Syrian-American activists speak about the humanitarian situation in their war-torn country.
By IZZA JATALA
What started out as a mostly peaceful uprising against the Bashar Al-Assad Regime in Syria in 2011 has since turned into a violent civil war leading to a death toll reaching past 100,000 and over 2 million displaced citizens with thousands more fleeing every day.
These troubling statistics were highlighted during a talk given by Raghid Kadi, one of two Syrian activists invited to speak about Syria, a country involved in the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of the Cold War according to United Nation statements made by Antonio Guterres, the UN’s high commissioner for refugees.
“We should focus on humanitarian efforts. There may be war waging but we need to find a way to get civilians help so we have less civilian deaths, and less women and children dying,” said Suzanne Kawamleh, another guest speaker. She’s a pre-med student at Valparaiso University.
Kawahmleh and Kadi gave a talk on the current crisis in Syria to a room of about 40 people last Monday, Nov. 11, 7 p.m., at the University Grill.
They were invited by Hala Alkattan, an IUSB student and one of the organizers for the event, along with the Political Science Club and American Democracy Project.
As a Syrian-American, Alkattan said she wants to inform her fellow students and local community on the tragic situation in her home country.
“One cannot ignore the issue of belittling humanity and tearing away rights from the innocent. We must ask people to open their hearts and speak their minds for the Syrian people,” Alkattan said.
Kadi began the talk by giving a brief history of Syria starting in the late 1960s discussing how the Assad Regime came to power and leading up to the Arab Spring of 2011 and the current crisis in Syria today.
Kadi said pro-democracy protests erupted in March 2011 after the “arrest and torture of a group of teenagers who had painted revolutionary slogans on their school’s walls in the southern city of Daraa.”
A few of his PowerPoint slides displayed graphic images of some of the tortured boys.
“Every revolution begins with a spark,” Kadi said.
The first of the protests were met with the security forces of Assad, “which led to the loss of two civilians,” he said. “From there suppression accelerated exponentially, eventually leading to ‘Bloody August’ in 2012; the worst month we had. The regime sent security forces which lead to a series of massacres. We lost over 4,000 civilians in one month. They were killing people in the street. It was genocide.”
Kadi talked about a former Syrian soccer goalie, Abdul Baset Al-Sarout.
“What happened to him is really the story of the revolution.”
According to Kadi, Sarout went from an athlete with his soccer ball to a protestor with his mega phone to a fighter who carries a weapon, after some of his family was massacred in his hometown of Homs.
Kadi concluded by speaking about his organization SORIA, Syrian Organization for Relief and International Awareness Inc, which is aimed at providing relief for families affected by the conflict regardless of religious or political affiliations.
Kawahmleh spoke more about the humanitarian crisis facing Syria and the troubling conditions of the refugee camps.
“I’ve gone on multiple relief trips to Syria,” Kawahmleh said. “On my first trip the refugee camps flooded. It was one very cold winter on the boarder of Jordan and many of the refugees lost their shelters, which were basically flimsy tents, just blue plastic propped up, with nothing even covering the ground.”
She said the vast majority of the refugees at these camps are women and children because many of the men are off fighting or have been killed. She said many of them need serious medical attention for both mental and physical ailments.
Kawahmleh talked about how poorly some of the refugees were treated by neighboring soldiers at the camps. She told one story of a man badly beaten in front of his family for asking for water.
“Some rather go back to the bombs and snipers. At least there you had some dignity if you died, instead of living here with humiliation at the camps,” she said.
She showed pictures of the make shift tents in the camps she visited, and of the children and women “affected by the destruction and carnage they’ve witnessed.”
During the Q&A session afterward, the speakers were asked what could be done to resolve the conflict.
Kadi said he believes the U.S. should intervene, and that it would be a step in the right direction towards a resolution. Kawahmleh, however, remains uncertain of what can be done to resolve “this increasingly complex crisis.”
“This has turned into a proxy war with no end in sight and is now fueled by outer forces involved for their own interests. We’re stuck in the middle.”
Matt Kavanagh, IUSB student and vice president of the Student Government Association, attended the event and said he started paying attention to the crisis in Syria after the chemical weapons were used on the Syrian people.
“What stood out to me during the presentation was the lack of international support shown by NATO and the United States,” Kavanagh said. “Recent polls show that the American people do not want to enter into another war, including the Syrian conflict. However, I disagree… I believe that the United Stated can quickly end the bloodshed that’s happening in Syria and restore the country to its original peaceful state.”
Kawahmleh asked the audience to imagine the place they grew up or their hometown turning to rubble, “the streets and neighborhoods you walk through and played through as a child completely destroyed like scenes out of World War II or something.”
“Most people just want to get back to their lives,” Kawahmleh said. “They want to have their families be whole again, they want to go to school, they want have jobs, they want to move on. They don’t want to be stuck in this constant state of war all the time. They want their suffering to end. So yes, it may be a mess there politically, but there are things we can push for like an increased effort toward the humanitarian needs.”
Alkattan conclude the evening by saying we should all be concerned about what’s happening to the people in Syria.
“We can’t just let these innocent people die,” she said.
She said we have to do something even if it’s just speaking for the voiceless or providing humanitarian relief.
“This is a shared struggle for human rights.”