Correspondent Nuri Kino lives in Sweden. Parts of his family remain in Syria. He writes:
It’s mid-April, Friday, almost 9pm. I’ve showered, had a bite to eat and sat down in front of the TV. After a long day of work, I want to relax in front of a good film, something to watch which doesn’t include using my brain… something feel-good. My iPhone is incessantly going off whilst I’m flicking channels. My cousin calls from Belgium: he and his wife with their three children escaped Syria a few months ago. They sold their house, car and all other belongings so they could leave the country. The smuggler demanded 15,000 US dollars per person.
The iPhone keeps showing my cousin is trying to get hold of me. I’m thinking he probably wants to talk about his situation in Belgium. No work. No language courses. “No life”, as he describes it. I can’t stand listening to his complaints; I put my mobile under the pillow and continue my search for a good film. He doesn’t give up. He’s never this persistent, not this late at night. I answer the phone with a heavy sigh.
“They’ve entered Qamishly [a town on Syria’s NE border with Turkey]. The [rebel] Free Syrian Army is said to be on their way to take over the airport. It’s the last military outpost for [President Assad’s] Syrian Army. It could end in a full-blown war between the two parties. My mother’s house is next to the airport. I can’t get hold of my sister or my brother. The telephones aren’t working. They haven’t worked for the last week. No internet either. You know plenty of people. Please try to get hold of someone in Qamishly with a Turkish mobile number. We have to verify what’s true and what isn’t.”
He’s not even giving me a chance to answer. His worry goes through my ears, down to my knees and I feel myself almost fall down. When we hang up I try to compose myself, hold the tears back -so I can work. My heart is racing. I go through my phonebook, call a friend in Gothenburg. He knows a lot of people in northern Syria and has spent the last 15 years there. He promises he will try to help me. Someone with a Turkish mobile number might be able to reach my cousins. To make sure they are still alive. While my friend is trying to reach Syria, I sit down in front of my computer: perhaps some of my Facebook friends know people in Qamishly. I write private messages to about 20 people. Most of them have heard that the Free Syrian Army is approaching Qamishly. Everyone speculates about what will happen now: will war break out between the Arabs and the Kurds? Will the Syrian Army hit back at the rebels? This could end in yet another bloodbath.
No one can tell me anything; my worries lessen. Two friends remind me, also, that my cousins’ uncle was a wealthy businessman in the area and my cousins could therefore get kidnapped. Anyone wealthy, or perhaps perceived as affluent by criminals, will be a target for many of the gangs. There are also rumours that al-Qaida refuse to let the PKK [the Kurdistan Workers’ Party which, until it signed a peace agreement on March 23rd, has waged an armed struggle against the Turkish state since 1984, for recognition and rights for Kurds] take control over north Syria, so it will be heading towards that direction as well. My heart is beating harder and harder.
I feel like such an idiot. I can’t believe I didn’t travel there a few weeks ago, taking those passports with me to smuggle my cousins out. That was the plan.
Syria is being emptied of its Christian population. Christians don’t have their own militia, no foreign governments to ally with them, and they will face the same fate as the Christians in Iraq. Those who are capable will come to Europe. Whatever the price and even if it means they might die trying.
I don’t encourage crime, not human smuggling, nor forgery, nor any other illegalities. But tell me, wouldn’t YOU try to smuggle out the people closest to you – and in doing so maybe break the law?
At 4 minutes past 10, right after the late TV news begins, my phone rings again. Someone in Qamishly with a satellite phone confirms they have been able to contact my cousins. They are all doing well. Nothing has happened – yet… Amongst my relatives in Sweden we start discussing options of how to get them out of Syria, which smugglers to use.
Nuri Kino, of Assyrian [Syriac Orthodox] background, is an award-winning TV/radio journalist now living in Sweden. In Jan, 2013 he wrote a report “Between the wire” in which he did 100+ interviews with Syria’s minority Christian community. This piece first appeared in the Swedish daily paper, Aftonbladet, and appears here with permission.