My Brother, the Martyr

In Deir al-Zor, we marched in protests during the day and hid at home in the evenings, listening to the sounds of clashes and explosions all over the city.

A large protest in support of rebel fighters in Aleppo. Photography: Salah al-Ashqar

My brother, a young man in the flower of youth, seemed to have chosen the path of peaceful protest. But one day, a friend told us his secret – my brother was part of a group that was attacking military vehicles as they left their headquarters.

The security services spotted them and surrounded them. Some managed to escape, but others were captured.

We left our home as soon as we heard the news, as we were afraid we would be raided by the notoriously ruthless shabiha [regime paramilitaries]. Full of fear for my brother, we split up. Each of us sought refuge in a different place. After that, we rarely saw him, and always in secret.

It was a dark and moonless night when we finally returned to the family home. That night, we said goodbye to my sister and her husband, who were leaving for Damascus the next day. They had no choice but to abandon the home where they had spent only a few months as a newly-married couple.

On that bleak night, we said goodbye to my sister. I picked up my books to study, but suddenly bullets began flying outside, transforming a calm night into a tempest.

I had never seen my mother so worried. She couldn’t sleep for fear for her son, whose presence she could sense out there somewhere, among the revolutionaries.

The sun rose on a new morning, but I wish that day had never come. It was Tuesday, March 15, 2012. We were woken by the sound of people banging on the door and ringing the doorbell.

After that came my mother’s wild, shocked screaming as she cried, “Hammud has been martyred!”

We learned that an informer had revealed where my brother and his friends were hiding, in a house in the Jabila neighbourhood. The streets there were now peppered with bulletholes and the walls stained with blood – some from my brother, killed by a bullet to the head.

My mother cried and screamed in a way I’d never heard before. Her heart seemed to have shattered at parting with her son in this way. She would wail one moment and ululate the next as she grieved for the son taken from her by a single bullet.

He left us, only his spirit remaining to haunt our memories. He left us, but he still lives alongside us, day and night, in our conversations and in our silence, in our joy and in our tears.

He left, and a crying father, a mourning mother and his siblings were abandoned to the mercy of terrible fate.

He left, but everything still reminds us of him.