From a safe and distinctive childhood to war and prison. An escape that led to cultural crash, integration and success.
Mainly, prison made me who I am today
Omar grew up in a small village in northern Syria, together with a bustling family of siblings, uncles, aunts and a clutter of cousins.
When Omar was only 15 years old the arab spring shook dictatorships around the Mediterranean. He hurried out to join the crowds in demonstrations on the streets of Banjas. This was the first time he was thrown in political prison.
Three years of constant relocation to various prisons around Syria followed. His cousins died shortly after they arrived in one of the most feared prisons in the world: Saydnaya, in the outskirts of Damascus. Omar was dying from malnutrition and tuberculosis when his mother managed to bribe an army official for my release.
During his time in captivity, Omar's father and two of his brothers had been executed during an attack on their village. The rest of the family managed to flee to Turkey.
Omar, along with his surviving 10-year-old brother, eventually traveled to Europe and arrived in Sweden. Since then, Omar has learned Swedish, Norwegian, and English, and worked for one year with The Boston Consulting Group (BCG)
During this most recent visit to the U.S., Omar met with the White House, United States Holocaust Museum, multiple members of Congress, NYT, Washington Post, CFR, and gave a lecture at Brown University. He is also a key witness in several ongoing European court cases against the Assad regime. Alongside Caesar, Omar will be a key witness in future U.S. prosecution efforts to hold the Assad regime accountable for its detainments and executions of American citizens.
The future, however, looks bright.
University of whispers
My time in the cramped cells was endless. But my fellow-prisoners and I could whisper. In silence, we began to teach each other.
Doctors shared knowledge on how to take care of your wounds. Psychologists told how to be happy during the torture. Lawyers described legislature. Someone knew smatterings of English. We formed a secret and highly dangerous information and knowledge sharing community we called “University of Whispers”.
Trauma as a drive force
I have had sleepless nights, haunted by unthinkable nightmares.
I have knowledge one does not wish to own, experiences I wish to disavow.
But surviving is possible. Viewing survival as a challenge, something that must be done; focusing on the brighter parts of life - it works. This I have learned by now!
I am in love, I will have children, I will live a happy life, I will go on. In spite of everything.
I was the youngest in those prisons. But it became my job to mark the dead. A number was to be written on the forehead of every deceased.
And I soon realized that, by slightly altering the numbers, I could have a chance to save inmates. I took on a task that could cost me my life.
But this also gave me courage. My fellow prisoners trusted me. I became a leader of sorts