I was in Syria for a 3 days visit last week. My granddad passed away after a couple of years struggle with COPD and heart problems. He passed away peacefully in his bed with his family around him. I was planning to go to Syria this weekend to see him for the last time but it was too late. Such is life.
My granddad was a great guy. Very honest and extremely straight he could only see the right side of life. He was so straight it verged on naive sometimes. He never told a lie and never backed down when he believed he was right. God bless you granddad. I miss you loads.
My granddad was one of the 5000 or so Chechen living today in Syria. They migrated from Chechnya in the Nineteenth century to Ottoman Turkey and from there to Syria, Jordan and Iraq to establish small communities that survived till this day.
Chechen are a tiny nation of the mountainous North Caucasus. They have been in a constant battle with their Russian occupier since the Eighteenth century. Their first resistance war led by Sheikh Mansour started in 1785 to last few years. The next big resistance war in 1835 led by Chechen legendary hero Imam Shamil lasted 24 years before ending with his surrender to the Russian army. The Chechen emigration that brought my maternal family to Syria followed this war.
Imam Shamil (below) and his surrender (above)
More Chechen rebellions followed in 1905, 1917, 1928 and a major upraise in the 1940s. This last rebellion ended up with the deportation of the entire ethnic Chechen people to Kazakhstan and Siberia on the orders of Stalin. They were allowed back to their homeland after 1956 but only after two third of them dying of cold and famine. A period of calm followed till the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early Nineties when two Chechen wars took place in 1994 and 1999. I am waiting for the next independence attempt in the next ten years or so. I can't think of another nation that fought that long or suffered that much for their freedom.
Granddad was born in 1924 in Al-Quneitra the main town of The Golan Heights in south west Syria. He grew up in the Chechen community of the predominantly Circassian town. He spoke only Chechen as a child to learn Arabic only in school. Unfortunately he didn't pass the language down to his children as my grandma who is ethnically kurdish didn't speak it. He moved to Damascus to complete his studies. He lived and worked between the two cities till he finally settled down in Damascus after Al-Quneitra fell under the Israeli occupation in the Six-Day War in 1967. Quneitera returned to Syrian control in 1974 as part of a seize fire agreement that followed Yom Kippur War. The Isreli Army totally bulldozered the city down and not a single building survived the systematic destruction. The family home my granddad grew up in lies today as a big pile of black volcanic stones. The vine tree ,that once covered the court yard and give my child granddad sweet grapes to pick and a cool shade of the hot summer sun, grows aimlessly today over the rubble.
He was a great story-teller. He loved Al-Quneitra. He could never stop telling me his childhood adventures, fishing, camp fires, stealing watermelons from neighbours field, and snow sledges to name a few. The stories of the later stages of his life were about horse racing, gun hunting and traditional Chechen dancing with girls in weddings. More serious stories were of Second World War, helping the Palestinian resistance in the early forties, dodging Hganah paramilitary gangs and nearly getting shot in the head only for his life to be saved when he leaned back to light up a cigarette. His friend died in that last indecent.
My granddad dream was to return one day to Quneitra and rebuild his family home. He dreamt of getting back his family vineyard in Abo Al-Neda Mount outside the town that is still under Israeli occupation till today. He wanted to build us his grand children a beautiful home to spend our summers in. He died without realising that dream.
I hope one day we will rebuild that house for you granddad. God bless your soul.