In Conversation With . . . A Syrian Kurd, Part III

Panic and Bravado in Assad’s Syria

?A hundred men can sit together quietly but when two dogs get together there will be a fight.?

Kurdish proverb

?Sometimes paranoia’s just having all the facts.?

William S. Burroughs

Moustafa Mala Bozan is a Kurdish poet and musician from the city of Kobany in northern Syria, not far from Aleppo. He’s been corresponding online with Wanda Waterman for the past year, during which time he’s been imprisoned, has lived in refugee camps, and has travelled across Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. Read the first part of this series here and the second part here.

Moustafa visits Lebanon, as he does often. When he returns to Syria via Homs, his bus is stopped by government forces. From his window he witnesses an incidence of brutality, which he tries to record on his cellphone. He’s seen, arrested, and imprisoned once more.

After he’s released, he contacts me again. Normally swaggering with bravado, Moustafa is now glancing skittishly over his shoulder every minute. He can’t sleep and is obviously drinking too much. He notes with agitation that an email message I’ve sent him has been opened already, before he got there. It’s the only one That’s been opened. This almost terminates his mission to get his story out. He insists that from now on I contact him only on his Turkish cellphone number, the only one he feels is safe.

One day on Facebook I’m asking him about the PKK and he’s telling me what he knows, when suddenly his tone changes from warm to icy.

Hey, you know I’m not so high educate, and I went to school just 10 years. And what you asked is about policy and my work is in industry?I have had a factory. If you ask me about employment here in those countries I can answer you very well.

Not educated? Moustafa is multilingual and extremely well-read. Even if he did drop out of school early, his autodidactic habits have effectively rendered him smarter than the average bear. And this is the first I’ve heard of a factory . . .

I suggest talking to his friends, but he now insists that they’re all simple, uneducated men like him (before, they were all writers and professionals). He then derails the topic to ask me if I know Bryan Adams. After this he breaks into a strange code in which he tries to tell me to talk to him tomorrow, that he will have something for me then.

Finally it gets through my thick skull that he’s acting, sending me covert messages warning me to avoid revealing anything to whomever might be spying on our conversation.

It strikes me that this may have been what he was doing before during earlier choleric episodes?putting me off because of some sign that our discussion was no longer private.

He suggests that the trauma of war is taking its toll on mental health in Kobany. Is this true or still part of the code?

Not just me have this illness?almost of my friends have it, I think It’s because of the weather. It’s turned from winter to spring. Some of my friends don’t sleep at home because of their illness. They had the same illness which I have now but me still sleeping in my home, thanks god. They are sleeping in hospital.

After several weeks the paranoid tenor of his conversation dissipates. Is this because the trauma of his last prison stay has diminished or because Assad’s tentacles are weakening their hold on cyberspace?

I have no way of knowing, but I’m glad to see Moustafa get his groove back. Against my protests he insists that I print his real name, and he tells me I can use his photo.

On Skype he gets an angry, insulting message from a female friend. It amuses him enough that he posts it as his mood message. When I ask him about it, he shrugs: We had a fight and she blocked me. But not completely. If we want to talk again, we know how to find each other.

(To be concluded next week.)