THEMA

SYRIA

Translating Humanitarian Emergency into Medical Aid in Syria


Claire Glasscoe


THE ORIENT FOR HUMAN RELIEF






DR M. AMMAR MARTINI


A doctor who stood up to the Assad regime and ISIS to provide medical services for civilians in Syria

Dr Ammar Martini is the General Manager of Orient for Human Relief; an organisation dedicated to healthcare and relief of human suffering. An outpatient clinic and school in Reyhanli provides free healthcare for Syrians who have travelled across the border and this functions as a base for an extensive medical service inside liberated areas of Syria with hospitals, polyclinics and mobile healthcare facilities.

According to social media and a UN independent report on human rights, this type of facility is frequently targeted by the Assad regime and so I asked Dr Martini if he could comment on these reports and make a statement about what this means to him personally and in practice at the Orient. How has this threat of military targeting of healthcare affected the Orient as an organisation and the people it serves both here in Turkey and in Syria?

9th UN Report of Commission of Inquiry on Syria – A/HRC/28/69 in English and Arabic

These are wide ranging questions and Dr Ammar, as he is known is one of very few people who could address them with supporting evidence. He is a man absolutely committed to providing healthcare to his people and having made great personal sacrifice he is not about to steer another course in life. The events over the weekend meant this was not a good time for him having lost three personal friends in the aerial bombardment of Idleb city but this kind of wanton destruction only makes Dr Ammar steelier in his determination. The powerful statement he makes here, which culminates in the devastation of Idleb city and his own personal loss almost captures the devastation of Syria itself, frozen in time on 22/12/15. This transcript was reorganised under headings for ease of reading.

OVERVIEW AND ESTABLISHMENT OF THE ORIENT FOR HUMAN RELIEF

'The Orient for Human Relief has built more than 10 hospitals inside Syria and we have been working for more than four years inside and outside Syria on the border-zone. The regime targeted our doctors and paramedics and other human resources before they targeted the hospitals. So when we were working in the Red Crescent organisation inside Syria we were followed and targeted and some of us were killed.

Our manager, Dr Abdulrazaq Jbero was killed (25/01/2012). He was the manager for the Red Crescent organisation inside Idleb city and of Red Crescent Hospitals; I was his assistant. We had been instructed by the regime to attend a military intelligence interview so he went to Damascus for inspection. I didn't go because I don't trust this regime. This was 2011 in December. When Dr Jbero was on his way back from Damascus to Idleb city after inspection [travelling in a well-marked Red Crescent vehicle] he was shot in the head by a government sniper [at a checkpoint] and he died before reaching hospital. After that I fled outside of Syria because I knew that I was targeted with him.'


‘I went to Za’atari camp in Jordan and stayed for two months working there. At the beginning of the revolution, working conditions in Zaatari were bad for doctors. So then I went to Dubai and met Mr Ghassan Aboud, who is the owner of Orient Humanitarian and Orient TV. He donated funding to make this Orient organisation viable. We settled on the border between Turkey and Syria, and the Orient for Human Relief was fully operational and began working at the beginning of 2012. The first project was a rehabilitation centre in Turkey. But there were problems in the north of Syria, especially in 2012. A lot of people who were ‘wanted’ by the regime died while trying to cross the border and we were not able to intervene from Turkey. So we decided to build our hospital on the border-zone inside Syria. The first one was constructed in Atmah city. It had four operating theatres and about 50 beds and was up and running within 15 days.’

WANTED BY THE REGIME

‘The regime does not want medical and healthcare professionals to heal any patients or any people who were ‘wanted’ by them. Most doctors were routinely followed by the regime from 2011 onwards and so they went into hiding. Physicians for Human Rights report. I called my doctor friends who were hiding inside Syria and asked them to join us. We all got together for a meeting in Atmah and began working there. Every day we had 15-20 operations, big operations requiring a full sterile environment with anaesthesia. There were about 25 doctors involved at that point, all specialists. After this facility at Atmah was established, the regime followed us there inside Syria. They sent intelligence agents to arrest doctors who were on the ‘wanted list’ and they tried to kill them, but they didn’t succeed. The regime was weak at that time and didn’t have a good ‘whip’ to fight people in the opposition who were with the Free Army or similar.’

WANTED BY ISIS

‘A lotof doctors were killed and wanted by ISIS when they were here. I am one doctor they wanted. They arrested doctors and asked: ‘who is Ammar Martini?’’

