Tent and garden: Displaced Syria teen recreates lost family home

Tent and garden: Displaced Syria teen recreates lost family home
Displaced Syrian, Wissam Diab, 19, plays the oud at his new home, a tent surrounded by luscious plants, which recreates his childhood home, in the town of Atme in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province. (AFP)
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Updated 25 November 2020

Tent and garden: Displaced Syria teen recreates lost family home

Tent and garden: Displaced Syria teen recreates lost family home
  • Fears over the spread of the coronavirus forces Syrian family to move somewhere more secluded

ATME, Syria: Among the olive trees in northwestern Syria, displaced teenager Wissam Diab plucks an oud outside his new home, a tent surrounded by luscious plants.

Inside, there are more tumbling indoor plants and a collection of tiny cacti, as well as dozens of books lined up on a cloth-covered table from authors such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Haruki Murakami and Egypt’s celebrated Naguib Mahfouz, the only Arab to win the Nobel Prize for literature.

Syria’s war forced the Diab family to flee their village of Kafr Zita in central Hama province, but when 19-year-old Wissam moved into a tent in northwestern Syria he decided to recreate his childhood home.

“It’s been four years, and we haven’t been able to find a house or go back home,” said the young man with green eyes and shoulder-length brown hair.

“What I’ve done with the tent is me trying to settle down.”

And settle down he did in his own tent in an olive grove in the area of Atme, in Idlib province near the Turkish border, while his parents and two sisters have a separate tent next door.

A patterned stone path leads up to the front door and wooden sticks top the canvas roof.

All around, plants and flowering shrubs thrive in large plastic pots, or in neat rows in the soil of his front garden.

Indoors, he has hung a textile curtain along the tarpaulin wall, and made a small living room with a floor-level sofa.

An ornate red carpet pads out his tent underfoot.

“Our home was like this. We had a garden, we had a library, we had a lot of flowers,” he said. It “was like this, but much, much better.”

Syria’s war has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions since starting in 2011.

In Idlib, a major rebel bastion, around half of the 3 million inhabitants live in tents or shelters, many after losing their homes in other parts of the country now back under government control.

In October 2016, Diab and his family were forced to flee their home further south, as regime aircraft bombarded the surrounding area in a bloody campaign that killed his only brother.

Scrolling through his smart phone, Diab shows images of their old home in Kafr Zita, which he says was blitzed in the fighting.

The family lived in a displacement camp until eight months ago.

But as fears mounted over the spread there of the novel coronavirus, they decided to move away to somewhere more secluded.

When they ran for their lives four years ago, the Diabs grabbed the bare necessities and Wissam managed to save a few of his precious books.

His collection now contains 85 novels and other books, including translated works by Dostoyevsky or Murakami, he says.

“Here I had to start again from scratch. I bought plants and books, and built the library up again,” he said.

To pass the time, he is also teaching himself to play the oud via tutorials on YouTube.

Diab says many of his neighbors were surprised to see how much energy he had poured into transforming his tent.

But the young Syrian says he fears it will be some time before anybody can go home.

“I know we will be here for a while,” he said.

So in the meanwhile, he looks after his cacti collection and waters his creeping jasmine.


Freed academic urges support for Iran’s innocent detainees

Freed academic urges support for Iran’s innocent detainees
Updated 2 min 7 sec ago

Freed academic urges support for Iran’s innocent detainees

Freed academic urges support for Iran’s innocent detainees
  • Two months since her release, Moore-Gilbert has reminded the world of other foreigners and innocent Iranians languishing in jail
  • Kylie Moore-Gilbert: I may be free, but there are countless innocent others still imprisoned in Iran whom deserve your support

LONDON: A British-Australian academic detained in Iran for two years has spoken out two months after her release to call for freedom for other innocent people currently jailed by the Tehran regime.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert spent more than two years in jail in the Iranian capital on unsubstantiated charges of espionage, before being freed late last year.

She initially faced a 10-year sentence, but was released early as part of a prisoner swap with Iran.

Now, two months since she was released, she has highlighted the cases of a number of others who remain in Iranian detention.

She tweeted Monday: “I may be free, but there are countless innocent others still imprisoned in Iran whom deserve your support,” and tagged a number of individuals or campaigns related to Iranian detentions.

She also referenced the “many many Iranians” facing detention in the country — which, officially, has a prison population of quarter of a million people.

Among those Moore-Gilbert mentioned was Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman who has been detained by Tehran since 2016 over highly contentious allegations of espionage and an attempt to overthrow the regime.

Moore-Gilbert also reflected on the time she spent in Iranian detention, and thanked those who had campaigned for her release.

“I can never regain the 2+ years which were stolen from me, but I am looking to the future with strength, positivity and an renewed appreciation for what I’d long taken for granted- justice and freedom,” she said.

Iran’s detention of foreigners — often on exaggerated charges relating to spying — has long been a bone of contention between the Islamic republic and the bulk of the international community.

Rights groups including Amnesty International frequently raise the issue, and in a rare joint-protest in September last year, the British, German and French governments — all of which have citizens currently detained in Iran — summoned their respective Iranian ambassadors to raise the issue.

In addition to protesting Iran’s policy of detaining foreigners, they also expressed concern about the repression of human rights activists in the country, and its harassment of media and cultural organizations.