My name is Amro Nasani, I am 22 years old and come from Syria. I come from a middle-class family, like most Syrian people. We’re four boys in the family.
My grandfather was a very respected commander of the Syrian Air Force, unfortunately he was suspended from his position when Hafez al Assad became in charge. My grandfather had a huge influence, which the former president did not like. He was suspended from one day to the next, without justification, from his profession and placed under house arrest. A man in his position was taken everything, he became very ill and died motionless in his bed.
My grandfather’s story has shaped my family ever since. My father, as the eldest son, was responsible for the care of the entire family. He often got into trouble with the government, even went to prison for nothing. In Syria, there is a well-known method for finding mistakes in people you want to get rid of. We call this “report”, this report is made about a certain person, mostly by spies, passed on to the authorities and one day used against you. Spies, these are usually the men in the small kiosks next to the apartments. There was also such a kiosk at our place, he made the report about my father, at least that’s what we suspect. My family has been a thorn in the side of the regime since my grandfather’s story.
I remember everything, although I was very young, I never forgot what I experienced there, what we experienced there. The days passed, we lived a happy life, happy, within our possibilities. The year before the war was the best year I have ever experienced in Syria. The weather was nice, the roads were full, it was a very good year. Perhaps I say this because this year for the last time we saw roads that were not destroyed, people who were doing well. Maybe I’m saying it because all of it’s lost today. It was an indescribable year for me. In Syria there is a flower, Jasmin Damascus. It only grows in our place, its smell is beautiful, strong. All the air was filled with the smell of the Damascus flower. I remember the most beautiful year in Syria.
We followed the news, especially when Arab Spring began. We felt we were victorious, we were liberated from those who have forbidden us to speak, liberated from fear. We, as a unit bearing the same fate. In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, everywhere people lived the same concerns, everywhere they were trapped in dictatorships that did not allow them to express their opinions. You have something to say? Say it at home in your four walls when you are alone and no one hears you. Not we Arabs, not us neighbors, us oppressed, screaming for freedom. Our people smelled freedom: If they can do this, so can we. The man in Tunisia burned himself, we burn every day.
The Arab spring gave us courage, children in a village in Syria imitated the pictures they saw on TV, they sprayed words like freedom, justice on the walls. With this incident began the great crisis in Syria. The children were arrested and tortured, the parents of the children defended themselves against it, the police treated the families badly. The demonstrations against this incident began, it all began in Daraa. After a while, pictures were circulating in Syria showing soldiers shooting demonstrators. The demonstrations became bigger and bigger. I didn’t dare, if I had never dared to demonstrate with them. Not for me, but for my family. I was afraid for them.
I remember the day the conflicts reached my town. I was just 18 years old and wanted to apply for a bachelor’s degree. I dreamt of becoming a computer engineer, learning something that would bring me to my target and give me security. It was early in the morning, I wanted to go to school, someone shouted: “God is great” from the mosque. Actually, it means that God is greater than anything in this world, but in war, in Syria, in our days, it meant struggle. I knew the weapons weren’t far away, and so it was. For the first time I heard shots, the noises were terrible. A few days later the military occupied a football field as a battle point, every evening I heard rockets, I could see them from the window. Battle tanks came in front of our house, I had never seen anything like it, they were so loud that I could not sleep at night. We had to replace the glass of our windows several times. Everything was destroyed, we lived under a high burden, the armour shots were unbearably loud. Our house was also attacked by grenades, two parties fought each other and we were in the middle. We were attacked by the Free Army, not us directly, but our home. We wondered if this was the price we paid for choosing them to defend ourselves.
I realized that in the end everyone is equal, nobody is right and there will be victims on every side. For me, you don’t have to carry a gun to fight and you’re not a hero just because you kill, but they see it that way. I fled Syria alone, my father followed later. In Syria there were only two possibilities, either I buy myself out of military service, but I didn’t have the money, or I fight, fight for someone who doesn’t represent me, kill because someone else orders me to. We are not soldiers, we were just students who wondered what they had to learn tomorrow and with whom they played football. Every war makes sacrifices, I didn’t want to be a part of it.
I’ve been in Germany for three years. I arrived in Potsdam, a city near Berlin. I lived there for a year and a half, it was a very nice time. The first year passed in the hope of understanding the bureaucracy and establishing social contacts. It was very difficult for me because I was completely unfamiliar with the language. The official letters with all the laws, how would I understand all this? I spent my time gathering information from Syrians who lived longer in Germany and lived through the same situation I was in. I not only had to be able to read what was written, but also find out what the person did in their case to do the same and be successful. I called my family regularly.
The second year passed in search of something called integration. Integration that does not exist, does not exist as it is displayed, as it is specified, but is not possible. I can’t go to one person and integrate if they’re prejudiced against me. In order to integrate into a society, common interests, common values and thoughts are important, something must connect us so that we maintain contact based on community. I realized it too late, I even finished the integration course and yet nobody could tell me what integration meant. A very empty year, looking for something that isn’t looking for you.
The media is also influenced here, as in Syria, they show pictures of refugees, negative pictures, and we have no chance to correct that. I was asked more than once if there were cars in Syria, that offended me very much. My third and thus current year was a year of realization, I understood for me what integration means. Integration in a society means to integrate as everyone else. To follow rules and live peacefully in society. It does not mean giving up one’s culture for integration.
If someone asks me after 5 years if I am Syrian or German, I tell him, I am 5 years German and 20 years Syrian, because everyone develops in the context in which he lives. My culture isn’t bad, so I would give it up. Bad things have happened in my country, but my culture has nothing bad so I would give it up. First I thought I had to drink beer, go to the disco and all that stuff, then I’m integrated. But today, I don’t think so.
I learned everything I needed to know about work, study and life in society over the past few years. I have been taking a German course for three months and would like to study afterwards. I’m beginning to understand the language of the job center, for example, that performance is something other than salary. That word is not welcome in society. I didn’t care about differences in the past, but now that I’m starting to build a personality in this society, I pay attention to them. Before that time, I sat in front of the computer for a very long time, many hours without paying attention to the time, I sat there to forget what had happened to us. The burdens were very great, I compared myself with fellow students who had now finished their studies – and me? Everything was very slow. Thank God I made it through this phase.
I would like to tell those people who have not yet shared their story that it was a very nice feeling to get the chance to tell my story. There are few people who ask about your thoughts and feelings. Most of us are here alone, there is no one to share our experiences with. That way was good for me. Instead of sitting at home with all those thoughts, I shared them. I’m very happy after telling you It was almost like therapy.
Storyteller’s name: Amro Nasani
Interviewer’s name: Sarah El Desoke
Country of origin: Syria