Taim al-Shami

Age: 20 years old

Interviewed in: Istanbul, Turkey

Date: September 17, 2015

Aleppo, Syria
Istanbul, Turkey

Taim in Istanbul, weeks before leaving to Europe. © Miguel Winograd

When the revolution started I was in the 9th grade. When people were injured in the demonstrations, we didn't have field hospitals everywhere, so I worked as a medic. I became a medic.

What did you see as a young guy in the ninth grade that made you decide to become a medic?

One day we were in a peaceful demonstration. In Ezaa'a [a neighborhood in Aleppo] and the police forces surrounded us. They started to shoot directly at the crowd [in the past they had shot into the air]. I lost two of my best friends. I started to realize that the peaceful protests would not get the people anywhere. I felt that I had to do something, to participate in something. This is when the Free Syrian Army started to grow and assert its presence in Aleppo.

I didn't want to join the armed struggle, but people needed medical treatment. They needed an alternative because the hospitals didn't take any of the people injured in the demonstrations since they considered them terrorists. I felt that I had to do something, so I began training with a doctor.

How was the day you began working as a medic?

One day there was a demonstration in Bstan al Kasar, and one of the journalists there was using a BGAN [satellite internet] so the government was able to pinpoint and target the demonstration precisely with a missile. I saw hundreds of people injured, including children. This is the first time I was forced to use everything I learned to save as many people as I could.

Were you afraid?

There is no time to be afraid. You have to act as soon as possible.

Is there any particular time when you felt powerless?

[In Aleppo there is a crossing between government and opposition areas. Everyone is sniped in this crossing: women, children, the elderly]. People were crossing from the zones controlled by the opposition to the government, because the food is cheaper in the government area.

One day they brought an old man who got sniped trying to cross, he had a bullet in his forehead. The blood was covering the bag of bread he was carrying to bring his family. The only thing I remember is that pieces of his brain and skull were sticking to the bag of bread. And I couldn't do anything to help him. But afterwards, I stopped being shocked by the blood, even if I see someone completely burnt in front of me I don't get afraid anymore. I got used to the blood.

Why did you continue working as a medic?

It's enough for me to know that I saved lives. Sometimes just a small procedure to stop the bleeding could save a life.

Why did you decide to leave to Europe now? If you wanted to leave Syria why didn't you try to find a job in Turkish hospitals for example?

In 2011, 2012, and 2013 we really had a strong hope that the revolution would succeed and everything would improve. But in 2015 everything started to change, if you even had a bracelet with the revolutionary flag, the extremists would treat you as a criminal. Everyone started to hate everyone. People started blaming each other for the failure of the revolution.

In the old days we felt that we were protected by the FSA, but today even the FSA needs protection. We have masked people in Aleppo who are kidnapping everyone, especially if you are a medic or a media activist. They will kidnap you just because you are not an extremist like them.

I left on September 1. My only goal now in life is to continue my education I cannot do anything without a degree, especially because I left school on the ninth grade.

How is the road from Syria to Turkey?

I had to travel to a different region, Kherbet al Goz [mountains], because all the roads are closed. It was difficult for me to go through the mountain area. Not difficult for me, but we were in a group with families and children and I felt like I had to help them cross. Usually it takes three days to cross, but our group was lucky enough and it only took us two hours.

Do you have any particular in Europe in mind that you prefer to go to?

Yes, Holland.

Why Holland and not Germany?

Because I know that Germany has lots of Syrians now and it takes forever to get the residency permit and the papers. In Holland I have friends who are able to help me.

So your main goal in Europe is to study?


If you had a chance to study in Turkey would you stay?

No, because Syrians have no rights here. They use them here. They make them work for 12 hours paying them less than they would pay the Turks. Studying for me is not just getting a certificate. Studying for me is building my future and so far I haven't built anything for my future. Who knows, maybe I will be a doctor one day.

Taim on the Austrian-German border on his way to the Netherlands, where he has been granted asylum. © Taim al-Shami