How war united us

Tareq Hadhad has been living in Canada since 2016 and successfully runs a chocolate factory there. It is called "Peace by Chocolate”. His family has been making chocolates and other specialties for several generations, but in 2012 the war destroyed their large headquarters in the Syrian capital Damascus. We spoke with Tareq Hadhad about war, loss and confidence.

Peace by Chocolate
Fotograf*in: Ahmed Zalabany on Unsplash

I guess you read the news about Ukraine and the war in Europe. Do you have thoughts on that?

I honestly feel heartbroken. It was really devastating to see people fleeing their homes and leaving everything behind, being stuck in traffic jam. To see them trying to leave their homeland that they were born in, that they lived in for their entire lives.
War doesn’t give you warning, it does not wait for you, it is not merciful. And I always said: War did not accomplish anything in Syria or Iraq or Afghanistan or during the World War II or before, or after it. War is the most heartbreaking event that can happen to anyone. And it’s the most aggressive kind of events that can happen to any human beings.

My prayers are with the people of Ukraine. I know that the war won’t accomplish anything for the invaders. And I know that people of Ukraine are resilient, are strong and they will certainly come out of this much stronger, but my prayers are for those who are yearning for peace around the world today and every day.


Do you know any Ukrainians?

I have many Ukrainian friends. They messaged me during the war in Syria, asking me if I can flee the city and go to Ukraine, telling me they were able to host my family.

Now I just texted them yesterday and asked them if there is anything we can do for them here in Canada. I’m very pleased to see the Canadian responses being very welcoming.


Does the current war in Ukraine make you think back to your own past, did you have flashbacks these last days?

Absolutely. You know, living in the war has given me these memories that I will never forget. I was one of the lucky ones actually that I did not really get affected much from the war. I did not suffer from PTSD, like many other friends and family members. But I have memories from the war, I always keep imagining how the world should be and could be much more beautiful, much more prosper without aggressive acts like launching a war to invade another sovereign country.


What do you remember from the war in Syria?

I remember many nights when the war started in Damascus, that was in 2012, in the middle of the summer. My family and I were sitting in our building. We lived in a building where my grandmother was on the first floor. We were on the second floor and my uncles and my aunts and everyone was in the building. Ten floors of my family members solely, it was really lovely. But when the war started in Damascus, the explosions started hitting in the middle of July 2012 and we started feeling the building shaking, we heard bombings and the neighborhoods soldiers were on the streets.

Tanks were destroying the buildings and soldiers were entering buildings, getting men and whoever was over eighteen years old outside of their apartment, outside of their houses, and shooting them in front of their kids and their families. I was just peaking through the curtain from my room at that time.

And then I told my family: We cannot stay. Everyone was so scared. Nobody knew what was happening. And we could hear the powerful explosions outside. We were rushing down the stairs, all my family members, because we lost electricity and were not able to use the elevator. And then we were hiding in the basement in a little tiny room that can barely fit.


How many people were there?

We were many, a lot of extra people were sitting on the laps of each other. We couldn’t even really sleep, because we couldn’t lay down in that room. There was no space. So we stayed there for five nights without electricity. We sat there with the bare minimums of necessities for living: water, food, and medications.

And so many times we run out of fresh air, we run out of oxygen. We were not able to breathe. On the sixth day there was a ceasefire, so we got out of the building and everyone left. And now my family is scattered over twentythree countries.


So war had an enormous effect on your family?

I think the most atrocious, the most aggressive hardship that anyone can live through is the disconnection from your loved ones and your family. This is really the hardest thing throughout living in a war.

So seeing people yesterday on the news, trying to flee their countries or being stuck at the border was horrible and I am especially sorry for everyone that lost connection with their family members. I really hope that all of them make it to a safe haven. Our doors here in Canada are open to support Ukrainians.

The war is connecting their journey to us. It’s just removing all the differences and brings all the similarities, right? We are always bonded by crisis more than anything else.


Crisis as a bond that brings us all together?

Yes, the pandemic for example has brought us all together much stronger than anything else. And now, I am seeing people having the same experiences as us, Syrians and Iraqis and Afghans and everyone and who suffered and is still suffering, because of someone empowered decided to make a decision that’s not going to affect him. No one who makes this decision joins the war –  they send people to war. They don’t join it. It is quite a hypocritic way of living for those political leaders.

But I appreciate, you know, living through times where we are brought together as human beings by our passion and our mission towards living a peaceful life, towards living a happy life. So that’s really how I connect to every Ukrainian trying to survive this. That’s how I connect to every person around the world struggling to make it to a safe place and rebuild their lives. But I also connect to people through resiliency and adaptability. You know, living through war can teach you many things. It can teach you the most powerful assets of a human being. You can just not imagine how powerful we are as human beings, and how much we can bring from that power to accommodate the new realities.


What was the most important thing that war has taught you?

The most important thing I learned was that we can only make it if we help each other. You become selfless during the war because you really want to be able to help those who did not make it or help those that were not as lucky as we were.

When the war started in Syria, I was really young and I could have done anything. You know, I could run, I could jump, I could escape. My grandmother was like seventy years old at the time, she couldn’t do any of that. I just felt at that time that my responsibility was to be there for others.


It’s impressive that you manage to have such a constructive perspective on war, since you yourself went through so much.

There was something that we used to say in Syria during the war: There is nothing good in war except its ending. So, we are always looking forward to the day and when the war ends. It did not yet end in Syria, only in parts of Syria.

It doesn’t take much for a war to start, right? You would never know that you can really become a victim of a war yourself. But it doesn’t take much at all. It can be a decision by a single leader. It can be an accumulation of events of a settlement, or a conflict. And so that’s why my mission since arriving in Canada is to make sure Canadians understand that aspect, you know, that war doesn’t take much. And that working through it and reconciliation are the only ways to prevent it.

Here you can read the interview in German.

Der Krieg schweißt uns zusammen


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Porträt Hannah Lesch
Hannah Lesch ist freie Journalistin und schreibt am liebsten über Lösungen. Dafür besuchte sie zum Beispiel Klimaaktivist:innen in Tansania, filmte Nacktmulle im Labor und sprach mit jungen und alten Menschen über den Tod. Sie studiert im Master Digitale Kommunikation an der HAW Hamburg.

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