Most of that which is associated with the greatest losses are that which cannot be seen by the eye and cannot be counted by number. These include what may be the biggest losses of Syrians after six years of war, not related to what is published by media agencies or in the numbers and statistics, but rather in aspects deeper and less clear, including the break up of social relations among Syrians.
“I do not know anything about my cousins who were my friends once” — with this expression Maria (30), a Syrian living in Turkey, summarizes the situation of her family relationships. She continues: “I communicate today with one close friend, and apart from that all relationships have been cut off unintentionally.”
Maria attributes the break up of most of her relationships to geographical factors, and says: “We were meeting weekly in my grandfather’s house, and this simple meeting renewed our relationships, even the perfunctory ones. We’d share one another’s news and trade updates.”
However the large family which once lived in a single city has now been divided among towns and cities — indeed, continents. This has played the biggest role in reducing communications between family members, and then cutting them off entirely. Maria adds: “My grandmother died two years ago, and I don’t know if missiles demolished her house or if it is still standing. But what I am certain of is the alienating distance, and this is what has broken the family bonds, to the extent that I don’t know anything about the situations of people I was meeting with every week.”
Maria adds that, similarly, ties have been cut with neighbors and all those who with whom geographical proximity was an essential factor in creating relationships with them. She says: “Although I wept when we said goodbye to our neighbors, and I communicated with them almost daily at first, there is no longer a neighborly relationship. And so the communication dropped off bit by bit, except on official holidays.”
Loss of character
In total contrast to the geographic dimensions, the proximity of her husband’s family was a reason for disturbing the serenity of the relationships of Safaa, a housewife living in Lebanon, who says: “My mother died 10 years ago and when I got married I found a second mother in my husband’s. I never called her anything but ‘mother,’ and I loved her genuinely and thought that she loved me. The situation lasted until we were forced to live in one house in Damascus after we all left the Ghouta. The problems started to float to the surface.”
Safaa said in her experience that “the war brought out the worst in people,” and “revealed what was hidden,” as she puts it. She adds: “I did not expect that my mother-in-law and her daughter would treat me this poorly. I hoped for death repeatedly because of the humiliation I was enduring with her. Anyone who entered the house and saw me would have thought I was a servant. This caused problems to increase between my husband and I.” She continued: “The problems grew when I asked to live separately from my husband’s family, and things ended in divorce. I traveled to my brother’s house in Lebanon.”
As one of the forms of war imposed on Syrians, siege has produced new complications in the relationships of those under siege with one another. This includes Mahmoud, an academic under siege in the eastern Ghouta, who says: “I do not feel I have anything in common with my friends outside the Ghouta. My concerns are different. The details of my life are different. The dangers that face us are different as well. When I’m afraid of a raid, my friends are afraid of talking about the raid on the phone with me and being arrested. When I’m afraid of the advances of the regime army, my friends are afraid of the opposition forces advancing.” He adds: “Really I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends in Damascus avoid talking to me, maybe because I’m in an opposition area.”
Mahmoud says an important point prevents him from real communication with those who are not under siege, which is the constant comparison between his situation and their own. He explains: “Even while communication with family members outside Ghouta or outside Syria continues, most compare their living situations to mine and their ability to move and travel to us being blockaded in a limited geographical spot with limited resources, and their continuing lives with my stalled life. Because of that I prefer to limit communications as much as possibly to reduce the painful comparisons which are useless — in addition to the fact that the communication networks are cut off and we have resorted to expensive solutions and alternatives.”
But “limiting communication” according to Mahmoud has affected the strength of his relationships even with his siblings abroad. He describes this, saying: “Today I can’t find a single conversation to open with them. We don’t have anything between us except the past to remember together.”
Strong relationships persevere
Maid, 29, an engineer living in Turkey, will not accept making geographic distance an “excuse” to break up relationships. He says: “The distance breaks up fragile relationships but strong ties continue and persevere anywhere and under any circumstances. This is what I experienced when I traveled to Turkey. Almost all my family and friends stayed in Syria, and this was a real test for everyone of these relationships and the extent of their durability.”
Majid continues that some of his friends have lost their strength and momentum with travel. However, other relationships in comparison, have continued daily without interruption with the same strength, as he put it. “I communicate with my family daily or almost daily. I celebrate happy occasions with them with voice and video and I do not forget the birthdays of any one of them. I have set times weekly for long conversations with close friends. I am still looking for all their news, as if we were living together.”
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.