When I go cover an event, I usually try to keep my feelings aside. But sometimes, in spite of myself, hope bubbles up when I’m heading out to cover an exchange of detainees.
My heart pounds, excitement building. Will my father be one of them? Am I going to see him again?I am an internally displaced photojournalist living in northwestern Syria. My father, Mustafa Haj Suleiman, is one of the forcibly disappeared during the war, without charge, conviction or reason.
Every day, I tell other people’s stories; this time I feel I have to tell my own.
In Syria, nothing is certain
On April 2, 2013, I saw my father for the last time as he left for work – he was a driver for a food company in the suburbs of Damascus.
He didn’t come home that day, but I heard his voice on the phone the next day, telling us that he would return soon. Ten years and about five months later we’re still waiting for his return.I was 13 years old, I called him Baba. I still call him Baba.
Every moment of hope has a heavy price of harsh despair that follows, but hope always remains in some form. In Syria nothing is certain, so we wait.Some people spent more than 25 years in detention and then came home. And then there are those whose families were told they were dead, but they were alive after all.
There are also those who were killed for no reason, whose families are still waiting in hope for them, as we saw with the Tadamon massacre.Some families clung to hope for years and were subjected to continuous blackmail, only to discover that their beloved had actually died years ago.
The United Nations has counted about 130,000 forcibly disappeared people in Syria. That’s 130,000 families who share the same pain of uncertainty and bitterness of faded hope.
Torturing the families
Ten days after Baba disappeared, someone called us to say he had been arrested because he was carrying money for work, 250,000 Syrian pounds ($1,725 at the time).Baba believed that he would be released immediately because he hadn’t done anything against the regime.
I went with my mother from one security branch to the next to look for Baba, they all denied his existence. I remember seeing cars carrying detainees outside the branch and thinking: Is Baba among them?