Heartbroken at destruction of her father’s homeland

CONFLICT... Maria Hanley

CONFLICT… Maria Hanley

TRYING to digest the stream of horrific images being beamed from war-torn Syria on a daily basis is not an easy task, especially so for Maria Hanley of Kesh, who has already lost three relations to the violence between the Assad regime and an assortment of anti-government rebels.

Maria, who lives with her husband and four children in Kesh and works as a piano and strings tutor, has spoken of the terror with which many of her family in Syria currently live, and her worries of the true motives of Islamic rebel groups who, she says, are becoming increasingly extreme.


Maria is no stranger to conflict. She grew up in the epicenter of the Lebanese Civil War in Beirut.

Her father hailed from Syria, while her Armenian mother was born in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo.

“My mother used to bring me to Syria during the summers to visit my cousins in Aleppo, who still live there in the midst of the current war,” she said.

Talking of the sheer contrast to modern-day Aleppo, Maria said: “Aleppo was a beautiful city: well lit up with busy streets, beautiful jewelry stores. It was very safe and it had electricity! I didn’t have electricity growing up in Beirut, so it was wonderful.”

Almost 12,000 people are now estimated to be dead in Aleppo.

Some of Maria’s relations have joined the mass exodus to neighbouring states. “From my father’s side, many have left the country, namely to Dubai and the Arab Gulf.

“Every time a new spate of killings is reported it makes me want to cry, seeing mothers and fathers losing their children and a beautiful country being ruined.”


Indeed, Maria has recently mourned the loss of family in a sectarian fuelled massacre near her father’s home village of Marmarita in Homs.

“My maiden name is Yaziji and Marmarita is the home of the Yazijis. It is part of a group of Christian villages known collectively as Wady el Nasara (the Valley of the Christians).

“Last Friday, an Islamic terrorist group called Jund el Sham, with links to Al-Qaida, surrounded one of these villages and opened fire on civilians and those protecting the area, killing 13 and injuring many more. Two of the dead were Yazijis.”

Maria said that Christians are mainly an apolitical group in Syria and while the government is happy for them to remain so, the rebels view anyone who does not actively oppose the government as enemies.

“Such an attack would not have happened prior to the Islamic rebellion breaking out.”

The experiences Maria had growing up in the Lebanon during war have helped her empathise with those currently facing violence.

“The fear of bullets, mortars, bombs and shells are still very fresh in my memory. It hurts knowing that a country that we grew up viewing as so peaceful and civilised has met the same fate.”

Maria concluded: “It’s easy to take peace for granted, even in Fermanagh. Here we have all the food we can eat, unlimited water and electricity, all things lacking in Syria at the minute.

“I’m thankful that I have a home in Fermanagh where I can raise my children in the Christian religion in freedom.”

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