Badass Woman Of The Week: Noor

There are 19.5 million refugees on the planet. Nearly 4.2 million are Syrian and 1.9 of them are living in Turkey. This is a story of 1 brave young woman named Noor, as reported by Refinery 29. 

Noor is a Syrian refugee. She has been living in Turkey for the past two years.

5 years ago Noor was inspired, with the rest of the nation, by images of a 26-year-old Tunisian vegetable seller, Mohamed Bouazizi, setting himself on fire in protest of the generations-long authoritarian rule. So many Arabic countries are still ruled by leaders who inherit their leadership by blood, and not just Arab nations, but everyone was frustrated and ready to rise up.

In 2011, popular movements made up of students like Noor were toppling the region’s longest-standing leaders, from Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia to Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Syrians including Noor were hopeful that Syria was next and that the throne of President Bashar al-Assad's, whose family have ruled for the past 40 years, would be toppled. When the uprising hit her hometown of Aleppo in April, Noor took the streets with her fellow classmates and protested.

"It was the first time in my life I felt I could say anything I wanted,” Noor says. “As girls, we felt so good. In our culture, girls aren’t to raise their voices. In the protests, we were shouting.”

By May, the military put a frightening end the the protests and when it became too risky to take to the streets, Noor and her classmates moved underground. The Free Syrian Army had taken over parts of Aleppo and Assad’s forces responded by cutting off funding for city institutions, including schools, to put pressure on the people.

“We felt responsible for starting the movement, so we had to do something for the children inside the city of Aleppo, for their education, and for the teachers whose salaries were cut,” 

“We managed to pay the teachers, and we also worked for the children’s psychological support. We created activities for them, using whatever would distract them from the bombings.”

     Refinery 29

Noor helped organize an exhibit of the children’s artwork which included scenes of violence, bombings, and the flag of the Free Syrian Army. Then, on September 14, 2013, soldiers raided her house, seized her laptop with the children’s drawings on it, and arrested Noor along with her father.

Nor spent 50 days in prison in a 10x11 foot cell that housed up to 30 people. At least 20 of those days she spent staring silently at the wall. During her imprisonment, she was interrogated every day and forced to sign false statements admitting she was terrorist.

“So many times I wished I were dead, only so I don’t have to be there. The only thing that kept me alive is the wish that my mom could see me again,” Noor says. When Noor was arrested, her mother, kitchen knife in hand, told the soldiers that she would kill herself if they took her daughter. Noor promised her mother she would be back.

Then one night, she and other prisoners were ordered to board a bus who took them to the Lebanese border as part of a prisoner swap. Those, which included Noor, who were not exchanged were released on the streets of Damascus in the middle of the night.

Noor knew at that point she would have to leave her hometown for good, but not before seeing her mother again. She made her way back to Aleppo to see her parents, then fled Syria with her brother.

Noor used a friend’s passport to cross into Turkey, and her brother made his way over barbed wire fences with the help of smugglers. They eventually settled in Gaziantep along with their parents who came to join them. Today, she works with an international aid organization, coordinating supplies of water, food and health kits for people still living in Syria. Her work, although from afar, makes her feel she is supporting Free Syria.

“I don’t want to lose what I worked for, regardless of the reason. A few weeks ago, my family was suggesting to me that I get engaged to a man who lives in Denmark,” Noor says. “But I said no...Maybe my life would be better off in Denmark, as a refugee with a salary, but I don’t want to leave everything behind me and go. I want to be able to work for Syria, no matter what the job is, as long as it has to do with the Syrian people inside.”

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