November 24, 2015
Yazbek to Dagsavisen, Norway: “Terror struck my second homeland”

Yazbek to Dagsavisen, Norway: “Terror struck my second homeland”

By Asne Gullikstad, for Dagsavisen, November 24th, 2015
Photo credit: Dagsavisen

Samar Yazbek fled first from the Assad regime, but went back to war. The second time, she fled from ISIS. Now terror struck the city she lives in, Paris.

[pullquote]”I opened the window ajar and let in a thin strip of light so the world would see layers of hell.”[/pullquote]
“I opened the window ajar and let in a thin strip of light so the world would see layers of hell.” Samar Yazbek went back. She got into the war in Syria again, although she had a life in exile in Paris. The words above are taken from the introduction to her book “The Crossing”, which now has been translated into Norwegian…

“As a writer, it is part of my duty to tell you about what is happening on Earth”, says Yazbek in an interview with Dagsavisen.
Samar Yazbek is Alawite, from the same minority with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Nevertheless, she has been opposed to the Assad regime from the beginning of the uprising in Syria. She is considered one of Syria’s most respected independent voices, and was on the list of Alawites who should be killed. When it became too dangerous for her and her daughter to be in Syria, she fled, and got to stay in France. Nevertheless, she went back to Northern Syria. The goal was to help women using an organization she created (Women Now for Development).
“I had planned to travel to Syria for good, as a number of areas where was liberated” (taken over by rebels, editor.), Says Yazbek.

In the book she describes how she embarks on a perilous journey back home. She lives with the people she meets, hiding with them when the bombs fall, meets victims of snipers and bombs, and last but not least, hears their stories. The stories that rarely get out to the rest of the world, because they are hidden behind news updates about the great political and military developments.

[pullquote]The stories that rarely get out to the rest of the world, because they are hidden behind news updates about the great political and military developments.[/pullquote]

“It felt natural to be there rather than in France. There was no room for fear, for I lived among Syrians, we were in the same boat. I lived like the other ones. The only thing that is different is that I have written about it”, says Yazbek, who went back to France in 2013, but finished the book last year.
Terror struck terror

“I had not imagined that terror could come there. But I knew the terror played out in Syria would become bigger and bigger. I thought that the terror Syrians are paying the price for each day, would reach other places of the world. But the terror that hit Paris is a fraction of what the Syrians are experiencing”, says Yazbek.
She felt affected in several ways with the terrorist attack in France.
“When terror reached Paris, I was disturbed. Both because I saw that the problem would become bigger and bigger, but also because France has become my second homeland. And for me Paris is not just the place where I live, but it is also a pool of culture, life, art and democracy. With this battle terrorists have also hit my values and principles”, says Samar Yazbek, who is on a visit to Oslo.
Following the flow of refugees into Europe and the terrorist attack in Paris, and against a Russian plane, forces the great powers to attempt completely different ways than before. But not primarily against Assad – against the Islamic state (IS).
“I’m not really optimistic. But these two things, the refugee crisis and the danger of Daesh, make me actually believe that the international community may be forced to work towards a solution”, says Yazbek, using the Arabic name Daesh for IS.

– Will the attacks on IS crack the group as one wants, or are they counterproductive, as some warn?
“If they only go to military attacks without other solutions, it will be counterproductive. Two tracks must be followed in parallel. We must admit that we have terrorists in Syria, many armed groups and Jihadists among which Daesh. But we also need political measures. It must be a transitional period during which Assad gives up power”, says Yazbek…
“The first time I traveled out of Syria in 2011 was due to the atrocities of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The second time I traveled out of Syria was because of Daesh. If Daesh had not come into play, I would not have traveled out again”, she says, but points out that it is no use to fight only against IS.
“One of the reasons why Daesh actually have been allowed to develop in Syria, is Assad. The international community is trying to destroy the product, but the cause is still there; Assad, who has destroyed the history and future of his people”, says Yazbek.

In her book, she writes about how she saw an increasing number of foreigners who were on their way into Syria to fight as foreign fighters…
– Is there no longer a Syrian war?
“No, that’s right. And unfortunately Syrians are paying the price. They still cling to hope, fighting for their lives, but know they can not influence what happens on their land. While the many interests collide in Syria war, the Syrians’ land is destroyed”, says Yazbek.

-Earlier this fall, refugees were largely welcome in Europe… But parties that want austerity grow at the polls, including the National Front in France. Many are afraid.
“It is a natural reaction, and I understand it, although I do not want it that way. People are afraid that terrorists will enter among refugees. There is a lot of uncertainty, they do not know the Syrians, who they are. Most of them are ordinary people from the middle class, people who have lost everything”, says Yazbek.

“To live in exile is to know that you do not belong. I have learned to walk around and think in my sleep, perhaps the way one does after they’re dead… In my worst nightmares I never imagined that what is happening now would happen”, she says.

– Do you think you will return to Syria?
“Yes. I don’t know when. But that’s my dream.”