Make-up and music: displaced Syrians plan Raqa return


AIN ISSA, Syria, Sept 25, 2017 (BSS/AFP) – Nariman Abdullah has plans for her return to her Syrian home town Raqa: she’s going to walk through the streets in full make-up, something the Islamic State group strictly forbade.

The jihadists who ravaged Raqa are on the verge of losing their one-time Syrian bastion, and in a camp for those displaced from the city, talk is now turning to resuming life in a liberated Raqa.

Abdullah, 19, was a care assistant before IS seized Raqa in 2014.

She finally fled the city three months ago, after the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces broke into it as part of their campaign to oust the jihadists.

Like thousands of others, she found shelter at a camp in Ain Issa, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of the city.

“When I go back to Raqa, I’ll wear make-up again… I’ll listen to the music that we missed, because it was forbidden,” she tells AFP, dressed in a fuchsia robe with a headscarf framing her face.

IS’s ultra-radical interpretation of Islam forced women under their rule to cover themselves from head to toe when outside, wearing a black robe, face veil and even gloves.

Make-up, music and celebrations were all strictly forbidden.

“I’ll wear trousers, like before… I’ll put on headphones and stroll through the streets again listening to music,” she says excitedly.

“I miss everything about Raqa… even the water is different there.”

– ‘We’ll sing in the streets’ –

Elsewhere in the camp, women ask the newest arrivals from Raqa for news of their city.

“When can we go home?” one asks plaintively.

Beside them, children with their faces covered in dust play barefoot, laughing loudly and flying paper planes.

One sings a traditional song from Raqa as they play.

When a group of displaced learn that an AFP photographer has been inside Raqa recently, they clamour to see photos on his camera of their city.

In a frenzy of excitement, they point to familiar streets and places in the pictures, but their faces fall as the extent of the destruction dawns on them.

Qais al-Buqan, 27, has just a single dream: to return to his home town and open a music school.

He taught a number of instruments before the jihadists arrived, including the piano and accordion.

“For years now I haven’t been able to play or teach. I want to go back, open a music school and teach again,” the skinny young man tells AFP, refusing to be photographed.

He also hopes to organise a concert in the Al-Rashid garden, which was the largest in the city and, he says, the most beautiful.

He wants to “play before an audience in an atmosphere of joy”.

Buqan says he dreams about Raqa, and cannot wait to go back.

He and his musician friends will “sing in the streets and everyone will hear us”,

– ‘War has taken everything’ –

For Ahmad al-Nawfal, the desire to go home is as much about leaving the Ain Issa camp, where the displaced have few resources.

“We hate the camp and living in it. We’re waiting for the moment when they say ‘you can go back to Raqa’ — it’ll be a day of celebration,” the 45-year- old says.

But he does admit he is anxious about how he will find the city upon his return.

“We’re afraid that our houses will be mined and our children will die and we’ll lose our lives after we have lost everything,” he says outside his tent, holding a cup of tea.

Near Nawfal’s tent, a woman brushes her daughter’s hair, while others prepare a meal.

In a large tent with subdivisions that shelters several families, Amal Jassem al-Jomaa sits alone on the ground, listening to her radio.

The 35-year-old lost her husband during the war, and her in-laws took custody of their seven children, accusing her family of being IS sympathisers.

“This war has taken everything from me — my husband, my children, my home,” she says sadly.

“I hope that my children will return to me and we’ll live together in Raqa, and forget all the pain we have lived through in this war.”