As part of our collaboration with Syria Deeply we are cross-posting a series of articles that capture civilian voices caught in the crossfire, along with perspectives on the conflict from writers around the world.
Loubna Mrie paid a steep price for her place in Syria’s revolution. As an Alawite who took a stand against President Bashar Al Assad, she pitted herself against her community; many Alawites have remained staunchly behind Assad, as the leader of their sect and the protector of their privileged position of power.
From the start of the uprising, Loubna’s parents took opposite sides: her father and uncles stood with Assad, while Loubna and her mother supported the growing protests.
It was a position Loubna’s father made it clear he wouldn’t tolerate: he demanded her loyalty to the Assad camp. In August, Loubna left her hometown of Latakia, in western Syria, fleeing across the border to Turkey. Her father kidnapped her mother and threatened to kill her as punishment. When Loubna refused to return her father followed through on the threat. Her father killed her mother, and cut her off from the life she had known before the uprising.
Loubna is now a filmmaker with Basma, a media activist group. She travels around Syria with a camera, chronicling the revolution on film. We met up with her in Gaziantep, Turkey, to talk about life and war in Syria. Below is a portion of that chat.
SD: What was it like in Latakia at the beginning of the revolution?
Mrie: It started like every other city in Syria. The demonstrations just had the normal, peaceful slogans like, “we want better schools”, “we want better jobs”, “we want democracy”. We didn’t even say the line “al shaab yureed isqat al nizam”—“the people want the regime to fall”.
SD: Were there many Alawites protesting?
Mrie: No. There were hardly any. Latakia is full of Alawites, and most of them were supporting the regime. We had just a small slice of society that was against the regime, but they didn’t go to demonstrations because they were so afraid. From day one, the regime was trying to convince people that this is not a revolution–it’s just terrorists or an Islamic movement against you.
SD: When did it all happen? When did your family fall apart?
Mrie: It happened last November. It was so traumatic, I couldn’t even think about anything. I felt guilt, huge guilt. I kept crying for three days, but then I realized that my mom didn’t die just to see me crying in my bed the whole day. So I chose the other option: to grab my camera and go back to Syria.
SD: Did she speak to you in the final month?
Mrie: No, they kidnapped her in the middle of August. I didn’t hear from her again since then. Even my aunts and my grandma didn’t call me because they were so afraid that if the government found out they were in touch with me, they would harm them. Even my neighborhood and my old friends didn’t talk with me at all. They didn’t say we are sorry, we feel sad, we feel anything. They were saying that you deserve that. So it’s not only the loss of my mom that broke my heart, it’s also the attitude of the people that I was growing up with.
SD: What was your father’s argument?
Mrie: I have no idea. But maybe they were just convinced by these stories that the regime has been telling them: that this is an Islamic movement and they will kill you, and that you will lose everything. I think that for the big families– my family is one of them—they are so afraid. They know that when the regime will fall they will lose almost everything, because when the regime was in control they knew they could do anything and no one would punish them. They could do all the stealing, the cheating, the robberies.
For me, I understand the rich families or the families that are in power, but I don’t understand the poor families who support Assad. I remember my neighbors…they were so poor. I’d wonder, why are you supporting this regime? What did the regime do for you?
After a while we discovered it’s like a religious thing for them. In the last years, it was Hafez Al Assad, and now it's Bashar Al Assad The people worship these guys. Since the revolution began, I kept telling people that the protesters who are in the streets, the opposition, they are not monsters. I fled to Turkey with the help of the Free Syrian Army. They were so nice to me and they helped me. They knew that I’m an Alawite, but they didn’t kill me as the government is always trying to say.
SD: Do you think they are changing their opinion at all? Do you think the community is changing its opinion at all?
Mrie: Now they are stuck in the middle. They are losing their children in battle. They are losing their generation in the army. So they know that the government is not making any good for them, but at the same time they are so afraid of the opposition. We have Islamist elements in the revolution, and it makes them afraid. They are in the middle. They know that the government is not helping them, but at the same time they are afraid of the opposition.
I have been hearing stories about how, when the dead bodies come to the villages of the Alawites, all the village starts to curse Bashar Al Assad and curse his government because he’s not protecting them and they are sacrificing themselves for someone who is not making any efforts.
SD: From what we keep hearing, the regime has scared the Alawite community so much that they think it’s a battle for survival, life or their death. How do you think that you can calm down those fears?
Mrie: The problem in this community is that they won’t understand. All they know is that if you were an Alawite and you were against the regime, your punishment will be doubled.
If they just saw the stories and just turned on the TV and heard the slogans, they would know that this is not a revolution against them.
SD: Right now in the Alawite community, if somebody stands up, like you, and supports the revolution, what happens?
Mrie: They would kill his mom.
SD: They say that?
Mrie: No, but it happened to me. I’m not a terrorist. I didn’t do anything wrong. I just stepped out from my small community and said that I am with the revolution, I am with my people. I’m not going to witness all this bloodshed and keep quiet. It’s not a political cause, it’s now a human cause…this is a revolution for us, for our children, for our grandchildren.
SD: The whole regime could change tomorrow. Whenever it happens, how is this community going to react? How is Syria going to change if you have so much fear within the Alawite community?
Mrie: Right now we have liberated areas. There are Alawites in those liberated areas, so you can see samples of a new Syria, how it’s going to be. [The opposition is] not killing the Alawites, they are not kicking them out of their houses. We are all one. We are just a good community. Not because of Bashar Al Assad, because we are a peaceful people.
SD: There are some Alawites in the coalition, in the opposition. Are they people that the larger Alawite community respects? Are they people that can be leaders and help the community?
Mrie: The community hates the Alawites who are with Moaz al Khatib. They say these are not even Alawites—they are outcasts.
I’m living the same situation myself. They broke into my house. They stole all my things. They stole my papers from my college. All I got from my Alawite community, who are supporters of the regime, was just bad words on Facebook.
SD: What did they say?
Mrie: That you deserved it and we wish that the same thing that happened to your mom will happen to you.
SD: There might always be some anger against the Alawites for standing behind Assad? What does that mean for Syria?
Mrie: In Syria the shelling is still going on and everyday we have more dead people. So we can’t really decide now the shape of the future Syria. We know that revenge doesn’t build a country, doesn’t build democracy. We went in the streets and made sacrifices to make a new country; revenge will not help us to do this. But we will punish the people who did make mistakes, who killed.