Thursday , February 27 2020
News from Idlib: A Young Syrian Woman and the War | Start | DW

News from Idlib: A Young Syrian Woman and the War | Start | KG

Mona Al-Bakkoor lives with fear. With the bombs and missiles, with the war. "It's just lucky to be hit or not," the 24-year-old Syrian writes to DW in a Whatsapp message. It is Monday, February 10th, and Mona perseveres: together with her husband, in her house in the center of Idlib, where the situation for the population deteriorates every day.

The struggle for supremacy in the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria, which has been going on for nine months, is becoming increasingly bitter. Bombs dropped daily by the Syrian army and its Russian allies. Turkish troops approaching from the south are on the side of the radical Islamic rebels.

Around three million people live in the Idlib province. Almost 700,000 are said to have fled the region since the end of December, most of them in the direction of Turkey. The neighboring country has closed its borders.

Mona didn't even try to leave Idlib. She and her husband want to stay, no matter what. She had changed her place of residence four times in the past ten months alone, sometimes because of the air strikes, sometimes because she simply could no longer pay the rent. You have no strength left for another escape. "Besides, there's nowhere where it's really safe."

Whatsapp messages from the war

Mona is an attractive young woman, but fragile and slim. You can see that on the current photos and video clips that DW sends them. She lost 15 kilos due to the constant tension in the war, she says. And then send a photo from the past. From before the ongoing attacks. There is a pretty teenager with a colorful headscarf and handbag, looking shyly at the camera.

Syrian troops in al-Eis (Getty Images / AFP)

Syrian troops are approaching Idlib

Mona's family comes from Tabqa near Rakka. When her hometown was seized by the terrorist organization "Islamic State" in August 2014 after weeks of fighting with the Syrian army, Mona fled with her parents and five siblings. The house near Idlib, where the family initially lived, was later bombarded and destroyed during air raids.

Mona writes well over a hundred WhatsApp messages for days: about her story, her life. To do this, she sends photos, audios, video clips and live locations again and again. Coordinates that show where she is. But they still cannot make it clear how their everyday life, which does not really deserve this name, feels.

Adele and Billie Eilish

Mona likes western music, she likes Adele and Billie Eilish. And on films. "No matter whether American, German, Korean or Spanish, I find everything interesting." She studied Arabic literature and dreamed of working as a journalist. She loves to write: she runs one blog, which deals with women's rights, is also a reporter for the Syrian radio station Watan FM, which is now broadcasting from Turkey. "Now I almost only report death and grief. I never really wanted that."

Mona Al-Bakkoor from Idlib with her husband (private)

Mona and her husband have moved four times within the past ten years

Mona also works for the Swedish non-governmental organization Start Point, which works for victims of human rights crimes in Syria. With the money she earns, she supports her family, which gives her a lot of strength. Nobody but her has a job, she says. But there is another reason why the work is important to them. It gives structure and meaning in an everyday life with a lot of emptiness. "I couldn't live without my job."

Every day Mona Al-Bakkoor takes the bus to Kafar Takharim, about 30 kilometers away, to the office, where she works with three colleagues. A dangerous journey. "Today the street was bombed from the air in several places," she writes on Monday evening.

"It can happen anytime and all of a sudden." Of course, she was always afraid to leave the house. In the past few weeks alone there have been hundreds of air strikes, some very close. "But what choice do I have? I have to live with it."

Syrian fighters supported by Turkey with machine guns (Getty Images / AFP / A. Watad)

Rebels supported by Turkey south of Idlib

Everyday life continues even in the war, for nine years now. "Some shops are completely closed. Many people are out of Idlib. But basic things like water, food and electricity are still available." Her family had enough to eat and drink.

Bombs in the morning

Tuesday, February 11, 11:28 a.m.

"That was ten minutes ago. About a kilometer from here. I feel totally alone. You've hit a marketplace full of people. It's a disaster." Mona will send this message along with a short video clip. A friend recorded the video and passed it on, she tells DW. This cannot be checked independently.

You can see a thick column of smoke above the roofs of Idlib. Later, the English-language website of the Arab news channel "Al-Arabiya" and others report that at least 12 civilians were killed in the airstrike. Mona also sends a sound recording, siren sounds can be heard. The alarm is still going on, she says.

Syria: helicopter on fire (picture-alliance / AP Photo / G. Alsayed)

A Syrian helicopter is shot down by radical Islamic rebels in Idlib province on February 11

"When Idlib is bombed, the city is deserted. Nobody takes to the streets until it's over." Then life normalizes again, at least as much as possible. A day later – on Wednesday – Mona herself goes to the place where it happened. She films: Rubble has swept up on the side of the road, broken window panes lie on the floor. The only visible evidence of the deadly bombing.

Rebels in the city

The ring around Idlib is tightening, the Syrian military has reported steady gains in territory in recent days. Turkey, on the other hand, is said to have sent several hundred military convoys with tanks and artillery to the region in the past two weeks, according to media reports. Mona hasn't noticed anything personally, she writes. They "are not yet in town".

Refugees from Idlib with fully packed cars on one side, Turkish military vehicles on the other (Getty Images / AFP / A. Tammawi)

While Syrian civilians flee their belongings from Idlib, they pass Turkish military vehicles

The radical Islamic rebels of the Haiʾat Tahrir asch-Scham group, on the other hand, are present. "Some are in the city, some guard barricades erected at the entrance to the city. Others fight against Assad's troops." She had also seen foreign fighters in Idlib – but did not know whether there were Germans among them.

Mona is most afraid of the Syrian army. "My biggest fear is to fall into Assad's troops. Before they rape or slaughter us." She is not afraid of death itself, Mona adds. "When I'm dead, I don't feel anything anymore."

Assistance: Luca Möhrl

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