Raja Abdulrahim
Los Angeles Times

ANADAN, SYRIA: Ahlam sits hunched over, as if about to fold in on herself, talking about her courtship with her husband.

At first she was hesitant to accept his proposal because he was a rebel fighter. But as they talked and spent time together, she grew fond of him and they were married last summer. For the next eight months, he divided his time between home with his new bride and the battlefront.

Each time he went to the front lines, Ahlam, 23, would call frequently to make sure he was OK. One day in March, her mind was with him all day and she couldn’t focus on anything she was doing. She called him every hour. Finally, he answered.

“I told him, ‘Take care of yourself,’?” she said. “He said, ‘Forgive me if something happens.’?”

Shortly after they spoke, he was killed in combat.

“I was afraid he would die, and then look what happened,” she said quietly. “I would tell him not to go — that there is work to be done in the village. He would say, ‘I can’t; there is work at the front lines.’?”

Now Ahlam vows not to remarry until the fighting ends for fear of being widowed again.

She is like other young widows, many with pregnant bellies, who bitterly shrug off the suggestion of remarriage with a bleak, “I’ve learned my luck.”

“I don’t want the same thing to happen to me,” said Ahlam, whose two younger brothers are also rebel fighters. “I foresee that they’re all going to get killed. I don’t think many of them will return.”

Human rights groups estimate that widows number in the tens of thousands, and that thousands more whose husbands have disappeared are waiting for bad news.

At a time when the vicious civil warfare has destroyed so much in Syria — homes and schools, families and communities — there is a reticence to rebuild anything, including marriages, for fear it will be lost again.

The refusal to remarry collides with cultural norms in a country where marriage and motherhood dominate women’s lives and where girls as young as 12 begin receiving suitors.

It can also lead to financial strain at a time of soaring poverty. Support of a widowed woman, if she doesn’t have her own means, reverts to parents or male relatives, one reason some families pressure their daughters to remarry.

“If she doesn’t have kids, it’s not a bad thing for her to get remarried and re-establish her life,” Anadan resident Khadija Laila said as she carefully prepared the day’s dinner accompanied by her two daughters-in-law, one recently married to her son, a rebel spokesman.

“If she doesn’t have kids, she doesn’t have anything to amuse herself with. What else is she going to do?”

Some widows, after resisting pressure to get married for some time, have finally agreed.