Houssam Kousa, Istanbul, Turkey
Houssam's grandfather emigrated from Turkey to Syria 40 years ago and their family lived there without problems until the Syrian revolution started in 2011.
After the start of the revolution, we started getting targeted by the regime because of the Turkish government's position against them.
One day my uncle was going to work as usual and they stopped him at a checkpoint and asked for his papers. When they saw he was Turkish they took him away. The next day they called our family to tell us to collect his body. They'd done so many terrible things to his body, they'd slaughtered him. We were told not to let anyone else see his body but to have him buried immediately. His body was proof of all the barbaric crimes they were committing. Then they warned us not to go to his grave, but my dad insisted. He went and he took two Syrian friends with him. There was another checkpoint on their way and they asked for their papers. The Syrians gave their papers and were allowed to pass but when my dad gave his, they took him away.
That was in 2012. We tried every avenue, every route that might give us any clue as to what had happened to him. At the same time we were constantly harassed for being Turkish, they told us that all foreigners must stay at home and not leave their houses. We used to have an entire building that our family lived in, then suddenly there was an announcement that it must be evacuated and no-one could enter it because ‘terrorists' owned it.
I knew that it was time for my siblings and I to leave. I was 16 at the time. No-one wanted to talk to us anymore, no-one would help us. We were harassed and targeted everywhere we went, we couldn't even go to the supermarket. Soon after we left we heard the regime came to arrest me many times, they even came for my brother who was only 12. Our mother stayed and tried to look for my father. Some people tried to help her in return for money but all the information was false. She left, along with everyone else in our family, in 2015.
We didn't have any information about my dad for eight years. It was only when we found a lawyer to help us in 2020 that we were told he had died four days after he was taken. The lawyer showed us his body among the Caesar photos and I could see it was him. I think at least he died only a few days after they took him because he looked similar to when we last saw him.
When we heard the news we went into shock. We'd been told by so many sources for so many years that he was alive and well. We never once considered that we would receive news that he had died. For eight years all we did was wait for him to come back to us.
Once I saw the photos and was certain it was him I decided to file a lawsuit in the Turkish courts against the Syrian regime, against those who had done this to my father. I need to hold them accountable. I'm demanding my right to know where his body is so I can take it and bury him in Turkey. The way they bury those who've died in detention is horrible. They just put everyone who died that day into a huge hole, a mass grave. I need a proper place for him so that I can visit him like everyone else who has lost a loved one.
I'm doing everything I can but my case hasn't been given any attention at all. It is just buried amongst many others. But I need to keep fighting. There are so many who are too scared or have been silenced. So I need to, for them, for my father and everyone else who has been taken or who has lost someone they love. We will get there, however long it takes. In the end we will get there.