It is Friday, August 23rd, it is about 8pm, and we have just returned from our activities. Tired of this long day, I almost lie down on the sofa in the living room. This is when I receive a message from my head of mission who will succeed in mobilizing the little strength I have left to get up suddenly because I do not believe my eyes : "Official release of Mahardah today".
This news is so unbelievable that I feel compelled to check it out. Indeed, on my application of Syrian territory in real time, Mahardah is now more than twenty kilometers from the front line. It all happened so fast. At that moment, I feel an indescribable feeling of joy and great relief for all those families who have fought for these eight long years.
After having been there three times in recent months, I have the strong desire to go there again in this extraordinary context. To my great surprise, this wish will be granted because a few hours later, our chief comes to announce us that we will be in Mhardeh this Sunday. This day will undoubtedly be the culmination of my mission.
If normally the alarm clock in the morning is not a pleasant thing, this Sunday morning clock has a special tone, which reminds me why I have to get up so early. Even if we leave earlier than usual, we feel excited and impatient in the house. After about an hour's drive, we arrive at the outskirts of Mahardah. At the entrance of the city, the soldiers at the checkpoint greet us with a very cheerful welcome. They look so happy, and that is just the beginning. The streets are not very crowded, as many families have left the village to rest and enjoy the last few days before the start of the school year. It is also probably because of the sun, which is already shining very brightly when it is only 9am. We arrive at the house of Mr. Simon, the head of national defense. We meet his wife Rima, as well as Fahed and little Simon, the star of the city! The hospitality is still as friendly as ever.
We enter the church of St. George to attend the first mass after the liberation, which has a very symbolic value for us. The parishioners gradually arrive at the church until it is completely full. The magnificent oriental songs of the choir make my heart resound and my prayers of thanksgiving rise to heaven. At the end of the Mass, we greet Father Youssef who concelebrated the Mass.
To our great surprise, he is very busy and four couples are queuing with their newborns to get a blessing from his hand on this very special occasion. With this joyful look on his face, it is as if he is putting his trust in this new generation for the future of his city. Great and small light candles in the back of the church as a sign of gratitude for this mass, we do the same. A dozens of them glitter next to the icons. Recognizing the association's logo on our t-shirts, many people we have never met come spontaneously to thank us warmly for being with them to share their joy.
The rest of the day, we are hugely fortunate to hear first-hand testimonies of the release from military and civilians, and they are unanimous. Johny, a soldier who studied French literature, shares his feelings with us: “It was incredible, magnificent! We are so happy! Joy is everywhere. We celebrated, sang, danced. Everyone went out into the streets”.
Sarah, a soldier who studied English, tells us that “happiness can be read on the children's faces! “. Children who had not even dared since several years to leave their homes for fear of bombing. Marah, another military student in chemistry, assures us that “it's a new birth”.
Myriam, a martyr's mother, is divided between joy and sadness, almost bursting into tears. She is so happy for her city but so disappointed that her son could not attend this moment.
Rima, Mr. Simon's wife, while showing us a missile impact on her window, tells us “during the war, we were very afraid of northern windows, because the missiles came from there”. Relieved: “now we are not afraid anymore”. She hopes very much for this new situation, and that for security, economy, and job opportunities, things will be as they were before. The mayor of the city, for his part, explains that when the liberation was announced “it was like a dream”, and ends his speech with a more tempered line saying that “liberation is not complete, because the whole country is not completely liberated, so happiness is not really complete”.
Among all the testimonies emerge a real desire for peace. Until then, security had been a lost treasure for them, without a map to find it. It was only two days ago that they found this treasure, and the city reborn. During these eight years of trial, the solidarity remained. And despite the 11,000 missiles that fell on the city, most of the buildings were rebuilt in a few days. These people are an example of mutual aid. They are also a model of engagement, as for many of them they are not professional soldiers. They are people who have stopped their studies, their jobs, sacrificing whole years to save their city. They deserve their peace more than anyone else. As I write these lines, I ask myself this question: “Would I have had the courage to do the same if I had been in their position?”.
Louis-Alban, volunteer in Syria for a year.
Now that the village is free, SOS Chrétiens d'Orient will continue to help the Christians in Mahardah. Now that they are going to rebuild, support them.