By Syrian Columnist BAKR SIDKI, translated by NABIL NABO
“They took ships and left me alone” and “O, travelling alone”, the two songs I asked Mostafa Al-Jerf (a Syrian activist and a cousin of Naji Al-Jerf) to sing the night we said goodbye to him and his wife, Batoul, when they left for France a year ago. He excelled in singing these two songs with his strong and influential voice. It was a fugitive moment which cannot be repeated.
That was late at night. Unlike its elder sister Aleppo, the city of Gaziantep is typically dedicated to sleeping early. That night deserved to be blamed by my neighbour who was annoyed with the noise we made.
Others travelled before and after Mostafa and Batoul towards different and faraway destinations; none of them imagined to be compelled to go there. The number of the departing people increased to such an extent I felt that Gaziantep is being emptied. One day, I may find no one here to talk to. Partly, that was due to my limited relations to a small personal circle whom I have known closely since I was in Syria and also because the nature of my work does not require contact with people. But I know the situation of many Syrians is not much better. The smell of death, which hunts Syrians wherever they go, creates a general mood which cannot be overcome by meeting people, chatting with them or even developing personal relations.
Late last year, we were shocked to hear the news of the death of Naji Al-Jerf (a Syrian journalist, editor, director, and activist who was against both the Syrian regime and ISIL). I do not know whether I was lucky or not to attend that evening to take leave of Naji. It was noisy and crowded. I sat down by chance next to Naji and chatted. He told me about the threats he had received and the assassination attempt he survived miraculously a couple of days before. Then, I expressed my fear saying, “all this happened and you are still here?” I begged him to advance the date of his departure which was scheduled a few days later.
Two days later we knew about his being assassinated. Death was faster and took him a day before his departure to France.
They are either being killed, emigrate or drown in the Aegean Sea like Ilan who became an icon to the Syrian Tragedy. Some others are being shot by Turkish border guards before reaching the closer exile, on their way to that farther one.
Many of them sneak off without saying farewell to their friends and acquaintances. Perhaps, they have a sense of guilt or embarrassment, or they do not want witnesses to their escape and defeat. Suddenly, we hear that they got to Germany, Sweden, France, the Netherlands or other countries. We can say goodbye to only a few of them. Bitterness and dejection appear in the form of the uncontrollable tears that prevail at such moments. I wonder whether we are going to meet somewhere again, or it will be the last hugs. Do we have enough time to meet again those whom we used to; even if not in Syria which is getting further and farther away day by day?
Over the last months and years, Gaziantep became for many Syrians a second homeland and leaving it is like departing from Syria. It may differ from Urfa, Antioch, Istanbul, Beirut or Cairo because it is considered the largest Syrian exile in Turkey (500.000 Syrians, i.e. a quarter of the city’s population).
Today, it is normal to meet Syrians you do not know and not try to communicate with them the way you would in Damascus, Aleppo or in any other city in Syria when meeting a lot of people for the first time. Everyone is preoccupied with his/her own national tragedy.
“O’ take my leave, without saying goodbye”.