Age: 27
From: Jableh, Latakia, Syria

My childhood was not perfect, but it was fairly normal. My father was a very difficult and close-minded man. My mother had a much more open mind. They fought until they finally divorced.

Life got better once my father left the house. No more screaming, less stress. I left school before the last year of high school to work as a hairstylist. We all had to start working once my father left. Me, my brothers, and my mother.

(Audio excerpt from Yasmin’s interview- in Arabic)

I have three younger brothers and one sister. I am the oldest. We all had a great relationship– we all respected each other. We were working hard, but we had independence and freedom.

I had never seen any kind of war before the war started in Syria. Our country had been safe, comfortable. We were able to go anywhere whenever we wanted.

The first time the war really started for me, I was at work. We heard the fighting outside the salon. When I left the salon to go home, everyone was shooting everyone.

I asked, “Who are these people?” Someone said the government. Someone else said the Free Army. Snipers went up to the roofs to start shooting the people.

I never expected this would happen.

One day, during the fighting, I was walking on a street near my house with two friends. Someone came up to us and warned us not to walk there. There was a sniper who was shooting everyone passing on this street. He told us to just go inside any house. So we went into a house.

Inside the house, there was a woman with her young child. We sat with them. While we were there, someone came and told this woman that her other son had been shot in the heart. They tried to use medicine and alcohol to clean the wound. Then he died. We stayed with them in that house until the next day.

Then the army built a checkpoint to check everyone and things calmed down for a short while.

I went back to my house in the countryside, where it was safe. There was no fighting and there were no demonstrations. I told my mother about what was happening. I told her to give me money to buy food from the market because we should expect that the war will last for a long time.

The situation was normal for a while after they built the checkpoint. Then it happened again. We were sitting in our house and listening to the sounds of fighting– rockets and bombs. I didn’t go to work for a month.

And the government started arresting everyone. We were worried about my brothers– we didn’t want them to get arrested.

So at the end of 2012 we decided to leave to Turkey.  

It was difficult to adapt to the new situation in Turkey. Finding work proved difficult because we couldn’t speak Turkish. I always worried that we would run out of money.

We asked the Syrians that we met how to find a job and an apartment. They helped us settle down in Antakia.

When we left Syria, we left most of our belongings there. My mother decided to travel alone back to Syria to get our stuff. Then the borders closed and she couldn’t come back to Turkey.

In the meantime, I went to Marsin, another city in Turkey where my aunt was living. She told me that in Marsin, I could find a job as a hair stylist.

Also, my boyfriend was in Marsin.  

I had met him in Syria, a stylist at a different salon. He left to Turkey before I did.

I found a job at a salon working for an Arab woman who gave me a good salary every week. I lived with my aunt for a short while.

Then I moved in with my boyfriend.

We lived with a Turkish family, my boyfriend’s relatives. I stayed there for four months with him and that family. We had a nice time together there. They taught us some Turkish.

Then we decided to get married. I knew he had negative qualities, but so do I. We also both had positive qualities. We said we would both work and support each other. We moved to Antakia, to be near my family.

The marriage didn’t work out.  He was four years younger than I am, and kind of irresponsible. He was like a teenager. He could not become the kind of husband I wanted.

And then once we were married, he started to control my freedom. Don’t go out at this time or that time. Don’t stay outside for a long time. Don’t smoke.  He’s the one who taught me to smoke, and then after we got married, he told me not to smoke. I didn’t want to stop smoking. I kept smoking in front of him and behind his back.

The cigarettes were the biggest problem. He could not accept that. At some point I became afraid to smoke in front of him.

When I asked him why I should quit, he said “I don’t like my wife to be a smoker.”

“So it’s not about the health issues.”

He said, “I don’t know why.”

And I didn’t like this kind of thinking. He gave a command and he didn’t give a reason for it. Each problem created the next problem.

One day, he said, “If you continue smoking I will leave you.”

I said, “You taught me to smoke, so now help me quit. You are smoker yourself; you know how hard it is to quit.” I said, “When we were just in love you allowed me to do everything and it was great. Now that we’re married, you control me and tell me what to do.”

So we ended the marriage.

Not all Arab men are like that. There are some nice men.

And in general, I do accept and respect my duties to my husband. I respect that he’s my husband. I agree that I should not stay outside all night until the morning. This doesn’t mean my freedom is limited. I can still do what I like—to see my friends. It just means I will put on limit on myself.

Now I am in a relationship with another Arab man. When you fall in love you can’t think about what you want to do, it’s just about the feelings.

