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Life Smells Sweet for Syrian in Kosovo

Syrian refugee Bekri Shishman now runs a successful perfume business in Prizren, but dreams of returning home once the war ends.

Bekri Shishman welcomes his clients in fluent Albanian in his perfume shop in city centre of Prizren. He started this small business three-and-a-half year ago when he left Syria.

The 48-year-old admits that he obtained his Albanian language skills long ago, through his family. “My mother is an Albanian from Gjakova and we always spoke in Albanian,” he said.

His father, a psychiatrist, studied in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and met Albanians there. After several visits to Kosovo he was introduced to Shishman’s mother. Also, Shishman met an Albanian woman from Prizren when he was visiting Kosovo. They have three boys.

Shishman says that he and his family felt forced to leave Syria because of the civil war between armed groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, as well as the jihadist militants from Islamic State, known as ISIS.

“I was born in Aleppo. When the war started, it became very bad. We waited one-and-half years but the situation was getting worse, so we left,” Shishman told BIRN.

He says he was especially worried about his sons because the Assad regime would have recruited them to the government army after they finished their university studies.

Back home, Shishman taught the Arabic language at school. He says he used to sell perfumes after his lectures finished.

Bekri and his son, Burhanudin | Photo by: BIRN

“Everyone in Syria used to have a second job. There is no other way to survive,” he said. He continued the same business in Prizren and is happy with how it is going.

Shishman shows a laptop and uploads the news in Arabic on the UN Security Council initiative to back a peace deal in Syria. “They said there could be something in six months but I doubt that talks will start soon,” he says.

He follows the news on the situation in his country every day. His sister is still in Aleppo and they maintain contact through the internet.

The news from Syria’s second biggest city is far from good.  “She tells me that there is electricity for only half-an-hour a day and the water supply works only one day in three weeks,” Shishman says.

He blames President Bashar Assad most for the outbreak of the civil war, which activists and the UN estimate has cost the lives of around 250,000 Syrians.

He believes Assad could easily have dealt with the anti-government protests when they erupted in March 2011.

He says the protesters demanded only the release of some teenagers who had been arrested and tortured and who sought more justice, freedom and equality.

Instead, Shishman notes, Assad’s security forces opened fire on the demonstrators who were growing in numbers.

“Assad was also releasing many prisoners to crush the demonstrators, too,” he says.

Shishman says most people fought only for more justice and he blames the government for the rise of ISIS. “ISIS is a product of al-Assad,” he said.

Bekri’s perfume shop “Golden Water” | Photo by: BIRN 

 

He claims that, for example, when ISIS took over the control of one town, Assad forces did not attack them – but did the opposite when Al-Nusra, a group opposed to ISIS, took over the same town.

Shishman says Russia has offered a good deal of help to Assad who has returned some important favours. He claims Assad refused to let gas pass through Syria from neighbouring Qatar, which aimed to sell the gas to Europe, on Russia’s demand.

He also insists that Muslims in Syria used to live peacefully with Christians, Kurds and many others.

For him, the war has little to do with Islam. “There was no Wahhabism or men with beards in Syria. We use to live well,” he maintains.

He says Kosovars are not joining ISIS for money but because they believe they are helping the cause of religion. “Maybe their purpose is good but what they are doing is really bad over there,” he says.

Shishman says women in Syria used to live a dignified life. “Our women used to party in weddings until the early morning hours, covered in gold to their elbows,” he recalls.

Meanwhile, Shishman is happy with his new life in Prizren. Two of his sons are at university there.

But he would still return to Syria if the war ended, not least because he left a house, two apartments, his father’s office and a warehouse there.  “I want to return to my country,” he concludes.