Syrian Family’s Tragedy Goes Beyond Iconic Image of Boy on Beach

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Ann Barnard . December 27, 2015

ISTANBUL – When Alan Kurdi’s tiny body washed up on a beach in Turkey, forcing the world to grasp the pain of Syria’s refugees, the 2 -year-old boy was just one member of a family on the run, scattered by nearly five years of upheaval.

As a Turkish officer lifted the boy from the shallow waves at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, one of Alan’s teenage cousins was alone on a bus in Hungary, fleeing the fighting back home in Damascus.

An aunt was stuck in Istanbul, nursing a baby, as her son and daughter worked 18-hour shifts in a sweatshop so the family could eat. Dozens of other relatives–aunts, uncles and cousins–had fled the war in Syria or were making plans to flee.

And just weeks after Alan’s image shocked the world in September, another aunt prepared to do what she had promised herself to avoid: set sail with four of her children on the same perilous journey.

“We die together, or we live together and make a future,” her 15-year-old daughter said, concluding, as have hundreds of other Syrians, that there was no going back, and that the way to security led through great risk.

Alan, whose mother and brother drowned with him, belonged to a sprawling clan from Syria’s long-oppressed Kurdish minority. But for most of his closest relatives, that identity was secondary to the cosmopolitan ethos of the Syrian capital, Damascus, where they grew up. They barely spoke Kurdish, identified mainly as Syrian and joined no faction.

So when war broke out, and political ties, sect and ethnicity became life-or-death matters, they were on their own.

Interviews with 20 relatives, in Iraqi Kurdistan, in Istanbul, in five German towns and by phone in Syria, tell a story of a family chewed up by one party to the Syrian conflict after another: the Syrian government, the Islamic State, neighboring countries, the West.

Read the full article here (Originally published in the New York Times).

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