This is the fourth part of a series of interviews with the lawyer Ayman Jalwan who last year with his wife said goodbye to their families and joined the wave of citizens leaving the country. First they had to make it to Turkey. Then they needed to cross the cold Mediterranean to Greece. After that, they had to deal with human traffickers in Eastern Europe to reach one of the few nations willing to welcome them: Germany. In this blog series, Ayman Jalwan explains the decision to leave, the trials he and his wife encountered along the way, and the consequences of their decision.
So after my wife and I crossed the lands of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), we reached the village called Bab al-Hawa, where there is a border crossing between Syria and Turkey in an area under Kurdish control. My friend had given me the number of someone who could help us cross from Syria into Turkey. We wouldn’t be crossing through the gates though; we would be smuggling ourselves into the country illegally.
It was a difficult time for me and my wife. Imagine you are walking between the mountains and the forest in the middle of the night with a stranger, someone you don’t know at all. You don’t trust him. So here are two young people with someone they don’t know. We could only imagine what bad things were awaiting us. Maybe this man is not a good person, I don’t know; he’s a complete and total stranger in the end. But these are bad times. We have no choice. We just have to trust him.
So we stay in his house for a day, so that we can monitor the Turkish soldiers guarding the border. That night, the man wakes us up and tells us the time is now—go! He cuts the fence for us and, “Go!” And we’re off. Imagine. We run fast. Don’t stop! Just run to the next point. But as we’re running, I hear someone say, “Stop, or I will shoot you!” It was a Turkish soldier. Of course I think this is the end of the story. He takes us into custody. We sit down on the floor while he searches our stuff. At first, he starts to speak to us in Turkish. Of course we don’t know this language! We are held together with many other people who have tried to sneak across the border. He starts to beat them, but he doesn’t do anything to me or my wife. I am, understandably, scared. We have no idea what he will do with us.
Then he starts to ask me, “Are you a Kurd?” And I say, “No, I am an Arab.” In Syria, there are Kurds, too. They have their own language, and they have problems with Turkey. So when you hear the soldier saying “Are you a Kurd?” you think, oh my God! The guard wants to be sure we are not Kurds, but he doesn’t speak my language—he doesn’t know much Arabic. He asks, “Where are you from in Syria?” I tell him, “From Deir Ezzor.” In Deir Ezzor, of course, all the people are Arabs. There are no Kurds there.
He said, “No, you are a Kurd!” “No, I’m not a Kurd.” “No, you are a Kurd!” “No, I’m not a Kurd.” “Kurd! Kurd!” he said. He’s confused, I think. “I will shoot you,” he said.
He puts his gun in my face and keeps saying, “Kurd!” What can I say? Kurdish women do not cover their heads, so he thinks my wife is a Kurd. “No, she is a Kurd. Where’s the cover for her head?” What’s this with the cover for her head? I say. No, she doesn’t wear one, I tell hem. He says, “No, you look like Kurd!”
I try giving him my phone, but the Turkish soldier won’t take anything. He won’t take money, either. They have good discipline in the Turkish army. Even if you hurt him, torture him, he won’t take money. I try to give him something else, like our wedding rings. He refuses. Then he looks at me and he says, “Now, I will let you go back.” To where? “To Syria, of course.”
“Please, let us go to Turkey. Please. This is the last chance for me,” I said. “Yok Türkiye!” which in English means, “No Turkey!”
“Don’t think you will get into Turkey in this way. No!” he said. Ok. I give up. I tell my wife, “Come on, it’s at least good that we will go back to Syria without jail time in Turkey.”
When we start walking away, he comes after us, and says, “Where are you going?” “To Syria, across the fence,” we tell him.
“No, no, no,” he starts to laugh. “Go to Turkey. Git. Go!” Now we’re confused. He says, “Go before I change my mind. Go!” He raises his rifle, “Go!” So the other people he caught who also want to go to Turkey, can they come with us, we ask. The answer was again no. Just me and my wife are allowed to enter Turkey. Maybe the other people were Kurds. I don’t know.
He had searched our stuff. He must have known that it was illegal to let us enter Turkey this way. Neither of us knew why he helped us. Maybe because we had begged him. But his face had showed no sign that he had accepted what we were saying—he was just angry, repeatedly saying “no” to us. But then this changed to “Go. Git! Git Türkiye, git Türkiye!” We were lucky. We still can’t believe our luck.
So we start running, my wife and I, up into the mountains. But we have all our things with us, and this is a problem. And I am afraid for my wife. I don’t care about the stuff, just her. I want to grab her hand and go, go, go, running, running, running. But eventually we arrive at a place where we can catch a bus. At the bus station when you arrive in Turkey, they don’t ask you for your passport or anything like that. It’s no problem. You can just buy the tickets and go anywhere you want to.
A version of this article was originally published by the Atlantic Council.
Ayman Jalwan, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, is a Syrian lawyer now living in Germany as a refugee. Interviews conducted by Claudine Weber-Hof.
Top image: People walk at the closed Turkish border crossing with Syria in the outskirts of the town of Kilis, in southeastern Turkey, Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)