Why did they want you?

‘Because I have a hospital in Syria and on one occasion they forced their way into that hospital using their weapons. I told them ‘get out!’ ‘It is not allowed for anybody to enter the hospital with a weapon.’ I told them this and was tough with them. They left but they said: ‘We will see.’ On the second occasion they came to the hospital they didn’t find me. They asked: ‘Where is this doctor?’ The hospital staff told them: ‘He is in Turkey.’ After about one week, my friend Dr Ammar Asfari [who was subsequently killed in a regime air raid in 2014] was driving in his car. They stopped the car, he was from the Orient [an Atmah Hospital cofounder]. They said: ‘What is your name?’ He said ‘Dr Ammar’ at which they said: ‘Come with us.’ It took them about two hours to find out that he was not me [laughs]. He was a different doctor. They also wanted me because at the beginning, when ISIS was establishing itself none of the Syrian people knew anything about this organisation. I was interviewed with Mr Ghassan on the Orient TV and I talked about what I knew of them. ‘Syrian people,’ I said, ‘take care of these radicals. They are not the Free Army, they are killers; they are the same as the regime.’ I attacked them on the TV at the very beginning. They were nothing then; this name ‘ISIS’ meant little at that time. They were saying: ‘We are Daulah Islamiyah’ and they attacked us and told us: ‘You are kaffir’ and ‘you are with the regime.’ I told the TV audience: ‘These people are terrorists.’ ‘These people are radicals and they are very dangerous to the Syrian Revolution. Don’t let them come inside Syria; don’t let them do anything inside Syria. Fight them!’ But nobody heard me. This was at the end of July or maybe August 2013. It was a very early stage for ISIS in Syria. We knew them then and we warned most of those who are now are saying: ‘These are radicals.’ I told them all on the TV. After one and a half years the world realised that this ISIS was a terrorist group. ISIS fled from this area, when these people began to understand that they were terrorists and we don’t need them here. But since we attacked them on TV from the beginning they wanted us. They remember what we did and they have a very big intelligence system. They are professional criminals. So they did try to capture me.’

And hence there is a lot of security downstairs. There is a metal detector downstairs and there are security guards in the reception area at the front door.



Entrance to the Orient for Human Relief outpatients’ polyclinic in Reyhanli, Turkey

‘This is because the regime has several times sent people here to try to kill us. And because of that we are always prepared. They are serious and we woke up to this when the Turkish police discovered two car bombs there next to the Orient [polyclinic in Reyhanli]. We don’t know for sure if it was the regime that sent them, maybe it was for us, perhaps for another organisation. But the Turkish police told us to ‘take care’ not only for us but for all the medical services we provide in this building. This was especially important when Idleb was under the control of the regime, because it is very near to us. Every week they sent agents. Some of them perhaps could walk into my office and kill me with a knife or bring a bag with a bomb in it and put it here. So always we are aware of the danger regarding the regime. We don’t know what Hesbollah can do here. They are planning outside and inside Syria. And I’m sure that of all the terrorist atrocities in the world, the main responsibility lies with Hesbollah and the Assad regime. Only history will tell that - you will see.’

APPROACH USED BY THE REGIME TO TARGET MEDICAL CIVILIANS AND THE RESPONSE OF THE ORIENT

‘In Syria a pattern developed where medical teams and hospitals were targeted by [double tap] air raids in the morning. The military aircraft that the regime had were very old such as the Sukhoi [SU-22/24] and other old, Russian aircraft. They hit us twice at Atmah hospital on the border-zone. Thank God nobody was killed. After that, at the beginning of 2013 we found out there were a lot of wounded people in the middle of Syria. So we built more than 6 hospitals, one on the outskirts of Aleppo at Al-Attarib and the other one in Kafr Deryan, in Hama, in Homs, in Marat Al-Nouman, Jabal al-Zawiya, and Kafranbel. In all of these areas we built a fully functioning surgical hospital. The smallest of them had two operating theatres.’

