• A student from Syria

    'Syria was a great country to grow up in'

    People feel bad for Sham when they hear she’s from Syria, so she sometimes tells them she’s from Lebanon. That doesn’t change the fact that she’s worried sick about her friends and family. ‘My brother just got hit by a mortar shell.’

    Whenever Sham mentions she is from Syria, jaws drop. ‘Since the war started, people have felt bad for me and that makes me uncomfortable. Also, when I’m at a party, I don’t always feel like talking about Syria because it makes me sad. Sometimes I just say that I’m from Lebanon.’

    ‘My brother just got hit by a mortar shell’

    Sham Sham, a 20-year-old economics student, has good reason to feel sad. The civil war in Syria is getting worse by the day. Over 100,000 people have already died and an attack by the United States seems imminent. Even though most of her friends and family live in the relatively safe city of Damascus, it is being hit daily by explosions. ‘My brother just got hit by a mortar shell. Luckily, the cut was not very deep. Anything can happen at any given moment. My friends don’t even care about the danger any more. They’re used to it.’

    This is not the country Sham left when she was 15. ‘Growing up in Syria was great. President Assad had installed a secular regime, so you could do what you wanted. When my parents were offered jobs in Greece five years ago, I didn’t want to leave.’

    Now she can’t go back – ‘not because of the violence, but for fear of the borders closing. Then I’d be stuck in Syria for several months.’


    Syria is a modern Arab country, Sham stresses, but not a Western one. Male-female relationships in her home country are completely different to those in the West. ‘In Syria a woman’s reputation is extremely important. As a woman, you cannot talk about your boyfriend openly and this frustrates me enormously. I don’t want to be judgmental about people’s choices, yet all people do in Syria is judge.’

    ‘Arab countries are not ready for democracy yet’

    There are more misconceptions. ‘Western people think Syria is backward for not having a democracy, but Arab countries are not ready for democracy yet. If we were to have democratic elections right now, most people would vote for an Islamic party and we’d end up with an Islamic state.’

    The secular state that President Assad built is one of the reasons why Sham believes he shouldn’t be seen as a monster. ‘He deserves respect for that. Also, with Assad in charge, the economy opened up, and there was more freedom of speech and better health care. I’m not saying he’s an angel, though, because he allowed corruption inside the Government.’

    The first uprisings were because people protested against that corruption, and when Sham visited Syria in the summer of 2011 everything still seemed fine. ‘Then, after I came home, I saw the violence on TV and I was shocked. The first year of the war I was so stressed that I failed my exams – and I’d never resat any before. I used to think that I could always go back there, but that’s not an option now. Ever since the conflict started, I can’t really say that I’ve been happy.’


    Sham’s brother still lives in Damascus with his wife and children. He has had to close down his advertising company and his son has had to change schools, because the long trip to his previous school had become too dangerous. ‘I have friends who went to private schools outside Damascus, but it’s not safe to travel right now, so the universities have closed down and my friends can’t go to school.’

    Her cousin’s uncle was kidnapped seven months ago. ‘No one has heard from him since. We can only assume the worst.’

    ‘I don’t want Syria to turn into a new Afghanistan’

    Meanwhile, in Aleppo, where Sham’s aunt lives, armed rebels surrounded the city so she was without food, water and electricity for five days. ‘They carried weapons, so she wasn’t able to go anywhere.’

    For Sham, it is painful to see what has happened to the beautiful place she grew up in. ‘You could always have fun, whether you were a billionaire or just had 50 Syrian pounds on you. I could walk the streets safely at night, because if anything were to happen, people from all over would come to my rescue. Syria is my home and I don’t want it to turn into a new Afghanistan.’

    Sham is afraid that an American attack will only make things worse. ‘Most people who are currently fighting aren’t even Syrians. They are opposing powers fighting each other and wanting to bring Syria down. The United States doesn’t have Syria’s best interests at heart. If they intervene and Syria fights back, which will probably happen, we could be looking at a third world war.’

    For reasons of privacy, Sham isn’t the real name of the student interviewed.