As the conflict continues to ravage Syria, families living under the harsh conditions of war seek to have a brighter future that comes with peace.
As the world marked International Day of Peace on Sept. 21, many Syrian families continued their struggle for survival in tents in the rural areas of Azaz in northern Syria. For Muhammad Ahmad, a father of six, peace would mean returning to his hometown. Since the beginning of the war, Ahmad has lost many relatives, friends, his home and car.
"We have nothing but our family," he said, adding that his only goal now is to provide his children with a bright future.
"The moment we left our house, there was no peace, freedom, security and future left for us. Peace will only mean something to us when we return home. We cannot speak about peace while we are far away from home," Ahmad told Anadolu Agency (AA).
He added that for most peace is still an "elusive dream" as the conflict entered its ninth year in March 2019.
Ahmad said his family moved from place to place before settling in the tent camp in Azaz.
The first time they were forced to move was after a rocket hit their house. "My son Ali got so scared [after the attack] that he lost his ability to speak for a long time."
Later, as the Assad regime moved closer to his hometown Safira, Ahmad and his family fled to al-Bab. They were forced to move again once Daesh took control of that region.
According to the U.N., there are 6.2 million people, including 2.5 million children, displaced within Syria, the biggest internally displaced population in the world.
"After a long struggle, I came to the northern parts of Syria. When we came here we had to start our lives from scratch," he said.
"I could not find a house, humanitarian aid organizations gave us a tent but this was not enough for my family. I bought another two tents with my own means," he added.
Speaking about the struggles his family went through during the time of displacement, Ahmad said despite the pain, he is grateful that his family is still together.
"Life passes, we get old. Our goal is a brighter future for our children. There is no peace for our children in these tents. Our children will only live in peace and will have a future when we return home," he said.
The 45-year-old worked in agriculture before he was forced to leave home.
"Even though it is not my profession, I started to work on construction sites here," he said, noting that he had to continue to provide for his family.
Hope for brighter future
His wife, Marwa said she is glad her husband is alive, being the breadwinner of the family who takes care of her and the children's needs.
"I have lost many relatives in this war," she said, adding the war has left deep wounds on her.
"For my children's future, this war needs to end," she said.
Speaking about her children, Marwa said her 10-year-old son Ali was the one most affected by the continuous displacement. Ali, for his part, said he does not remember a single day of peace.
"I don't know what peace means. My father always tells us stories about our house in Safira and our relatives and the neighborhood we lived in. I do not remember what environment we used to live in," he said. Ali said he only remembers moving from one place to another, adding that he would like to live in a house rather than tents, which get cold and muddy in winters.
"They say peace is beautiful," he said with a curious smile on his face.
Despite the war, Ali said he still dreams of becoming a teacher one day. "I want to take care of children, but mainly I want to help my father because he gets very tired," he said.
Syria is slowly emerging from a devastating civil war that began in 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict, according to the U.N.
Still, while there have been many leaving the country, there have also been some who have returned to Syria. More than 354,000 Syrian refugees have returned to their hometowns that were liberated from terrorist elements by Turkish military operations. The return of Syrian refugees has been made possible thanks to two Turkish operations: Operation Euphrates Shield and Operation Olive Branch. Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016 to clear provinces west of the Euphrates, such as Azaz, al-Bab and Jarabulus, from Daesh and PKK-affiliated People's Protection Units (YPG).
Operation Olive Branch, on the other hand, was launched in 2018 toward northwestern Afrin province, again to clear the region of terrorist elements.
Following the operations, Turkey has also been involved in efforts to rebuild the towns' infrastructure as well as health and educational institutions. Schools are being renovated and a hospital is being built.
The activities boosted the number of Syrians returning to their homeland from neighboring countries. Turkey has also spent more than $35 billion for the needs of refugees living in tent camps as well as those living outside the camps on their own so far.
The humanitarian aid efforts will continue in 368 centers in northwestern Afrin and Idlib and in 285 centers in the areas cleared through Operation Euphrates Shield.