‘Our work then began in earnest as we were getting more than two hundred wounded people daily. This was because the regime began to attack houses and civilian areas and the cities. Every day we conducted more than one hundred major surgical operations. After that the regime began to focus on the medical facilities. The first time they fired at one of our hospitals, it was in Marat Al-Nouman in the middle of Syria beside Hama and one of our team was killed there, a doctor. This was at the end of 2013. ‘

‘Following this we built a hospital on the outskirts of Jisr ash-Shagur where there are four Christian villages. They were free from the regime, so we went inside one village and equipped the municipal area of this collection of villages with healthcare and protected the civilians. We collaborated with the church and made our hospital inside this area. This hospital had three operating theatres with about 30 beds. I was inside this hospital at the beginning of 2014 when the regime attacked us three times. Once on the upper floor, which was for the doctors’ living rooms, it was destroyed completely. And the second time they attacked us two of our paramedics were killed. The third time, thank God nobody was killed but the hospital was destroyed by 50%. Then we reconstructed it and until now it is still working.’

‘It is not only the Orient group of healthcare facilities that are targeted; a lot of hospitals other than Orient have been attacked such as Yamadea hospital on the outskirts of Latakia. They attacked the hospital of Aldana, it is a very big hospital; they attacked the hospital of Kafr Haleb. Most medical facilities were attacked by the regime.’

THE PERIOD COVERED BY THE UN REPORT AND BEYOND 2014 & 2015

During 2014, our hospitals in Jabal Al-Zawiyah and Marat Al-Nouman, were targeted. Kafranbel hospital in Jabal Al-Zawiyah, was targeted 8 times; two times from the Russians in 2015 and 6 times from the regime. Two doctors were killed inside the hospital, the last time the regime attacked it and more than 6 paramedics and nurses. They were working inside the hospital and we have photographs of where the missile entered the corner of the building and how the instruments were completely destroyed.’



Kafranbel hospital has been subjected to several attacks by warplanes and helicopters, this one took place on 20/4/2015 when the hospital was bombed and three people were killed as a result of the air strike. Photo supplied by The Orient.

‘We have reconstructed the damage. Every month, we spend more than one hundred thousand dollars reconstructing our hospitals and now at this point, now we are making a very big hole under the ground and we will transfer the hospital from up to down. I can give you the video for this. You will see it is very big, like a cage and now we are equipping it and constructing it to transfer the hospital from above ground to below the ground. What can we do? We must work. There are a lot of people suffering and this hospital is a very big in Kafranbel because it has 70 beds. We have the Eliza centre with more than six suites of medical instruments [dialysis, CT scan, etcetera]. The Eliza is working 24/7 and there is an outpatient clinic [for routine assessments and follow-up]. We have more than 1 million people in this area, refugees of course, internal refugees. They need medical help and support.’

‘To be clear, these are not field hospitals; these are large surgical hospitals. Most of our patients are wounded civilians, because every month, every week they fire at villages around Jabal Al-Zawiyah and in and around Kafranbel, so most of the wounded people want to come to this hospital. We are helping and supporting, not only wounded in the field but also chronic disease. It has an ICU, a CCU, a dialysis centre, outpatient clinic, dental clinics, obstetrics and gynaecology. It is a very big hospital. We have a paediatric department for new-borns. More than three babies were killed inside the incubator when they attacked our hospital. These new-born babies were in the incubator and when they fired at the hospital the generator stopped and these babies died. We have the photograph of it to [evidence this].’

‘We have an extensive ambulance system with about 24 ambulance cars. Every month we lose more than two or three cars to regime rocket attacks; not only our cars, our ambulances as well. Any ambulance will be targeted by the regime. So we paint them with a dark colour, we don’t put any identifying marks, no logo on the car because they will attack it. We lost more than 5 paramedics and one doctor in the ambulance service. One of them was in Aleppo city when we were trying to help wounded people on the outskirts of Aleppo; the others were targeted and attacked in the middle of Syria. We have all the names of those who were killed.’

‘Over the period of this UN report [the one I have asked Dr Martini to respond to] most of our hospitals were [deliberately] attacked by the regime. On the last occasion they sent a car bomb and parked it outside our first hospital in Atmah. This was in March 2014. That car bomb exploded at about 10.00 or 11.00 in the morning when the outpatient clinics were working and a lot of children were coming to our clinics. There were more than 17 casualties between doctors, paramedics, nurses and the civilian people who were coming to our outpatient clinic. The hospital was completely destroyed. All our warehouses were destroyed. They were full of paramedics and medical equipment and instruments, all destroyed and 17 civilian people were killed.‘

‘What does this mean? If the regime did that, and I am sure that it was the regime because a car bomb is always the mark of the regime. ISIS come with the car, drive it into the hospital and blow it up, it is a suicide attack. But the regime parks it outside and leaves, then they blow it up by remote control. That is their signature. And at that time there was no ISIS in this area. I know the way of the regime; they did this. The regime did this several times inside Syria.’

