'Sami went to the streets with hundreds of thousands of other Syrians. As the demonstrations surged, so did the casualties, and Sami and others stood daily against the regime knowing they could be the next in line when the military opened fire.
“They started to have these big demonstrations inside Damasus, in Midan.” Sami says, “And we had many in Qudsayya. Those were the really hard ones, you know? You had to run a lot, there were a lot of bullets. Sometimes you had to carry people who got shot and you put them in a car, you didn’t even know who is in the car. The car would drop them off before the hospital so the driver would not be taken by secret police. Eventually, we had hospitals that we made in safe houses in each neighborhood, so the injured would not be taken away.”
At one point, Sami tells me, Syrian forces went house to house in Qudsayya over a two-day period and rounded up 120 people, half of whom were killed under torture. It was normal to hear of another friend or neighbor who had been arrested, beaten, or disappeared. This climate took Sami and Tariq into 2012, when a lot of people started picking up guns to fight against the regime.
Something struck me almost immediately about these two men; both broadcast something like hope. As we talked further, I realized it was something deeper than that; pride. A pride that I have never experienced. When they speak about their journey to Europe and of their brushes with death, they do so knowing that they stood on the right side of history, that they did exactly what they would want themselves or anyone to do in their situation; they stood and pushed forward when the Arab world was trying to rid itself of the regimes and dogmatic political doctrines that oversaw the repression of their generation.
Though they carry trauma and scars from Syria, and while their families and friends are scattered, dead, or in prison, neither regret their role in the Syrian revolution. But Sami and Tariq have hope as well, a hope in knowing that perhaps the revolt in Syria will be a building block toward some better future. It had to happen, they stress, and once it had started, they had to push it as far as they could.
Such hope does not come from blind faith, but from knowing that something could work, from a sense of potential and possibility. That is what Tunisia and Egypt taught the world in late 2010 and early 2011, and it’s what drove people like Sami and Tariq to the streets of Damascus a month later. They live now knowing that they were among the millions who tried.
Things don’t always look the way you think they will, the three of us agree, rolling cigarettes in a smoke-filled anarchist bar in central Amsterdam. When the revolution began, there was no turning back. And though they were defeated in the streets, disappeared in prisons, and driven out of the country, it wasn’t without reason.
“There’s a difference between losing and failing,” Tariq says.'