Born to Fight

Syria's Conjoined Twins and Assad's War Machine

A woman carries a son while tending to the wounds of another son inside a field hospital after what activists said was shelling by forces of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Eastern Ghouta, Syria November 19, 2015. Bassam Khabieh / Reuters

In late August, Moaz and Nawraz, a pair of conjoined twins, died in Syria. To be sure, the odds were always stacked against the pair, who were joined at the chest and born in the world’s deadliest war zone. But they were quite healthy, nursing and living without special support. They had been safely transferred to Damascus, and had received offers of medical evacuation from the United States, various European countries, and Saudi Arabia—all expenses paid. Yet the government of President Bashar al-Assad declined the help and stopped all visits from their nursing mother. Five days later, they were announced dead at a little over one month old.

Conjoined twins are small miracles of survival. Identical twins joined in utero are conceived more commonly than we think, but most don’t make it to term. As a result, they constitute roughly one in 200,000 live births. Such twins who then live through their first two weeks have an excellent chance of long-term survival. Classified according to anatomy, most are joined at the chest or abdomen. Some share buttocks or genitals, even heads. Eng and Chang Bunker, the original “Siamese” twins born in Thailand in 1811, were attached slightly above the hip, with a fused liver and a single pair of arms. Many twins are successfully surgically separated, with the highest success rate for twins with separate hearts who are joined at the chest or abdomen, such as Moaz and Nawraz. Many more live conjoined lives, as did Eng and Chang, who moved to North Carolina, married two sisters, and shared professional success, sex lives, and sickness. They died together at the age of 63.

Moaz and Nawraz, 2016.
Moaz and Nawraz, 2016. Muneer al-Hashash
Moaz and Nawraz could have had such a life. They were born on July 23, 2016 in opposition-held eastern Ghouta, a suburban area near Damascus that is home to 400,000 people. Weighing a little over 12 pounds, they were delivered by elective Caesarian section. Mirvat, their mother, knew that she was expecting twins, but she had no idea that they’d be

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