Almost everyone can tell a story about a time they faced upheaval, destruction or pain in their lives. Luckily, for many of these people, it is only a story.
Encountering any of these forces in real life would be enough to change someone indefinitely. For Salt Lake Community College student Ali S. Aedan, the upheaval, destruction and pain he endured for more than a decade has changed him forever.
Before emigrating to the United States, Aedan, a journalism and media studies major, was a successful director for Baghdad TV, continuing his work for the station through the US military invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“After 2003, Iraq totally changed, it didn’t feel like my country anymore,” he says.
Aedan says the tipping point for Iraq was in 2005, when militias across the country had formed, and different sects of the Iraqi population were increasingly polarized and hostile toward each other.
Aedan and his family were from the same city as Saddam Hussein, but had no personal connections to the former president.
“Suddenly, if you were moderately related to the city, you were being attacked for seemingly no reason,” he says.
During this time, Aedan was living in Baghdad, working to give people without a voice an opportunity to speak up. Aedan’s passion kept him going.
“We were doing something meaningful,” he says. “Journalism was more than a job to me.”
Aedan’s career choice was not popular with certain groups, particularly the violent Al Qaeda. After reporting on the actions of their group, Al Qaeda began targeting Aedan.
It wasn’t uncommon for hostile groups like Al Qaeda to target journalists.
“In 2005, every month, I would delete a number from my phone because that person had been taken or killed,” Aedan says.
Eventually, Al Qaeda learned Aedan’s identity and started to target his family. One evening, Aedan was invited to dinner with his sister, but decided to stay at the station.
Had he gone home that night, Aedan says he wouldn’t be here today.
“They attacked our house and took my brother-in-law,” he says. “They tried to kill him, but realized it wasn’t me.”
After accidentally escaping a likely death, Al Qaeda attacked his station a month later.
“We had security outside of the station,” Aedan says.
A Humvee pulled up to his station. Al Qaeda terrorists spilled out of the truck, opening fire on the guards, killing three.
Once the fire fight subsided and the terrorists ran off, the Humvee exploded. It had been rigged with explosives, employing a “trojan horse” tactic.
The subsequent explosion killed three of Aedan’s coworkers, one of which was sitting next to him. A cement wall collapsed and crushed him to death.
The damage didn’t end there.
The terrorists also killed six people at the station and destroyed all the equipment. Al Qaeda had effectively eviscerated the station’s entire operation.
Aedan had become accustomed to this lifestyle.
“When we would go out into the field, we would need to jump over corpses,” says Aedan. “If you tried to move the bodies, they would explode.”
After the attack, Aedan retreated to his family home in Northern Iraq, where he stayed until Baghdad TV contacted him. They recruited 15 people from the original station to start operations again, but in another country. Aedan jumped at the chance to be involved and moved to Jordan almost immediately.
Jordan was the first time that Aedan found stability since college. He met his wife and had his two kids while he lived there, while working for the revitalized Baghdad TV.
He remained in Jordan for six years until he was given a chance through the United Nations to relocate to the US.
Aedan and his family started planning their move, and were approved for visas in 2012. They landed in Salt Lake City, and with the help of community centers and friends, they found themselves a permanent home.
Aedan recently returned to SLCC after having an off-and-on relationship with school since 2014. Last semester, he tackled five classes while working full time for Edward Life Science as a medical device assembler.
“I haven’t had someone in my entire career that is so devoted to learning and taking every opportunity given to him,” says Matt Merkel, a self-proclaimed “jack of all trades” for the communications department, and one of Aedan’s professors.
This praise doesn’t come lightly, as Merkel has taught at SLCC for almost 10 years, seeing thousands of students come and go from his classroom.
“That man has an amazing heart,” Merkel says. “It’s not just a passion, but a real sensitivity to humanity that can only be forged from living through some amazing things.”
Aedan manages to excel at SLCC while maintaining a full-time job and providing for his wife and two children at home. He claims that SLCC was the perfect fit for him.
“What I needed is here, it’s more hands on and I wanted to be with the times,” Aedan says.
Having become a legal citizen in 2018, Aedan is still shocked by the community in Utah.
“I really feel more part of the community here than I did there [in Iraq],” he says. “Now, I teach my children that this is their country, it’s where we belong.”
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