‘It is not only the Orient Hospitals that are attacked. Less than one month ago [3/10/15] the Russian air force attacked Al-Burnas hospital, which is for the Doctors Without Borders and they destroyed the hospital on the outskirts of Latakia. That means the regime and Russia are the same, attacking medical field and civilian components. Why? I don’t know. There are no terrorist people inside the area served by these hospitals. They are public hospitals for civilians. We don’t have ISIS in our region and Jabhat Al-Nusra has its own hospitals so they don’t need to bring wounded agents for our hospital. Most of the people who come are civilians suffering the effects of regime and Russian airstrikes. So why are they attacking the hospitals?’

RETALIATION AFTER THE LIBERATION OF IDLEB CITY

‘On the second day, after the regime left Idleb city (29/03/2015), we entered Idleb city as a medical team. All of our doctors, not only the Orient ones, the Healthcare Ministry, which is part of the opposition entered inside Idleb city. We went to the National Hospital and we went to the Red Crescent Hospital. On the second day they fired two missiles at us. One was aimed at the National Hospital and one at the Red Crescent. After two days we went to Carlton Hotel and we turned it into a hospital. We transferred equipment and began to work. We needed to work because every day there was more than one hundred attacks from the air on Idleb city. The second day they targeted an attack on this Carlton Hotel. This is because the regime has a lot of people inside Syria who are informing for them - they transfer from area to area [spying]. So they attacked this hotel-come-hospital and we thank God we were working in the basement.’
‘Yes, they know where we are going. They follow us through people acting as intelligence agents inside Syria, collaborating with the regime, inside Idleb city. So that means this regime when they fired initially at two very big hospitals in the city, they did not want any of the people to survive. They wanted them to die. Whether they were civilian or opposition military or anybody, they wanted them all to die.

‘When you block the water supply, you want all people to die of thirst. When you come to the hospital and destroy it and then shoot the people. That means you want these people to die not to survive. You don’t want them to find any hospital to help and support them. Let them escape across the border. That is what the regime wants.’

THE ATTACK ON IDLEB CITY OVER THE WEEKEND


‘It was a very, very, very bad case because most of my friends inside Syria are in Idleb city. They are civilians and they were killed. I can show you some of them. One of them was just a Ping-Pong player who umpired the rules of the game. He is a civilian and a very innocent man. Another one’s job was distributing books to students. He was killed inside this building [mobile phone image]. He kept the books for students and he was killed inside this building, in the library. The building that was shot at was the library. And this guy is another one killed. He is an engineer; he was a very, very, very smart man and he was a civilian helping and supporting people inside Idleb city. They killed him. Why have these people been killed? There were 55 killed and another 150 wounded people. I have the names if you want them. We have a list of 122 wounded people who came to the hospitals and 55 killed, why? Why are they killing these people? These people are civilians. They are attacking civilian areas, I don’t know, why, I don’t know. You see the buildings how they were attacked [images on mobile phone]’
‘Nobody believes that, nobody believes that. The world does not know what happened. They must inspect and see and declare but nobody is declaring. It is just the way the media tells the story that is believed. And most of the governments around the world are [here Dr Martini swipes the air with his hand to gesture the world brushing off the plight of the Syrian people].’

THE REGIME'S RATIONALE FOR TARGETTING DOCTORS AND HEALTHCARE STAFF AND THIS DOCTOR’S RESPONSE

Given this catalogue of targeting I wonder whether the regime was seeing the Orient project as a political one associated with the Free Syrian Army and the Revolution. Or is it seeing you as medical practitioners who are prepared to treat people on the basis of need?

‘They told us before we left Syria that we must not try to heal people because ‘these people are criminals.’ I told this inspection man who was talking with me inside Syria that these people were civilians, ‘I saw them.’ ‘They were demonstrating without a weapon and some of your soldiers shot them. I have seen them and I have a photo of that.’ ‘We are healing and treating civilian people.’



