The Girl of Syria Story!
was a social services center in the Dwaili’a neighborhood in Damascus. Right before the entrance, there was a medium-sized front yard with a little kiosk. The center had many people with untreatable conditions, in addition to people with special needs. I visited the center for the first time with Razan. She had just finished writing a report about the center and the services it provided. She visited the center regularly, and became friends with many of its residents. I visited the place a couple of times, and it was a surprising and wonderful experience.
One of the center’s residents was a nine-year old girl. She had progeria, and looked like an old woman in her eighties. Razan befriended her and many others in the center. She felt that it was her responsibility to provide them with some hope. Nawras, for example, was a handsome and educated young man. He had a handicap and could not walk. He and Razan used to have long conversations. She always listened to him, took an interest in his ideas, and he always felt very proud when he convinced her of his opinion.
This was not the first center that Razan had visited. She had also visited an orphanage, and written a report that exposed the thefts that the orphanage’s manager carried out, and the abuse that the kids suffered from there. After that report, Razan was banned from writing for the Baath newspaper.
One of our rituals was to go to the old quarter in Damascus. We used to buy little things from the old bazars, and enjoy eating the hot fava beans that food carts sell on the street. Back then, Razan was fighting against the phenomenon of child panhandling, and she was working hard to help these children acquire education and find safe shelter. She succeeded in helping a significant number of these kids in need.
A few years later, Razan became a lawyer and defended many free speech prisoners. The number of cases was astonishing, and I was stunned with her patience and commitment. She herself lived the suffering of each person she defended. I still remember the elderly lady, Um Saeed, who knew nothing about what would become of her son who had been arrested. I still remember how each time we visited her, she swore to God that her son was still alive, although no one was able to gather any information about him, and the regime denied that he was in its prisons. Razan undertook the task of finding him. She tried hard, and she was sad and distressed when the mother died and she had not been able to deliver her any information about her son.
Faris Murad, a former political prisoner, made a strong impression on Razan. I always thought that his health issues were the reason behind her deep sympathy for him. Faris had been in prison for 29 years. When they finally released him, he was suffering from Bekhterev's disease, which caused rigidity in his spine, and led to shortness of breath as a result of the compression of his lungs. Although he was supposed to finally enjoy his freedom, Faris was in such bad condition by the time he was released, that he could not lead a normal life. Additionally, there was no treatment for his condition in Syria, and he was barred from leaving the country.
Razan consulted many physicians she knew, hoping that she would find him some help, but unfortunately, treatment for his condition was not available in Syria. Razan and some of Faris’ friends encouraged him to start over, and they helped him open a little gift shop in the neighborhood of Harasta in Rif Dimashq (rural Damascus). I still remember when my mother and I visited him in his new shop—his eyes were full of happiness and hope.
Imad Shiha, a political prisoner with one of the longest incarcerations in Syria, was also released that year. Razan followed his activities, and attended all of his lectures and seminars. After a little while, Imad completed the novels that he had started in prison. I had the honor of reading two of his novels, and the great honor of editing one of them. I have not heard anything about Imad since then.
This a little glimpse into who Razan was: Razan was a humane journalist who was kidnapped with her husband, Wael, and her two colleagues, Nazem and Samira, from their office in Duma. Unfortunately, no one protected them, and Jaysh al-Islam (The Army of Islam) has not admitted to kidnapping them, nor have they even opened an investigation regarding their case.