We interviewed a woman who fled Syria after joining the FSA.
Illustration by Daniel David Freeman
Loubna Mrie grew up in a high-profile Alawite family, but unlike most of the adherents to the Twelver school of Shia Islam, Loubna does not support the Assad regime. When the civil war first broke out last March, when Assad’s troops began shooting civilian protesters, she was persuaded by friends to support the rebels of the nascent Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Damascus, where in February she was assigned to a six-month ordnance-smuggling stint.
When the revolt began I was opposed to armed revolution. Then the cruelty of the Syrian Army forced me to change my opinions about the possibility of a peaceful resistance movement.
When I was growing up in Lataika, I started reading all the forbidden books about the history of the Assad family and the government. Through the internet and through friends, I got these books and I started to learn more about the government and how it’s controlling our lives.
I had a big problem my first year of college because I didn’t know it was forbidden for you to say your opinion and express your feelings. I wrote a short article about Tal al-Mallohi, a blogger who was arrested for publishing her views on the internet, and shared it amongst my friends.
One day I was in the cafeteria, sitting alone, and a guy from the Mukhabarat (secret police) pulled up a chair and sat with me — he seemed so normal that I thought he was a student. He said “You have a long tongue” which is something we say in Arabic. “So you have to shut up and stop bringing up these subjects in college or you’ll be in trouble.” I’m not new to troubles. I’m a troublemaker, but in a good way.
I moved to Damascus in February 2012 because Latakia became a bad place for activists. I had to leave. I didn’t work with the FSA at first; I worked with the families from Homs. At first I started smuggling medicine, food and money — the things that will keep you alive. I was connected to many wealthy people making donations to the revolution and they were connected to the activists. They would give us money to buy medicine and food for the families in Homs. Can you imagine that we used to smuggle rice and bread? A guy was killed for taking bread from one city to another because the Syrian Army knew he was a relief worker. I used to be so afraid at the checkpoints, even just carrying antibiotics.
You should know that the FSA are not a strange army that just came to Syria. They are friends whom we were protesting and working with before any sort of rebel force was actualised. I knew they needed help, so I asked what I could do. One of them said they needed bullets, so I called my friend who took me to another area (it would be irresponsible for me to say exactly where) to buy them. I later smuggled them back. It’s not complicated, but it is very dangerous.
At checkpoints, the Alawites, Christians, and Druze (followers of a branch of Shia Islam who also incorporate other beliefs into their religion) are always free to pass — the government and the shabiha (armed men in plainclothes who support the regime) think all the activists are Sunni. They don’t thoroughly search believers of these faiths, so they can smuggle anything easily — even guns.
I know a very brave man who has been running weapons to other areas for over a year. One day he called and told me “Come, you have to take some chocolates from me.” When I discovered the “chocolates” were actually guns, I said no, that’s where I draw the line.
One day I was smuggling bullets with my friend and the police pulled us over, asking to see the registration for the car. The papers we needed were underneath the box of bullets between the seats. My friend and I pulled the papers out slowly; if we shook the box it would have definitely made a noise. They don’t expect people to transport something so dangerous close to their bodies, so we were able to get away. They are stupid, the people on the checkpoints.
When I was in Salma, Latakia, the most dangerous area in mountains, I was interviewed by a guy from the FSA on camera. I was covering my face, but people recognised me once they uploaded the video to YouTube. I received many messages on Facebook like “Shame on you, you are betraying us and now you are collaborating with the terrorists.” Many people from my hometown and my father’s family have sent me threatening messages, saying that they will kill me if they see me. My father’s family is well known in Latakia — my uncle, my cousins and my dad founded the shabiha there.
Before the YouTube video was released, I was planning to leave Damascus anyway. But now I fear that I cannot return. Most of my friends got arrested, many of them died, and Damascus was under siege and full of checkpoints where I knew Assad’s soldiers had my name. The YouTube video wasn’t the main reason for my departure, but it did result in my mother being kidnapped. I haven’t heard from her since August and I don’t know if she’s still alive.
I knew that I couldn’t make it past a border checkpoint, so for that reason I was smuggled into Turkey in August by the FSA. We went through the mountains and walked for three hours, eventually arriving in Istanbul.
I want to find my mother; if she is dead I want a decent grave for her so I can put flowers on it. She is the most important person in my life. From the very beginning she was there for me. I remember calling her many times when I was in Damascus, telling her something bad happened or that my friend had died and I was afraid that I would get caught. She kept saying, “Keep going, I know that you are brave and I am proud of you”. I know that if I stop now and I say, OK, I surrender, she would be so upset.
When this all ends, I will need a therapist. I can’t sleep. I’m trying my best to be a normal girl, but I just cant. It’s really hard for me. I’m forcing myself here in Istanbul to just have a normal life — I know the city is so beautiful and all the people here are so nice — but I can’t.
But my sacrifice is nothing compared to the people in Syria. OK, I lost my college. OK, I lost my mother. OK, I lost my old life. But most of my friends have lost their lives. We have to be strong, because I know many people in Syria are waiting for the future, for this crisis to end.
I hate when people ask me “What do you think about the future for Syria?” and “Are you afraid of the Islamic people or the Salafists?” The area I stayed in is the most conservative area of Syria. The guy that interviewed me in the YouTube video is Salafi. They were so nice to me; when I went to them it was Ramadan and they cooked for me. They put themselves in danger to get me to Turkey.
I am not afraid for the future of Syria.
For an overview of the issues that have fuelled the conflict in Syria, we recommend reading Road to Ruin; our condensed timeline of Syrian history, and The VICE Guide to Syria; a crash course on the country's geopolitical, cultural, and religious complexities.