A very real account of love during the Syrian conflict
Like a scene from Love Actually, Razan Alakraa and Ahmad Alhameed embraced at the arrivals hall of London’s Heathrow Airport. But unlike the film this heartwarming display of love came after the couple were separated by the harsh realities of the Syrian conflict.
Razan (@tweets4peace) recently shared this photo on Twitter of her and her fiancée, Ahmad, reuniting at London Heathrow Airport on New Year’s Day after spending one and a half years apart. We spoke to Razan about her and Ahmad’s experiences of the conflict and the circumstances that came to see them separated:
‘I’m Syrian born but was raised in the UK after my dad relocated here in the 80s to complete his medical training. I grew up aware of and involved in many causes and working with people locally and internationally; my parents made sure that we knew people went hungry so we weren’t to waste food.
When the Syrian conflict started my family had to make the decision to say something or to stay quiet. When the Izra massacre happened in Daraa city and the blood started to be poured onto the streets of Syria in April 2011 by the Assad regime security forces, we sat down as a family and took the decision to speak out. We’ve now been active since 2011 and continue to be so still. I’ve helped to create media centres around Syria so spent a lot of my time on Skype passing information onto media outlets and human rights groups such as Avaaz, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
I met Ahmad through my family. My extended family knew his very well and he asked for me in 2009 when I was in the UK and he was still in Syria. When my uncle asked my mum, I said no straight away; I was starting to study pharmacy and wanted nothing to do with him. I worked with my cousin who was in Syria. I would translate and update news outlets and human rights groups to get the message out for what medicines were needed for the field hospitals. I wasn’t aware that Ahmad had created a field hospital and was observing my work online the whole time as he worked to save lives.
To cut a long story short, he proposed to me online in December 2012 after the siege ended. And he was able to go back to continuing his speciality in Damascus as an oncologist.
We met in February 2013 in Lebanon so I could make a decision about the proposal. I was going to try and identify whether he was a man I could spend the rest of my life with, but he had just left a war zone so was stressed and anxious. We ended up clashing; I just didn’t get it.
I ended up telling him I didn’t think it was going to work and he replied by telling me he thought he should have spent some time alone before seeing me. He said, ‘I’ve buried hundreds with my hands, I’ve lost my dad and sister. I’m not this angry man, I wish you could see who I really was.’
We decided to meet again in April 2013 and I had bought an engagement dress ready but my dad’s brother and his son were killed under the Assad regime so I ended up cancelling the date. We rearranged to meet in Lebanon in July 2013 but he was stopped because he had to complete some compulsory military training… we rearranged again for December but he was detained in November. December in Lebanon was one of the coldest times for me because Ahmad was missing. I waited for him to contact me but nothing happened.
I called local groups in the area and asked whether they had Internet and electricity to charge phones. They told me there was. Where was he I wondered? I told his family and they said he was probably asleep and my own family told me to calm down, but I knew.
He was missing from that day for 5 months. I can’t explain my emotions; I can’t explain how I felt. I can only ask everyone reading this to pray for all those missing someone in Assad prisons.
Ahmad was finally released in March 2014 via a terrorism court in Syria. They said that one of his charges was knowing me! He had no passport; no medical papers – nothing. It took until December 2015 to get him a visa.
I look at him with me today and I know that he still suffers. He can’t stand for too long; his shoulder dislocates if he lifts it too high, his back is still marked. He is in pain all of the time. No detainee is ever cured of what they experienced and saw. He has never told me the full story but he has given me tiny snippets here and there. He still feels guilty that he is now safe and his friends – including some women and children – aren’t.
When Ahmad landed in the UK it felt amazing. My mum, dad and sisters stood by me for three years and were all there with me at the airport screaming and celebrating too. I owe it all to them and to God.
We want to have a wedding soon but nothing big as Syria is still suffering and it wouldn’t feel right. Detainees still continue to suffer torture. Syrians remain besieged and starving. Our happiness will never be complete. My family and his family have lost so many people and so we will never be able to celebrate fully when we know that the Assad regime is still killing’