Only a handful of relatives are still in Damascus. "I can't go back to Damascus. I'm certain that I'm on one of the regime's blacklists," she says. That is because she was in favour of the revolution from the very start. She is against Assad and for regime change – for a democratic Syria. She says the revolution deepened her understanding of civil rights and women's autonomy. "I truly believe it was right to stand up and protest."

Alone, yet undaunted

Khayti was alone when she came to Idlib with others from eastern Ghouta and Duma in 2018. Her parents and her brother had already fled to Turkey. Her voice trembles whenever she speaks of them. But then it grows more confident again: "I wanted to stay in Syria, to go to Idlib. There is a cross-section of Syrian society here. Refugees from Homs, Aleppo, eastern Ghouta, but also people from right here in Idlib. I spent three months trying to find out as much as I could about society here – what the people needed. Soon, I was able to win people's trust."

And Khayti is unshakeable in her mission. With support from the aid group Medico International she quickly built up the Women Support and Empowerment Center Idlib, once again offering courses on a variety of pertinent subjects. She says Islamists in Idlib leave her and the group of regional women she works with alone.

On the telephone, Khayti explains that the centre is in the heart of the city, near the market. She says the location makes it easy for everyone to reach and that she sometimes has as many as 25 visitors a day. Though, she adds, depending on how heavy bombings are on any given day, that number may be as low as three.

Life is particularly difficult for women during times of war. The economic situation is disastrous, many have experienced violence and others are traumatised. Infrastructure such as medical care and schools are also wholly lacking, forcing many mothers to teach their children at home. Some subjects like English are available to mothers at the centre.

Still, Khayti says they can't plan for the future. "We have to take things as they come each day – whether at home or in the centre. There is no such thing as normal everyday life, the bombardments can start at any time."

Longing for her parents

Despite her situation, the revolution goes on for Khayti. She says her fight to help improve the situation for women has nothing to do with where she happens to be at any given time: "I'm here because I know it's the right thing to do. I want to stand up for the Syria I want to live in."

Khayti lives by herself. She never married and she has no children. "I'm only responsible for my own life," she says, "but I really miss my parents." When she decided to relocate to Idlib she had to make a promise to her father. When they parted, he pleaded with her: "Please don't break my heart. I don't want you to suffer the same fate as your brother." Khayti says she thinks of her father's words often.

"If Assad's troops do eventually take Idlib I'll have to flee to a refugee camp in the north and try to get across the Turkish border. I can live with the bombs, but I can't live with the thought that Assad will be in charge of Idlib and the whole of Syria."

Diana Hodali

© Deutsche Welle 2020

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