Skip to main content

Syria war: The love of my life disappeared six years ago, but still I cling to hope

Adequate punishment for crimes committed in Syria may never happen, yet we must not give up on justice
"My heart breaks every step of every day that I walk without Samira," writes Syrian writer and novelist Yassin al-Haj Saleh

As the decade comes to a close, I am faced with the dark truth that we live in a world far worse than we did 10 years ago - worse even than we dare admit to ourselves. 

You may think that I say this because the love of my life was forcibly disappeared from me six years ago by Jaysh al-Islam, an extremist organisation in Syria. Indeed, my heart breaks every step of every day that I walk without Samira. Pain of this kind should not be experienced by any human being. 

My country's story 

Samira and three of her friends - Razan Zaitouneh, Wael Hammadeh, and Nazem Hammadi - were snatched from their office by Jaysh al-Islam in Douma, Eastern Ghouta, in 2013. They were examining evidence of war crimes when they were abducted, never to be seen again. 

I do not exclude the worst scenarios about the fate of Samira, Razan, Wael and Nazem. I am not in a state of denial, but they are alive as long as the opposite is not proven. Samira is alive as long as I am living. I have written letters to her. 

Absence is a constant in my life, but it also describes the world and its condition today

It so happens that I am a writer, and I am writing a story: my story, my beloved’s story, my country’s story, and a story of the world. It is a tragic one indeed, but I do not succumb to victimhood. We are not alone, and we are by no means weak.

Now, I am in the midst of a battle against nihilist Islamist groups and the genocidal regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The superpowers that have made life in Syria and the Middle East impossible are equally my enemies. What are we to do now that those with the most power in the world are devoid of the most instinctive of characteristics, compassion?

Samira is a big element of my identity. I am the partner of this disappeared woman; I am Samira’s husband. I am Samira in her absence. Absence is a constant in my life, but it also describes the world and its condition today. 

Holding criminals accountable

Today, Jaysh al-Islam fights for Turkey in its plan to create conditions of a never ending civil war in the northeastern part of Syria. In six years, we have not even come close to an investigation into my wife’s disappearance. 

Samira al-Khalil went missing along with lawyer Razan Zaitouneh and others on 9 December, 2013
Samira al-Khalil went missing along with lawyer Razan Zaitouneh and others on 9 December, 2013 (Photo credit: Mohammed Abdullah - Artino)

The same can be said of tens of thousands of other people who are missing after being illegally arrested by the Syrian regime or abducted by the Islamic State. It’s a disgrace that should shake every human being seeking a fair and just world, but such people do not hold the power in our new reality. 

Review: A trip into the dark heart of Syria
Read More »

Those who love and care are the millions out on the streets calling for change; the dedicated, brave humanitarians giving their lives to help others; the writers and journalists risking death to expose the truth; the beautiful strangers who send me messages of solidarity and support. It is those who are taking to the streets in Iraq and Lebanon, as these courageous uprisings honour our slaughtered revolution. 

Look to Syria now, Bashar al-Assad has not only clung to power, but is seemingly accepted and tolerated as he continues to abduct, torture and bomb his citizens, including children. 

If Syria is to have any future at all, criminals must be held accountable for their crimes. What does it say about our world when heads of state are allowed to commit atrocities on a mass scale and get away with it?

The search for justice

At night, when I cannot sleep, I struggle to understand what justice could possibly exist for those who snatch talented, brilliant people from their lovers’ arms and leave us without answers - only the horror of endless, torturous possibilities. 

But of all things, we must never give up on justice. Adequate punishment for crimes committed in Syria may never happen, but we must collectively work towards it with great effort and purpose. 

We have been crushed, true - but we create meaning from suffering

Samira’s absence is a big loss, but she is my motivation to go on, and to go deep, in this desperate struggle for freedom, human dignity and justice. At the final hour of 2019, it is time for the United Nations and Turkey to take concrete steps to uncover the fate of my wife, our friends and the tens of thousands of others who have gone missing. 

For me, 2020 is another beginning, and I have always looked for beginnings to step up struggles- and find them. We have been crushed, true - but we create meaning from suffering. We struggle to the end, hope needs us as much as we need it.

Our powerful enemies do not feel safe and secure unless we surrender ourselves to despair. Despair is their friend, hope is ours. I know that Samira wants me to keep on fighting.

I will.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Yassin al-Haj Saleh
Yassin al-Haj Saleh is a Syrian writer and former political prisoner. The author of seven books on Syria, Jail, contemporary Islam and intellectual culture. A founding member of and regular writer for Aljumhuriya collective https://www.aljumhuriya.net/ar, which issues an electronic magazine, with materials in Arabic and English abut Syria and the world. Based now in Berlin.