“For years, you only live for the moment. You do not think of the future and you do not think about the previous days,” he said, describing his years as a fighter. “I had to think how to make my living, how to raise my children. It was very hard to start thinking. It took four months before I spoke about architecture.”
When Turkey opened its universities to Syrian undergraduates to complete their degrees, he joined the final year in the architecture degree course.
“I didn’t remember anything,” he said.
His fellow students are 10 years younger than he is, and, he said, they know little about the Syrian revolution.
“It is hard to connect with them,” he went on. “They don’t know anything of my life.”
He avoids watching video footage from Syria, but has not ruled out returning to fight if circumstances were to change. Like other survivors, he describes restarting with smaller dreams.
“I do not have the big dream to have a free country,” he said, “just an aim to make a better life.”
Mr. Skeif said he was lost.
“There is no plan for my life,” he said. But then he rallies and talks of a new political project for Syrian youth. “I have a dream for girls like my daughters to have political awareness,” he said, “so they never have an Assad in the future.”
Dr. Khatib, 31, seems the most positive and confident of the survivors. He works for a relief organization, supplying medical relief to hospitals inside Syria and is planning with his wife to further his education.
“Now we think is a dead time,” he said. “So we thought we can use this time.”
But he is also devastatingly realistic about returning to Syria.
“Maybe my daughter will grow up and by the age of 20 will never have been to her country,” he said.