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Exclusive: The Aching Wounds of Pro-Regime Widows in Syria

Exclusive: The Aching Wounds of Pro-Regime Widows in Syria

Wednesday, 6 December, 2017 - 09:00
Widows attending a support group meeting at the National Defense Forces headquarters, Asharq Al-Awsat

On the way back to her village in the village of Jibla, Maram struggles under the heavy load of rice and sugar portions she received after a support session at the headquarters of the Syrian Red Crescent Society in Lattakia.

Shudders of fear crawl down her spine as a volunteer asks her to meet him outside the center’s headquarters.

Fearing harassment, Maram prepared herself with a bag insults in case the volunteer crosses any redline, just like others had done before.

To her surprise, she finds him holding up two biscuits that were being distributed by the United Nations as free aid to schoolchildren which he handed over to her two kids.

The volunteer kindly asked her to not bring her children to the support session anymore since they had caused unwanted uproar.

Four years ago, the 22-year-old mother, with her soft features and frail body, was woken up in one icy December morning by loud wails and cries. News of the death of her husband, Mahyar, had come – making her officially the “martyr’s widow."

Mahyar was killed fighting along pro-regime ranks based in the countryside of Damascus. He had joined the pro-government militias known as the National Defense Forces.

Mahayar, who married her three years ago after a stormy love story, had vowed he would never give her up and that he would always remain her protector.

Soon enough, the promise was changed as he volunteered to join the fight against terrorists, leaving his family behind. Less than a year later, his body was brought back wrapped in a red flag.

Mahyar was laid to the ground, without Maram being able to say one last goodbye.

“I wasn’t allowed to see him for the last time because his body was deformed,” says the grief-stricken widow.

Maram's fears and distrust in the opposite sex grew fiercer after the first account of harassment which took place a year after her husband’s passing.

At the National Defense Forces headquarters in the city of Latakia, one of the volunteers asked her to accompany him to an inner room. He had told her that it was to hand her over the food aid ration she was promised two months ago.

At the time she did not hesitate. Wrongly choosing to place her faith in thinking he would help her provide difficult aid to her children, Maram fell victim to a series of harassment attacks.

Maram says that Mahyar would always say his fellow volunteers at the National Defense Forces were "his brothers in the blood", and he would always use these words whenever she asked him to leave the fighting and stay by her side.

"They (volunteers at the National Defense Forces headquarters) are who really are slaughtering us my dear husband, not the terrorists,” says Maram with a grimace and some resentment at her husband’s decision.

As for cultural difficulties, Maram also has a fair share put out for her.

She recalls the unforgettable moment when her husband's father delivered her a hard slap after learning that suitors were asking for her hand in marriage.

His threatening screams echo as he gave her the cold promise of prying away her two children if she remarries.

“You would never be allowed to see them again,” he warned.

"Do you want to sell off my son's blood for cheap?," he scolded Maram.

She says that the words fell like bullets to her chest, and what made it worse is that her parents stood idle and chose not to defend her. Altogether, ever remarrying became out of the question.

Post-war traditions, as described by Maram, forbid the "widow of a martyr" to marry another, otherwise she would be considered treacherous and forgetful for her husband's sacrifices and heroism.

Her kids will be shamed for life.

“Whenever I hear that the widows of men who were fighting among terror ranks are immediately remarried, in a bid to get rid of the burden of taking care of them, I wish my husband was a terrorist, at least I would still have a right to remarry,” says Maram with unbound acidity towards the fate which has befallen her.

When asked why she still wears black and refrains from applying any make up, even though her husband has been gone for four years now, Maram laughs cynically.

"The widow's wearing of colored clothes and showing any sign of joy or laughter is condemned in the new traditions created by the Syrian war," she says.

Since her husband’s death was not natural, and that she was the widow of a martyr, she must hold close to her grief, always be on the receiving end of sympathy and charity for her children.

Still with some fighting left in her, Maram rebelled against the social state of grief imposed on her by enrolling in a vocational training course for free sewing.

She had to find a job that would give her some money, since work was still out of the list of prohibitions imposed on her as a widow.

No precise statistics or studies exist on the extent to which women are exposed to "physical or verbal" violence in areas controlled by the Syrian regime.

Reem Rajab, who in 2015 founded ‘Noon’- a society for victims of violence against women and children in Lattakia- says that "the majority of widows of men who fought alongside regime forces, are aged in their 20’s or 30’s”.

“After the death of their husbands, they suffer from the strict guardianship of his family on her children,” adds Rajab.

Some families are not even shy to share the widow and her children the compensation allocated for her, in the case her husband was enrolled in the military.

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