The Syrian Expatriate Condition

While the events in Syria may have gone unnoticed or ignored by the rest of the world, Syrian expatriates live and breathe the events going on in Syria every day. We follow the events almost religiously. And while nothing we experience outside of Syria is even near what Syrians inside Syria experience, the revolution has taken its own special toll on us, Syrian Expatriates.

I visited and lived in Syrian refugee camps in March 2013, a mostly safe area with little weaponry and fighting to be seen, but still so much terror. After my visit, I came back to the states with a new perspective on life, purpose, intense passion to work for the Syrian people, and something else. Night terrors. For nine months after my trip, I had night terrors, horrible dreams of losing my friends, being trapped under shelling, and so much more. As a result, I did not sleep properly for months. Going to sleep had become a form of torture for me.

Thankfully, the night terrors have stopped. But since, I have noticed another kind of PTSD. Something called Vicarious PTSD.
Now, I hear fireworks and immediately assume I am hearing bombs go off, I am jumpy, and very paranoid. I am not in Syria, I am not experiencing bombs falling over my head, no one is trying to kidnap me, and yet, that is the reality I perceive. And unfortunately, I am not the only one who has these kinds of experiences.

Living outside of Syria and watching the horrors that strike our brothers and sisters in Syria is worse than any horror film. It is gut-wrenching, brutal, painfaul, and it stretches the mind. Torture techniques none of us could have ever fathomed are now burned into our memories, and worse, we know people who have endured it.

But there is another deep, dark, taxing experience we endure- guilt. Guilt for everything and anything. Guilt for having a home. Guilt for having clothes. Guilt for having pocket change. Guilt for driving a car. Guilt for having a grocery store. Guilt for having a pleasant view outside our windows. Guilt. To stay so guilty is paralyzing, and to overcome guilt creates an internal sense of inhumanity. There is no winning.

And finally, we are so far away. We are far away from the heart and soul of our revolution- the people. We are not protesting with them. We are not struggling with them. We cannot see them in person. We cannot hold their hands. We can only exchange words. Words, while powerful, have lost their value in this revolution. And now, Syrian Expatriates have become a body missing a heart and soul.

This is the emotional roller coaster we have been riding for the last three years. But it isn’t just emotional anymore. A day in the park with a picnic will not fix it or make it better because Syria is still bleeding. We wake up thinking of Syria, sleep thinking of Syria, and fill our entire days with Syria. Syria never leaves our minds. While we physically live very far from the violence, mentally we are front and center. Our friends’ injuries are worse than our own. We not only feel it, but we watch helplessly 13,000 miles away unable to do anything but watch and type into our keyboards.

We are used to it now and we should not be. The world should not have let it go this far. But it did. The world did not just let Syrians go silently into the night, but Syrian Expatriates too. And the cost of this decision is still unknown.

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The Facts about Kassab

A special post from Filor Nigo regarding Kassab

First and foremost, my thoughts are with all those who have fled Kessab in the last few days. I wish everyone safety and hope for peace in Kessab and a safe return for all who have fled. That being said, the discussion around the events that have unfolded in Kessab has been disappointing at the least, and Armenia media and others who have encouraged the spread of false information have blown these unfortunate events into something that they simply are not.

This is not a “continuation of the Genocide”, nor is it an evil Turkish plot to attack an Armenian town. This pervasive idea that whatever happens to Armenians in Syria (as part of Syria’s larger conflict) is in any way tied to the Genocide is pathetic. It is nothing but a weak and dis-empowering narrative pushed by those who have absolutely no critical thinking capacity. No, Turkish foreign policy is not dictated by a few thousand Armenians in Syria. Turkey’s position towards the Syrian conflict is clear, and has nothing to do with Armenians. Yes, the rebels may have used Turkey as their base as they have been doing for years, in the same way militants who entered Iraq used Syria as their base.

The rebel takeover of Kessab was not a targeting of Armenians. Contrary to what the flashy Asbarez headlines will have you believe, the rebels didn’t come in to slaughter Armenians and destroy their churches. Kessab is a strategically important point in this military conflict. If it is some reason unclear to some, Syria is engulfed in war and Armenians in Syria cannot honestly believe that these events would not affect them. Kessab was the last point on the Turkish border under regime control, and it paves the way to the coast.