His name is Barah. I met him in Turkey a few months after I divorced my first husband. He is a friend of the family and he came to our house often with my brother and my uncle. I didn’t expect that I would fall in love with him, and I certainly didn’t expect that I’d marry him.

He had already decided to leave to Europe before he met me. He decided that he would still go, but that he could not take me with him because it was dangerous and risky.

We were close for three or four months, just beginning to build our relationship. He left to Europe three days after our religious marriage.

He told me, “When I get German residency I will tell the German government that I want to bring my wife.” He said he would come back to stay with me in Turkey while we are waiting for the official paperwork. When he got to Germany, I went to the Embassy and ask to rejoin my husband. They told me I couldn’t even have an appointment for another six or seven months. Also, since we do not have an official marriage document, it would be pretty impossible for me to join him that way.

My brother and sister decided to leave Turkey and go to Europe, so I decided to go with them. I decided that it was time to start my own life.

I went with my sister and her husband to the Macedonian border. The situation there was difficult, and I didn’t think the borders would open anytime soon, so I went back to Athens and registered in the relocation program. My sister and her husband were able to cross the border with smugglers.

I wanted to travel alone but my fiancé wanted me to go with someone because he didn’t think it was safe to travel alone, especially at the borders with all of the smugglers. Sometimes I’m upset that he didn’t let me travel alone. I would have gone like everyone else. I told him, “If I had gone alone I would be with you know, but you didn’t want me to and now I’m stuck here.”

But I’m strong enough to live with this situation.

Love is not the most important thing in life. It exists in my life but I have goals in my life that are more important. It’s more important to build an independent life and be able to depend on yourself in everything. This is more important than to be engaged to anyone.

One of my goals is to continue my studies. I want to settle down alone and have an independent life. If I have the chance I want to continue my studies in Psychology. When I was a teenager I was always most interested in Psychology.

And I want to have children. My goal to have children is big part of why I want to get married.

I did not have any trust in myself as a child. I didn’t have any self-confidence. I could not face anything or anyone. My teacher would ask me to share in class, but I was afraid to talk. Even if I was sure that I knew the answer. I was too scared.

I hated that, so I started to work on that to build trust in myself. I heard exercises that could help beat the fear inside me and to build confidence. I would sit alone and say a sentence in a loud of voice and then start screaming. I used to yell “I love this person and I want to have sex with him.”

I started trying to face conflict with small things. I would tell myself, just try to answer one word to this person. I asked for a two-day holiday at work just because I wanted to be able to ask for it. By the time I was nineteen, my personality had changed. I could trust and defend myself.

I started offering my opinion to people. I started to meet new people, try new things. In private I will try everything.

When I went to parties with my mother, she always used to tell me to go dance. I was too shy. But I used to watch videos of Shakira and tried to follow her dance moves.

Now that I’m in Greece, I dance everywhere and in front of anyone. I like to go out dancing. It makes me nervous if I listen to music and I don’t dance. When I start dancing, I feel energy. I feel free and happy and my stress goes away. I feel excited.

I am not so religious. Yes, I believe in God. I am Muslim. But I follow a middle path. I’m not an extremist. My religion is something between me and my God.

It was my choice to wear the hijab. Sometimes I take it off. In Turkey, I did it two or three times—I went outside without a hijab. I wanted to feel free. I styled my hair nicely and went outside. I thought about because there are a lot of things I do that don’t make sense with my hijab. But if I take it off then people will not accept me as a Muslim.

If I stay with my fiancé I will have to wear a hijab. If I decide to not wear the hijab, then we will break up. But I don’t think I will take it off at all.

Freedom has always been a part of me. I want to feel free. I don’t care about other people’s opinions. It’s me who will give myself a real value and place in society—not other people.

I don’t let anyone limit my life. If it will come to the point where someone limits my freedom or I can’t live with it anymore, I will talk to him and tell him to respect my freedom and my ideas.

Sometimes I don’t know if my current relationship will continue or if we’ll break up. Whenever you are in a relationship with someone, he will make you do things and ask you for something you don’t like. But I love him and want to stay with him so I will sacrifice because I love him.

He knows that I like to dance and to live freely. I don’t think he will let me do everything I want to do. I would prefer to find someone who thinks like I do, but sometimes you can’t choose. It’s about your feelings. Maybe I will be comfortable, maybe it will be a nice life and a nice marriage. I don’t know.

He is not like my first husband. In some ways he is worse. But at least this guy is responsible.He can take care of me and my family and he loves me. He is only close-minded because he was raised in that way.

If I find that there’s no way to live with him, then I will talk to him and we can divorce. No one will force me to stay with him. I will always keep my freedom.