Surgery in the Ophthalmology Department of Orient for Human Relief, Reyhanli

‘He told me: ‘these people are terrorists and we will kill them and if we wanted you to heal them we would not shoot them.’ ‘We shot them to die, not to heal, not to survive.’ I told him, ‘I am a doctor, I don’t assess any patient that comes to see me or wounded man to my clinic or Red Crescent Hospital and ask them whether they are with the regime or the opposition, against regime. He is a human being, I don’t ask him if he is a Muslim or Christian or Allawi or etc.’ ‘I am a doctor and he is a human. This is my job, if you don’t want me to help them survive and heal them, take my lesson; close this hospital and take me to the gaol.’ Then I was arrested and put in prison for about three or four days. They let me sign papers, I don’t know what they said, I didn’t read them. I only knew I must sign them or they would torture me. And then I got out of Syria. When I was leaving, he cautioned me: ’You signed that document saying you will not accept any wounded patient.’ I told him: ‘I sign but you know how I sign, and I will, I will do’ [treat wounded people]. He told me: ‘Take care of yourself and take care of your family.’ Then I got my family out of Syria while I stayed for about 6 months working inside Syria and after that I fled outside as well.’

EXECUTION OF DOCTORS BY THE SYRIAN REGIME

Do you have evidence of the regime actually directly executing medical personnel, healthcare personnel?

‘Of course one of our doctors, he was one of our friends. We trained together at al-Kindi Hospital in Aleppo. [Dr Mohammed Nour Maktabi] He was working in Aleppo as a consultant to several hospitals when they arrested him. He was an internal medicine specialist helping us support the people. They [the regime] arrested him at his clinic [in Seif al-Dawiah, 18 June 2012] and after five months, they found him in the hospital [Aleppo Academic Hospital], he was killed and his body was found in the [mortuary] fridge. He had been tortured; they have a prison, a gaol inside the hospital. His brother, Ammar works here in the dental laboratory. Let him talk and tell you about Dr Mohammed Nour, he is downstairs in the dental laboratory.’ [Ref: special report on the medical conditions in Aleppo June 2014, VDCS]

Incredulous, I asked for clarification: ‘they have a prison gaol inside the hospital?’

‘Of course, most hospitals in the Syrian Arab Republic under regime control have a gaol and that’s a prison, yes. Al-Kindi hospital was also under the control of the regime until it was liberated [22/12/13]. [It was used as a military barracks from Nov 2012. Since 16/08/14 it returned to being under regime control and is again a military barracks not a hospital].’

PETITIONING THE UN IN GENEVA

‘On 11 Dec 2015 I went with most of the doctors who were working in the medical field to United Nations (UN) in Geneva. We stood in front of the UN with our white coats and we told them to stop the attacks on the medical teams. Every day there are air strikes from all sides in this conflict. But nobody feels with us.’

I can’t understand because you are saying that all these incidents are being reported. But even the violations to the ‘Doctors Without Borders’ hospital hasn’t been acknowledged as an atrocity and your cries for help are falling on deaf ears.

‘But nobody cares about that. We registered all these incidents, not only our hospitals, and we sent a report to the Physician for Human Rights organisation in New York. I give it to them by my hand and I discuss what happened there but I didn’t see anything happen. I think they just put it in a draw and they closed it. Then after 20 years what will we do with this report? After twenty years there will not be any Syrian people left inside Syria. Most of them will be killed or emigrated. Nobody hear us.’

What do you need from the international community? What do you need now?

‘What I need from International community is to prevent this criminal regime and Russia when they give instructions to shoot at medical facilities. ISIS shoots terrorists and radicals opposed to them not medical teams. We give a location to everyone about our medical facilities. We give the location and it is known where they are by the international sector, all of them know where our medical components are.’

SUPPORT FROM SYRIAN DOCTORS IN EXILE

You are well supported by Syrian doctors who have left Syria. What about the international medical establishments? Is there anything like the British Medical Association backing what you say, I know there was an article in the BMJ

‘At the beginning of the revolution when we established the Orient for Human Relief in Reyhanli there were a lot of doctors from outside Turkey and Syria who came here and went to Atmah Hospital just across the border. They helped and supported us and conducted professional operations and surgery. Then after 2013 there was about 6 months when ISIS started to control that area. Then nobody went inside Syria and so we developed the hospital facilities here in Reyhanli.’



