it served as a corridor
for defectors from the Syrian Arab Army because of its position near main roads running throughout the country. In August 2015, the Islamic State captured al-Qaryatayn, sparking displacement. Fatima was one of the residents who fled. Eight months later, the Syrian Arab Army retook al-Qaryatayn this past April.]
In Hassan’s opinion, his staying with the regime is an honor for him and his family: ‘It is a huge honor to be a small part of the Syrian army, rather than join those who aim to destroy it. The regime is right to do what it’s doing because the people don’t know the meaning of freedom, that they should stay under a military boot. It’s my honor to die defending my homeland. My brother Hussein is a traitor. I don’t want to be like him.’
For Hussein: ‘The regime is oppressive and Bashar al-Assad is an illegitimate president, born into power. He’s repressing the people. He’s dealt with them like animals, and doesn’t want anything but their submission. My brother Hassan is supporting a murderer, standing for what’s wrong.’
The last time they met [when they fought], was around two years ago. They’ve both promised each other in front of me that ‘if there’s any battle between us, I’ll kill you.’
Now I’m sitting here, waiting for news to arrive that one of my sons is dead. I grieve for days gone by, when they were young. I wish they never grew up. I wish this revolution hadn’t happened.
Q: Do the people around you in the camp know about your situation, about your sons?
I keep quiet in front of the other people in the camp. I pretend to be a single woman whose two sons have died.
For me, they both died the moment they started fighting each other. I’ve told them that I won’t be satisfied until they go back to being brothers again. I’ve cut off all communication. Both try to talk to me through a single phone belonging to one of my relatives in the camp, but I won’t speak to them until they do what I want, no matter how much I desire to hear their voices, to hold them in my arms.
With every day that passes in the camp, when I see the situation of the Syrians here, I wish that this revolution had never happened. It’s separated many families besides my own. In the end, we ended up living in camps known for their bad conditions.
I wish the war would end before my sons die. I know it’s impossible, but I still have hope.
The regime’s taken control of Qaryatayn, but I won’t go back. One of my sons is in the FSA, the other with the regime. Either way I’ll be pursued. That’s why I’ve stayed in Atma camp. I won’t go home until the war ends.
My family has been destroyed before my eyes. But I’m still alive, waiting at any moment for a report to reach me that my sons have died in the fighting.
Q: Are you against the revolution because of what’s happened to your family?
I’m not against it. I know that the regime is killing children, demolishing houses and destroying our country. But I’m like all the women who’ve lost their children and had their families scattered. What is our guilt when we’re living out the ends of our lives in the camps? Brothers are killing each other, for what?
Our children aren’t going to take Bashar al-Assad’s place, who’s waged all this war over a chair.
: “Chair” is a literal translation from the Arabic, referring to the seat of power, or in this case, the presidency.]