Syrian Civil War is Close to Home for Loudoun Businessman

Andy Ghuzlan is the epitome of the American “can do” spirit and work ethic.

He spends his day shuttling between his two restaurants—Andy’s Lovettsville and Andy’s Leesburg—and is contemplating opening a third dining enterprise—possibly a sports bar—in Lovettsville’s new town center. It’s a tempting possibility, but it has its downsides.

“It will keep me away from the family too much,” Ghuzlan said, acknowledging if he could find a good manager he might be willing to push forward with it.

Andy Ghuzlan owner of Andy's Restaurant in Leesburg poses for some photos in his restaurant.  (Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)
Andy Ghuzlan owner of Andy’s Restaurant in Leesburg poses for some photos in his restaurant. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now)

In a recent interview at his home near Lovettsville, Ghuzlan, his wife and his two children were surrounded by the trappings of the holiday. A handsomely decorated tree stood in the window, with colorfully wrapped Christmas presents stacked beneath it, where the family dog sniffed curiously to check out the contents.

Their thoughts, however, are with family members far away, among the refugees of the Syrian civil war.

Born in Syria 55 years ago as Anwar Ghuzlan, he has spent most of his life in this country. He came to America for his college education in 1981 at age 20. He left behind a huge network of relations, almost all of whom have since left Syria and are scattered around the world as a result of the war raging in the country.

It was a far different scene when Ghuzlan first came to the U.S. He took some classes at George Mason University, then got his degree in business and computer management from Northern Virginia Community College. In 1989, he became a U.S. citizen.

After working several different jobs, looking for business opportunities, he opened one restaurant, Bacchus in Leesburg. He later closed the restaurant and opened Andy’s Pizza in Leesburg, at 9E Catoctin Circle SW, in 1998.

Ghuzlan always knew his future life was in America.

“I’ve never wanted to be anywhere else than in the U.S.,” he said this weekend.

Close friends still call him Anwar, but for the past 35 years he’s been just plain Andy to most people.

He and Tanya Pederson, who operates a home-based chiropractic and massage business out of their home, married 10 years ago. The couple moved to the Lovettsville area in 2003, and it was not long before Ghuzlan opened Andy’s in the space previously used by Candelora’s Restaurant in 2007.

Ghuzlan regularly took trips home to see his large family. He has an enormous family by U.S. standards—10 siblings and eight half brothers and sisters—all of whom have several children. “I have more than 40 nieces and nephews,” he said proudly.

But those visits to family stopped abruptly five years ago.

The civil war, what Andy calls the “third world war,” destroyed his strong family. Andy’s numerous relatives are scattered far and wide from their native land—in Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., France and Norway, among other places. One sister still lives in Syria.

“It’s just death and more death,” Ghuzlan said.

Pederson recalled the daily life in Syria up to about five years ago. “Life was simple, everyone moved in and out of the house, having coffee, meeting friends, just living a normal life.”

When he was younger, “no one had cars, they lived on farms,” Ghuzlan recalled. It was not until relatively recently that the first car dealership arrived in the country; people began earning more and it became a more mobile society. Then came the civil unrest against President Bashar al Assad, and with it the “killing and death of innocent children,” Ghuzlan said.

He blames outside influences—from Libya and Saudi Arabia, the group known as Islamic State and other terrorists—for inflaming and expanding the conflict beyond just a civil war against Assad.

Ghuzlan is not a practicing Muslim, but it is his culture. While he is not political and does not take sides in the current hot-button issue raised by Donald Trump against Muslims, Ghuzlan said he hoped the current atmosphere will calm down. He said it was not fair to blame all Muslims for the terrorist attacks in the U.S.

In the Middle East, people of all faiths managed to live side by side in peace until the violence came, he said. “Christians, Muslims and Jews, the people can live together—it’s their leaders who don’t seem to be able to sit down and work things out,” he said, noting his own business partner is Jewish.

As Christmas is, above all, a time of family celebration, Ghuzlan’s and his wife’s thoughts turn to his widely flung relatives. He has done all he can to help various members of the family and other Syrian refugees, but the plight of one refugee—his 14-year-old nephew—hits particularly close to home.

Ghuzlan and Pederson have repeatedly tried to get him accepted as a legal immigrant to the U.S. after his father died of a heart attack, but so far without success. The nephew’s plight became particularly dire two weeks ago, when “he had to run for his life” to avoid being pulled off the street and forced to fight in the Syrian Army, Pederson said. His mother “literally pushed money into his hand and said, ‘Go.’”

Following a smuggler’s route, the boy escaped—first to Greece, then to Serbia, Austria and, finally, to safe haven in Germany.

“He’s all alone,” Pederson said. Luckily, Ghuzlan and his nephew have communicated through Facebook and Ghuzlan is able to support him financially. Ghuzlan and Pederson say they will do everything they can to help the teenage boy and to try to get him to the U.S. Meanwhile, Pederson encourages him to make a journal of his experiences and how he is surviving.

For Ghuzlan, he’s never wanted to return home to Syria, except on visits. “I was born there, but there’s nothing to go back to—it’s smashed.”

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