The Orient for Human Relief in Reyhanli – medical aid free at the point of delivery for Syrians

‘Most of those doctors now come and work in Reyhanli because it is safer for them. We are responsible for their work and we don’t want them to be kidnapped by ISIS or other radicals and be killed. You know several journalists and correspondents were taken hostage by ISIS and killed. A surgeon I think he was killed by the regime not by ISIS. Yes I think the regime killed him [Dr Abbas Khan] and the press reported yesterday that they killed him. I know that these ISIS terrorists are criminals just like the regime. We the civilians and the doctors and healthcare workers are caught between the regime and ISIS and there is also Iran and Hezbollah and Russia. What shall we do? They ask in the media: ‘Why you are leaving Syria and travel as a migrant?’ ‘It is because we are suffering at the hand of a lot of criminals.’’

WHAT CAN THE INTERNATIONAL MEDICAL COMMUNITY DO THAT WOULD BE HELPFUL NOW?

‘I think that the international medical community must go to the governments in the United States, in the UK, France and tell them that Russia must avoid us, avoid medical teams. It is forbidden to target these facilities and to punish them for this if they persist. Nobody is telling them not to do it. They must hear us; they must support us. Nobody is supporting us. Nobody is taking care of us at this point in time.’

So, a pressure group saying we support our colleagues in Syria because this is not acceptable, it is against international law and the Geneva Convention. A voice would actually be helpful, people’s voices.

‘There is a huge loss of human resources inside Syria not only doctors and medical teams, other professions too. Nobody is inside Syria now except those civilians who don’t have one dollar to get out of Syria and these criminal people and radical people and the army of the Assad regime and Hezbollah and these persons who have come from Afghanistan and this ISIS who came from overseas to take oil and take money and marry beautiful ladies inside Syria. We know what happens. Why are you, in the international community allowing this to happen?’ ‘Why is Russia saying they are fighting radicals and ISIS when they haven’t shot any of ISIS. The area ISIS occupies is well known; it is in the dessert and you can see it from an aircraft. So why were they shooting Idleb city yesterday?’

‘We ask them to come and see the facts. Come and see the truth. We are being killed, we are being targeted; they are killing us, arresting us, following us. Most of the doctors fled Syria there are few doctors inside Syria. We have no medical human resources left inside Syria.’

References to support Dr Martini’s assertions include: [On 02/03/16 Dr Ayman Jundi, Presidient of the Syrian British Medical Society & Dr Ghanem Tayara, Chairman of UOSSM International reported at the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Syria, Palace of Westminster, London that there were 6000 doctors practicing in Aleppo before the war and now there are only 35]
[Dr Annie Sparrow reporting the assault on doctors in Syria]
CNN video report from Idleb by Clarissa Ward where one doctor says he would rather die than leave tweeted by MSF]. An open letter to the Lancet republished in the New York Review of Books attests that 30,000 doctors practised in Syria before the conflict and 15,000 of these left in 2012 after the anti-terrorism laws were passed.]

BUT THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY CLOSES ITS DOORS TO SYRIANS

Dr Martini continues his account with a frankly more personal focus now. ‘My son was studying in the medical school, at the medical university in Damascus in 2011. He was in his fourth year at Damascus University. When he was going to the University he was arrested by the regime and they detained him for four days. They have a gaol inside the Faculty of Medicine.’

A gaol in the medical school!

‘Yes, imagine that. He stayed four days inside the gaol. I went there, I paid $5000 and they released him. I made etiquette for him and sent him to the United States and now he is continuing his education and learning. All my family have gone there. What shall we do? Where will we go? Why is Trump telling people in America not to accept Syrian refugees? Why? ‘You destroyed our country. You sent us terrorists. If you see all the terrorists and the terrorist attacks in the world, none of them are Syrian. They are Moroccan, Tunisian, Libyan, from Afghanistan, Pakistan and most of them are American citizens and the British citizens and French citizens none of them are Syrian. Why do you prevent Syrian people from migrating from the Syrian area? The Syrian people are innocent. Why are you following Syrians and then saying we don’t accept Syrians.’ ‘In Turkey, I don’t need a Visa and we thank the Turkish government for this. But if Turkey does not accept us, where will we go? There is no other place for us.’ ‘If I go to Lebanon, Hezbollah is in the airport and they will arrest me. If I go to Jordan they won’t accept me, I need Visa. All Syrians need a Visa for Jordan. If I want to go to Egypt, I must pay about $2000 to have a Visa. And perhaps they don’t give one to me. Where will I go as a Syrian?’ Why is Germany accepting us when most of the other countries don’t accept refugees?’ In despair now Dr Martini says: ‘Where will we go? We must die?’

