As the one year anniversary of the chemical weapons massacre in Ghouta nears, survivors remember attacks on daily life and the terror of living in war.
My name is Ameena Sawan. I am from Moadamiyeh al-Sham, a western suburb of Damascus. I used to work in psychosocial centres for the kids of Moadamiyeh. My cousin Hiba and I started the centres to help the kids feel joy. We had a huge team of volunteers, 50 young women and 20 young men from Moadamiyeh.
We were truly fulfilling the time of those in need, both the kids and the parents. There is not one person in Moadamiyeh who has not experienced some sort of suffering, therefore centres like ours were helping change their mood. There was much of “nothing to do”, a void, and this in itself is a killer. We had to turn this emptiness around and benefit from the free time.
One of the kids from the centres was martyred. His name was Alaa Othman. Alaa was sniped as he was playing in the street close to a regime held area. We were all shocked. Still, the kids decided they wanted to write letters and drawings for Alaa, and they all wrote “we love you Alaa” or “Alaa is in heaven”. It was truly inspiring. We left the kids to their own drawings and writings, we didn’t interfere. They all drew very nice drawings and we put up their drawings on big cardboard boxes and took pictures of them with their drawings.
Then another child was martyred. This time it was my nephew, the son of my brother. His mother, one of the female volunteers, was also martyred. This pushed and motivated us even more, we did not feel like we need to give up or be hopeless. In fact, I feel for their sake that we should be ashamed of giving up or feeling hopeless. We must wipe our tears and forge forward for their sake.
My most fearful moment was perhaps the day we were attacked by chemical bombs and heavy airstrikes. That day there were 82 martyrs, and this is a large number for such a small suburb like Moadamiyeh. It was truly a massacre, the barrel bombs and airstrikes would not stop that day. The MIG fighter did 19 raids and ground rockets and hundreds of mortar shelling hit us.
I was fearful, but not from the chemical weapons. Hiba and I were in the field hospital and ailing people were coming in. There were so many people. I was not afraid from dying from the chemicals, but that the regime would retake Moadamiyeh. We were liberated at the end of 2012. After a year of freedom, I was scared they would come back in and massacre us. The mere thought that I will see these monsters face to face was dreadful for me. God knows what they might do to us, especially the women, like what happened in other areas, in front of their families. We thought it might be best to shoot ourselves before they got to us.
Thank God they were not able to go in that day, but they were long scary hours that day. Thank God.
It was the most difficult to feel fear after a year of feeling safe. Even despite the daily barrel bombings the regime sent that year, the bombings that made us shudder and fall so close to our house or a street where I would be walking etc, I felt ok. It seemed normal, and we would even laugh after a barrel bomb was dropped, sarcastically checking on each other like “oh, thank god, did anyone get injured?”
We never gave up, not at all. The blood of the martyrs is the fuel to our revolution. Every time someone from my family was martyred I would feel stronger and stronger and I felt the need to continue. My brother, his wife, and his son were martyred, and everyone thought, “That’s it, Ameenah will break down.” But on the contrary I felt stronger and stronger. The blood of our martyrs is fuel to our revolution. Nobody has the right to say I am fed up, nobody has the right to say it has taken too long. If we were martyrs, those who have sacrificed with blood would do the same for us and God willing we will continue till we are victorious… God willing.