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The Funeral That Brought Syria's Revolutionaries to a Church with Red Roses

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At Marcell Shehwaro's mother's funeral, friends and revolutionaries from across Aleppo turned up wearing white and carrying red roses in their hands.

This post is part of a special series of articles by blogger and activist, Marcell Shehwaro, describing the realities of life in Syria during the ongoing armed conflict between forces loyal to the current regime, and those seeking to oust it.

Perhaps I have overwhelmed you with the details of my personal loss, telling you in a previous article the story of my mother and the murderer that grew in me after she was killed. But today I don’t think I can talk about what’s going on in Syria without conveying to you the cries of the victims, and their pain.

Today I shall tell you about the night of the incident.

I had lingered late at a friend’s house, discussing revolutionary ideas, when my mobile phone rang. On the line was the terrified voice of my sister: “Mom is in hospital, she’s been shot.”

In the few minutes it took to get to her, thoughts collided in my head. Will she make it? Am I to blame for all this pain? Did they murder her because she’s my mother? To protect myself against the feelings of guilt I wished it was I who had been shot. Were they our bullets?? Or their bullets? I didn’t know. At that point I didn’t imagine it made a difference which party caused the death. When I arrived at the hospital I was supposed to approve the decision whether they should operate, but before I managed to answer, they told me she was dead. My mother was martyred on that day.

I don’t know how I managed to shed my humanity so quickly. I kept it for later. I didn’t cry as much as I wanted: my conscience was saturated with the revolution, it was my cross, the one I— like thousands of Syrians—had to bear, so who am I to complain? In those moments I realised my own selfishness. I realised the ugliness of the fear I caused my mother to feel each time I went to a protest—which she could always tell from the “casual” clothes I had on, or from my happiness when I returned home, or even as a result of my inability or reluctance to lie to her—and essentially  faced my death. I don’t know where I buried my emotions nor where I found the resolve that allowed me to decide I would not be silenced, and that even after my mother’s death I would continue to be the daughter of my revolution, immune to tears, immune to mortification.

Early the following morning I had to go and meet the officer in charge of the security checkpoint where my mother was killed. He was a cold-blooded murderer, just like the regime that spawned him. He didn’t even apologise. He referred carelessly to the killing as “an individual mistake,” just like thousands of individual mistakes being made throughout the country, forgetting, or pretending to have forgotten that this particular “individual mistake” was a mother, was a history of love, compassion and memories, was a homeland for its family. But these people are used to assassinating homelands, so what’s new?

Afterwards I became the target of everybody’s warnings, about what I should do and shouldn’t say, of the fear that ran in the family, in the society. Despite the magnitude of my loss I sat in a corner and pitied them for being enslaved to these circles of fear; those who once were the closest of friends. I pitied their enslavement and loved them so much that I wished them freedom. As for me, who used to dread my mother’s tears if I were ever martyred, I had been freed from this fear.

In my head I was chanting revolutionary songs, songs I still recite in my head whenever life gets tougher. Whenever I wish to remember who I really am I build a protective bubble around myself. I chanted that song my mom used to hate: “I’m going out to protest with my soul on my hand/And if I come back to you a martyr, mother, don’t cry.”

How ironic life is. I used to face death almost daily, protesting in the most dangerous places, getting directly shot at—and yet I survive while she dies?

On the day of the funeral I had to think of everything. How could the church become a space that preserved the dignity of all revolutionists regardless of their affiliations? And how could I make the revolution look like the most beautiful bride to those who, having prejudged the revolution to be an affair of extremists with no room for anything different, have kept their distance in fear.

That’s how I managed to choose white and red. I asked the revolutionists to wear white, in contrast to the Christian friends and family who’d be dressed in black as is the custom at Christian funerals. I also asked the revolutionists to each hold a red rose to demonstrate their compassion in a manner that everyone would understand and appreciate.

On entering the church premises I was almost broken by the sight of a busload of security forces. I don’t know why my mother’s funeral entailed an armed security presence. All of that would have broken me, had it not been for the revolutionary whiteness that embraced me. I don’t know where all of those people came from, but all the love and acceptance they held brought me peace. Revolutionists filling the steps of the church in their white shirts, holding their red roses up high, screaming freedom in silence and with reverence. Hundreds of eyes beholding me, awaiting my signal to turn it into a protest, but they respect my grief and my decision.

I don’t know exactly how many were there, but on that day I felt that rebellious Aleppo was leaning over me and kissing my forehead, wiping my tears one by one. On that day I learned the meaning of a band of revolutionists visiting a church for the first time, just to be with me, to offer me condolences; the meaning of girl wearing a head cover to sit on a church bench without feeling alienated or bizarre, because she’s not alone there. I learned what it means when they say the revolution “unites the Syrians”.

If the regime has stolen what’s left of my family, the revolution gave me a family that is capable of unconditional love. Anyone can talk about sectarian cheers, and make claims about the nature of the Syrian conflict, but, deep inside, I trust that this revolution pulled us all out of the thousands of shells we used to hide in. This grief has united us and reformed us in its essence.

Hundreds of red roses approached along with their holders. I wished I could thank each one of them. I wished I could tell each one of them how much deeper the pain would have been if they hadn’t been here. I wished I could catch the scent of majestic Aleppo in their tears, and dedicate this article to them, or to those among them who are still with us, as many of these revolutionists have died defending freedom.

I smiled at them, proud of a revolution that gave birth to such heroes. I smiled at them, trying hard to disguise my tears with a feigned strength, for we should all “press hard on the wound and rise high” to avenge the blood of martyrs, the blood of my mother, of Mustafa and of Mahmoud. There is a vow that we took: “We will never forget a martyr’s blood”.

They approached the casket, all of them, and with that same beautiful serenity they laid their flowers on my mother’s tomb. I called out to her, inside me: “Mother, don’t mind me, Syria is my mother”.

We headed to the graveyard with them surrounding me, carrying my pain so it was lighter for me to bear. Afterwards they stayed with me, attending one and a half hours of rituals and prayers which they neither understood nor related to. I felt that they needed to pray as well, in their way. I asked them to read her the Fatiha. I knew that inside each of their hearts there was enough purity to rest her soul. I prayed with them, in my faith and theirs.

Great is the debt I owe them, deep is my gratitude for their compassion, and dear to me is every tear they shed with me, and long—so long—is the road we still need to cross together, with whomever is left.


Marcell Shehwaro blogs at marcellita.com and tweets at @Marcellita, both primarily in Arabic. Read the other posts in the series here.

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