Syria Project: Gaziantep – Day 9

Originally published by Bill Fortier on CTV News Edmonton

Ghazouah Almilagi lost her 12-year-old son in the Syrian civil war. He was killed by a dirty, indiscriminate bomb.

Her son was near his school, receiving a reward for scholastic achievement. She says a Syrian military jet dropped a barrel bomb over the school. It landed nearby. Her son was killed. Another young boy lost his leg.

I asked her how she knew it was the Syrian military, which is controlled by the Assad regime. Her answer was pretty convincing. Opposition fighters don’t have an air force. Either does ISIS. The only player in this conflict other than the Assad-controlled military that has planes involved is Russia. Almilagi tells me the people of Aleppo have seen so many bombings, they can actually tell the Syrian planes from the Russian ones. Also, she tells me Syrian warplanes are far less accurate. Russian planes tend to hit their targets. We also need to keep in mind that barrel bombs are not used by most countries. They’re essentially “barrels” filled with shrapnel and explosive material, dropped from planes or helicopters with no accurate aiming mechanism. They may even be in violation of international law. It’s been well-documented that the Assad regime uses them by the thousands.

Yesterday, I thought about how mad I will be when I get back to work in Edmonton, if someone has taken my iPhone cord. Today, I heard a woman speak of forgiveness for the people who dropped a dirty bomb on her son. To say the least, it puts things in perspective.

Don’t get me wrong, Almilagi wants justice. She wants the person who dropped that bomb arrested and charged. She wants anyone and everyone who is accused of war crimes or crimes against humanity to see a day in a law court, whether they are on the side of the Assad Regime, ISIS or the opposition.

But then, she wants everyone to forgive each other. That’s her answer when I ask her what her dream is for Syria. It’s one of the most beautiful answers I have ever heard, even though I couldn’t understand it until it was translated. She wants Syria to heal. She wants Muslims, Christians and Alawites, Arabs and Kurds, Pro-Assad citizens and opposition citizens to forgive each other and work together to rebuild Syria. Listening to her speak, it’s hard to believe anyone could not share that dream.

Her story is powerful. But it’s not unique. Nearly every journalist you speak with here has a tragic and heart-wrenching story. It can be almost overwhelming. But that doesn’t mean that we can become desensitized to these stories. As journalists, we have to keep telling them. As human beings, we have to keep listening.

Almilagi also has another son. He was fighting for the “Free Syrian Army,” which, despite the name, has no formal structure. It’s essentially a group of many small armed groups opposing Assad. 15 days ago, she convinced him to stop fighting and come to Gaziantep.

This is the smile on her face when she tells me that.

I think it’s a smile that anyone can see, but I imagine one that only a mother can understand.

When this war is over, there is going to be a lot of cleanup, and a lot of rebuilding. Most of all, there will be a need to forgive. Maybe that effort will be led by journalists like Ghazouah Almilagi.​

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