Editor’s note: Linda J. and her family are Syrian refugees who made their way from Damascus to Baltimore. She worked with a caseworker and a translator from the International Rescue Committee, the nonprofit agency that helped them resettle here, to tell her family’s story of asylum. The Washington Post agreed that she could abbreviate her last name and omit other identifying details to protect family members in Damascus from persecution.
The best days of my life were in Syria. I was born and raised there. I married and reared my family in my country. My kids went to school, and my husband worked as a carpenter. I was a 29-year-old stay-at-home mom, and we owned furniture stores in Damascus. We shared everything with our neighbors and felt the love around our home. But in 2011, everything for my family and every family in Syria changed.
Peaceful protesters began asking for improvements from the government — basic things, fundamental rights. Among other things, they were calling for the release of political prisoners and for an end to the government’s corruption. My husband and I were not revolutionaries. We respected the role of the government in our lives, but we agreed that changes were needed and believed those changes could happen peacefully. Our family did not participate in the protests. We watched from our house.
The demonstrators were not terrorists. They didn’t carry weapons; they carried signs calling for a better life. I remember seeing people with olive branches and flowers, symbols of peace. So the government’s reaction came as a terrible surprise. Soldiers began using violence to silence the voice of the people, shooting them in the streets. A war between the people and the government had begun.