‘Many Syrians emigrated in 1980 when Assad’s father killed us; I was 16 years old and I witnessed how he destroyed all of Hama city and how he killed people in Tadmor, Palmyra. I saw most of my family and cousins flee the country. There were 25,000 killed in Hama [1982]. But nobody heard about that because there was no satellite, no mobile phones etc. They closed the city, killed and destroyed and the in morning they cleaned up and left. Few know about this. There was a revolution then but it did not involve all the civilians. It was led by the [Muslim] Brotherhood and because of that, not all Syrian people were with that revolution. The reason for this was because we don’t want Islamic rulers. Syria is a free country. I don’t want ISIS to be controlling my city. And I don’t want this Ba’ath regime here either. I want a democracy and because of that neither ISIS nor the regime will accept me. I want to live inside Syria just like France. I want to change my president every four years, not [eleven] and forever like Assad, father and son. Not like this Daulah Islamiyah. We don’t want them. I want democracy. And because of that Assad doesn’t want me because he wants to pass his presidency to his son and because of Assad, ISIS doesn’t want me [laughs]. When he dies he says: ‘This man is going to rule after me,’ this guy, not who the people elect. We want democracy and neither the regime nor ISIS will accept that so they don’t want us inside Syria. But where we will go?’

‘I am a doctor who has been working here for five years on the border-zone. My family is in United States but I am not allowed to go and see them. They won’t give me a Visa. So I haven’t seen my family for four years. I have a son; he was four years old now he is eight years old. My daughter got married; she is a doctor now in the United States. She married an American citizen about two years ago and she has a son. But I don’t know him and I haven’t seen him. What shall I do? If I bring my family here it is very dangerous. Most people are picked up here, you see? [Dr Martini motions through the window now where the hills of Syria can be seen in the distance] This is Syria; it is not safe here especially for us as leaders in the medical fields. And we are of course against the regime. What shall we do? I want my children to be in schools. I thank the United States because they are teaching them and helping them. They don’t support us financially. I pay for my family. But I want my family in a safe place. I don’t want money.’

Inside Syria I have belongings and properties. I am from a wealthy family in Idleb city. I have a very big clinic there; a big reference laboratory with one million dollars’ worth of equipment and the regime stole it when I left. They took everything. I have more than nine houses inside Syria and they live inside them. What shall I do outside Syria? [laughs] and with pathos affirms: ‘I am a refugee now.’

THE TOLL ON PSYCHOLOGICAL HEALTH AND SOCIAL COMMUNITIES

Without lingering on the tragedy he quickly iterates: ‘I am a doctor who is helping and supporting millions of people inside Syria, but I need psychiatric treatment.’ ‘Most of the doctors here and most of the teachers in the schools need psychiatric treatment. We need a rehabilitation centre for the staff after this work. Nobody feel with us. Everything that is happening in Syria is because of one man [Bashar al Assad]. I don’t hate Allowie, I don’t hate Christians, I don’t hate Jewish people. I love all people. But I hate criminal people. When I said no, I said no to a criminal regime. There are Sunni, Allowie, Shia everything all. I said no to criminals not to a religion.’ ‘We are members of the Multi-Faith Alliance. And we have a meeting every month with another [Muslim] organisation and Christian and Jewish organisations. They are helping and supporting Syrian refugees. We are working together and collaborating together. We don’t want Syria for Sunni or for ISIS as the regime would lead you to believe. No, no this is not correct. Most of Syrian people don’t believe that. This story is one the regime invented and they believe it and let Allowie people believe it: ‘When I [Assad] leave Syria the Sunni will kill you.’ No, this will not happen and I am sure this will not happen. If Syria was under the control of an international government and the Assad regime was toppled, I think most of the people would forgive each other inside Syria. And this is what will happen. And I am sure this will happen, I know the Syrian people.’



Dr Ammar Martini examining a baby in a mobile clinic on the Greece/Macedonia border 20th March 2016

I thanked Dr Martini for answering my questions and relating his story for me to convey to the world. He apologised because he thought he may have disturbed me in its telling….

The next time I made contact Dr Ammar Martini he was responding to the plight of refugees fleeing Syria and then finding themselves stranded on the border between Greece and Macedonia. He left Reyhanli to set up a mobile healthcare clinic on the border-zone, a place familiar to him. This image of him appeared on Facebook on 20th March 2016 - he returned two months later having completed his mission.


Copyright © 2016 Claire Glasscoe