NR Digital

Into Syria, Out of Syria

by Jordan Allott & Andrew Doran

A report from among the persecuted

Near the Turkish–Syrian border — ‘Ça va?” Sabri would ask periodically, breaking the tense silence with French. “Oui, ça va.” He would then return to his thoughts, taciturn, intense. The three of us sat in his idling car in the Turkish border village in the dark as the winter rain streamed down. After traveling and living widely in Europe, Sabri, an Assyrian Christian from Iraq, returned to the land of his birth to bring his fellow Christians humanitarian aid from the outside world. He had crossed into Syria several times but would do so this time against the wishes of his family, who called him even here at the border, pleading with him not to go. There we waited for Sabri’s contact, a Kurdish guide who would take us, over the next two days, by foot across la frontière — a muddy maze of fences, concertina wire, and possibly worse — into Syria.

As dark silhouettes passed, we tried to keep our imaginations in check. We had come to the Middle East to document the realities facing the region’s surviving Christian minority and now found ourselves confronting some of their challenges. Earlier that week, we had soberly considered the various scenarios — border patrols, snipers, kidnappers, uncleared landmines — and trigger-happy Turkish border guards would not be the worst case. We had already discussed the possibility of being captured and killed by al-Qaeda and asked Sabri to assign a percentage to the likelihood of our getting over and back safely. The interpreter asked him in Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic common to many Christians of the Middle East. “Danger est danger,” Sabri replied in French, with a chuckle.

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