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Syrian Doctor Reflects On Life After Leaving Aleppo


All this week, we've been looking back on what was the deadliest year for migrants and refugees since World War II. More than 7,000 died or went missing worldwide, and that includes many who were forced from their homes in Syria. Rami Kalazi, a neurosurgeon from Aleppo, got out with his life. When we spoke last spring, he had just dodged an airstrike near his hospital and found out that his friend, a pediatrician, had died in another attack on a hospital nearby. We recently checked back in with Dr. Kalazi, who is now in Turkey. But just because he has fled to safety, his personal losses have not stopped.

RAMI KALAZI: I have lost three of my colleagues, and there were some patients.

GREENE: And who were your colleagues?

KALAZI: A maintenance worker and one nurse - a male nurse.

GREENE: Well, I'm so sorry that they've lost them.

KALAZI: Thank you. Thanks for your emotions.

GREENE: Kalazi's colleagues were killed when the hospital where he had been working was attacked four times in three days. He says Syrian and Russian forces took over what was left of that building because it was near the battlefront.

But you and your family are - everyone is safe? You're in Turkey now.

KALAZI: Yes. Actually, I worked in Aleppo until the first of May. Then I went to on my normal vacation, actually, because we were - we used to work in shifts. We were only two neurosurgeons in Aleppo city. After I went out of Aleppo, it was besieged, so I couldn't come back to Aleppo.

GREENE: How difficult was that to not be able to get back there?

KALAZI: It was really very difficult because - emotionally, it's very difficult because you will be worried every second of every minute because of your friends, your colleagues. And, actually, it has completely changed my life because I planned my life to be working in this hospital constantly. But everything changed in a moment.

GREENE: It sounds like you now have a new job in Turkey, and it's not practicing medicine, is that right?

KALAZI: Unfortunately, yes.

GREENE: Dr. Kalazi is now doing administrative work for an NGO. He's living in Gaziantep, a city near the Syrian border where many, many refugees have gone.

What is life like there right now?

KALAZI: There is about, I think, 400,000 at least of Syrians, so they're trying to accommodate with the new society. And actually, the new society is so nice. They are so gentle and generous. But it is - it's still too hard to be away from your home.

GREENE: Can you just help our listeners understand this moment for someone who knows the city so well? I think our listeners hear the name Aleppo so often, but it's very difficult to understand the place and what you're going through.

KALAZI: Just imagine if your home city, where you used to live and you have many of your friends, relatives, memories, just in some few days was completely destroyed and controlled by forces. And you are not able to go back to your lovely city, to your house, to your relatives. How hard should that be?

GREENE: Are you relieved that you and your family were able to get out when you did?

KALAZI: For me and my family, we feel, like, a conflict of feelings because we thank God that we are safe, but at the same time, we sometimes blame ourselves that we should go through the same experience to be beside our colleagues and friends, to be evacuated to unknown place and to know exactly what were they suffering from.

GREENE: Dr. Kalazi, all the best to you and your family. And thank you, as always, for taking the time to talk to us.

KALAZI: Thanks a lot. It's my duty. And thanks a lot, as usual, that you are trying to convey the real image and the whole image to the whole of the world. Thanks a lot.

GREENE: Dr. Rami Kalazi is a neurosurgeon from Aleppo. The hospital where he worked has been destroyed. He and his family are safe. He spoke to us from Gaziantep, Turkey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.