A group of men have committed themselves to an unlikely way of challenging the violence that has swept Syria in recent months, pledging to marry women they have never met.
In this village near the Turkish border, Syrians fleeing their country’s security forces have established a makeshift tent city. Hundreds of families, bearing only what they could fit in their cars, eagerly hope for the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Meanwhile, horror stories swirl about what has befallen the towns and villages they call home.
One involves four sisters, from the nearby town of Sumeriya, who were allegedly raped by pro-government Shabiha militiamen.
“It made us so mad. Such an injustice. We have decided, we will marry them,” said Ibrahim Kayyis, a 32-year-old baker from Jisr al-Shugour, a town that was stormed by troops.
To reclaim their “honor,” families in Syria have been known to kill raped female members. Even if families allow such women to live, they are not eligible to marry.
“We sat and discussed that we want to change this. We don’t want to change just the regime in Syria, but also this kind of stuff. So we will marry them in front of everyone,” Kayyis said.
The four sisters are in a hospital in Turkey, according to Kayyis. It is not possible to verify their story, or their exact whereabouts, because the men will not identify them out of consideration for the shame it would bring upon the women’s family. Likewise, Turkish authorities have not released the names of any of the thousands of refugees who have fled Syria.
Mohammed Mourey, a pharmacist from Jisr al-Shugour who has set up shop in a concrete shack in Khirbet al-Jous, initially proposed marrying the women. “They are victims of the revolution, and we will protect them,” he said.
Mourey said that when he first thought of the idea, 15 men came forward to volunteer. The group was then narrowed to four.
The men said that rapes and other assaults on women signify an escalation of violence by the government and its allies, which have sought to discredit the opposition movement.
“At first, they said it was sectarianism. Then they said it was criminal gangs. When that did not work, as a third step, they are attacking our honor,” Kayyis said.
When the campaign against the protesters in Jisr al-Shugour began, the military allegedly used a tactic that many Syrians see as a direct assault on their honor: breaking down doors of houses in which women were sleeping.
“Dignity and reputation are the most important things for Syrians. And women are a big part of this, and the regime knows it. So, for this reason, they do this to us as the opposition,” said Musab Jani, a 25-year-old mechanical engineer who said he volunteered to join Mourey’s initiative.
Kayyis and Mourey said they look forward to their marriages and to Assad’s fall from power. Kayyis said he hopes to return to being a baker, preferably dividing his time between Lebanon and Syria. He and his future wife will live in his house in Jisr al-Shugour, he said, with “no more than two kids.” Mourey said he is not sure he can continue living in Syria. If his future wife is willing, he said, he would like to apply for residency in Canada.
“When the revolution succeeds in Syria, my part will be done,” he said. “I have lost many friends and cousins. It will be hard to stay in Syria.”