War takes toll on weddings in Syria
Damascus - Ziad, a young man from the southern Syrian province of Deraa, was looking forward to the small ceremony he had planned for his wedding but the “big day” was not as he had expected. The ceremony was cancelled after a cousin of his bride went missing at a rebel checkpoint.
“After a three-month engagement period, I went with my father to my fiancée’s family to finalise the wedding preparations but we were surprised by their request not to hold any ceremony.
It turned out that a cousin had been kidnapped just a few days earlier,” Ziad said.
Syria’s gruesome civil war, now in its fifth year, has taken its toll on all aspects of life, including deep-rooted traditions that normally go with marriage preparations and ceremonies.
The war did not stop Syrians from marrying, although it has become a very expensive endeavour and has largely undermined wedding expectations and priorities.
Zeina, a newlywed from the embattled city of Homs, has been sharing a small apartment with her in-laws in rural Damascus. Her privacy with her husband is restricted to a 12-square-metre bedroom. “All my dreams in having a well-furnished and equipped apartment of my own have vanished,” she said. “My ‘dream house’ is now a small room with sponge mattresses laid on the floor.
“Nonetheless, I should not complain, there are many Syrians who cannot find a roof to sleep under. Many of my relatives have fled and are living in refugee camps in Lebanon and Turkey.”
Some Syrians insist on making their wedding a special day, though it is a pale replica of pre-war ceremonies. Wedding parties have become much more discreet, without any eccentricity and restricted to the families and close relatives of the bride and the groom.
Timing has also changed and ceremonies that used to go on until the early morning hours are reduced to a few hours in the afternoon, mainly before dusk, due to the security hurdles and risks of staying out late.
Majed, from the town of Jdeidet Artouz in rural Damascus, recalls the brief summer wedding ceremony of his cousin and his bride, who hails from Sahnaya, a small city 4 kilometres away.
“We tried as much as possible to respect traditions by holding the ceremony in a wedding hall but everything was over by seven in the evening, in order for the guests who came from Sahnaya to return home before sunset, because the road that crosses through Daraya is fraught with dangers and is the scene of almost daily military operations,” Majed explained.
Inflation, death or kidnapping, displacement of millions of families and soaring prices have forced couples to adjust wedding priorities. Idriss Suleiman from the Yarmouk Camp area of Damascus did not want to have any ceremony because of financial and logistical constraints.
“After our forced displacement from Yarmouk, my family and relatives were dispersed in different parts of Damascus, which made it difficult to gather them in one place,” Suleiman said. “I did not want to have a ceremony at all but my friends and relatives insisted on celebrating and paid the rent of the wedding hall, which they chose in a central location.”
In pre-conflict Syria, not everyone could afford a wedding ceremony in a pubic hall or a hotel. For couples with limited income, the celebration took place in the street just outside their new home, animated by special wedding bands.
“In Jaramana, streets and public squares were common places to celebrate weddings but such manifestations have been banned since the beginning of the war, out of fear from shelling or bomb explosions targeting crowds,” said Mohamad Ibrahim, who lives in the town south of Damascus.
Also those who could afford to have a proper wedding ceremony before the war are no longer capable of meeting the cost amid soaring prices of food and cloth. Celebrations that used to last for a week in certain instances are confined to a few hours or cancelled altogether. Money is saved for more important matters, such as the engagement ring, a roof and furniture.
“Having furniture has become a burden, especially when one is displaced and can only carry some cloth and valuable possessions such as money and gold,” Zeina said bitterly.
“But even the gold and jewellery that I had dreamed to wear on my wedding day, was reduced to a mere engagement band.”
While residents of Damascus could still have wedding ceremonies, their compatriots in Raqqa and other parts of Syrian territory falling under the dominion of the Islamic State (ISIS), marriage celebrations or manifestations are banned.
Ibrahim al-Hamid from Tel Hamam in rural Raqqa said his cousin received an ISIS “gift” of 20 lashes on his wedding day for seeking to celebrate his marriage.
“An ISIS member heard children singing in celebration and accused the groom’s family of bringing in girls to sing. The militants took away the groom to ISIS headquarters in the city of Slouk where they gave him 20 lashes,” Hamid said.
Even wedding convoys and offering drinks and food have been banned in ISIS areas on the grounds that it is “a waste of money and extravagance”.
Despite the devastating conflict and financial hardships, many couples insist on making their wedding a special day, though it is much less pompous than during peacetime, showing resilience and a resolve to go on with their lives normally as much as possible.