And no, Armenians were not slaughtered, and there is absolutely no evidence that churches have been destroyed. Armenians were able to safely evacuate. We also have footage of churches after the rebel takeover, nothing is desecrated or destroyed.

For those calling to support Assad and for the Syrian Army to take Kessab, I have news for you. Assad is not the protector of Armenians. I am surprised that even after the Syrian army deserted Armenians multiple times in Aleppo, some still believe the government would sacrifice their interests to protect the Armenians and come to their rescue. And no they will not come to Armenians rescue in Kessab either. It is likely that Kessab will soon be shelled by the government.

Lets also not complain that the world is not talking about a thousand Armenians fleeing Kessab. The events in Kessab have been reported in several media outlets. And relative to everything else happening in Syria, with over 150,000 dead and over 2 million refugees, the evacuation of less than a thousand people from one town to another (while horrible and unfortunate) is not of the same scale of suffering. The Armenian community, relative to Syrians in general, are fortunate to have not faced the barrel bombs, the MIG’s, or the refugee camps.

Again, lets all hope for peace to be restored to Kessab and for the safe return of its inhabitants. Lets work to get aid to those who have evacuated. But lets also put things into perspective and not outrageously frame this as the “continuation of the Genocide”.

 

Rebels inside Armenian Churches in Kessab

 

Rebels speaking with elderly Armenian civilians in Kessab

 

Churches in Kessab under rebel control

 

Kessab after rebel takeover

سيف كسب 3

 

Orient TV Report on Kessab

http://time.com/40378/syria-kessab-christians/

The Scream

A young girl screamed
But no one heard
To her then, an idea occurred

From that day forward, she would scream into a box
She would save her screams and keep them hidden away, locked
Every time she was frightened, scared, angry, or sad,
The box was her haven
She was planning something mad

She was saving what she called, The Scream
And when she let it out
It was going to be loud,
It was going to be mean

Into that box for twenty years she yelled and screamed
Until the box began bursting at the seams

To the sight of Syria
She let it out
A scream so loud
The whole world heard it, no doubt

But In one ear and out the other it went
Not a tear shed
Not a startled face
The Scream only came and went

The Scream so loud
Only on her, now, deaf ears did the scream resound
The world fell silent yet again
The Scream wasted
Not on deaf, but heartless men

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Free Yourself for a Free Syria

This post is pretty long overdue, but better late than never.

Ever hear the saying, “Change comes from within”?
I’m pretty sure it was meant to mean something along the lines of, changes you make, come from within you, not from external factors. But, I think it is really applicable to the Syrian revolution, hence my title.

I know many super awesome Syrians who love the revolution, live it and breathe it day and night. And whether due to the pain of watching what is going on within the country, or just because of personal inhibition, they seem to have become inactive and somewhat oppressed. I can attest to that effect, as I wrote about it on this very blog. Sometimes, it is honestly so discouraging to see what is going on in Syria, that you just give up.

But being “free” for a free Syria is one of the most important things we must do to attain a free Syria. We can’t be afraid to speak, we can’t be afraid to take risks, we really can’t be afraid of anything if we want to do something great. And this change, this removal of inhibitions, must come from within, must come from within our community. Not just the Syrian community, and not just for the Syrian cause. But from every human, for every humanitarian and human rights cause. We can’t have a free country, or be a free people, until we we free ourselves from whatever it is that holds us back. That means taking risks, doing what you thought you’d never do, and standing up for what you believe in even when everyone is standing against you.

The Syrian people stood up against a a regime that oppressed them, destroyed their education system and livelihoods for over forty years. Despite their oppression and fear, they stood up, they spoke out, they took a risk. They ended up doing something greater than they ever thought they would do. They put Syria on the map, people now know WHAT Syria is, the international community has their eyes on a country smaller than the state of Florida. Greatest of all, these brave men, women, and children are not just standing against their oppressive government, but standing against a silent international community that allows for the perpetuation of oppressive governments for their own gain. Thats freakin’ HUGE!

Fear did not stop Ali Ferzat, Ibrahim Qashoush, Malek Jandali, Danny Abdul Dayem, the guys of Kafranbel,  and other, even after they faced struggle and threats to their lives. They continue on, they continue to speak out, or, as in the case of Qashoush, they spoke out until the day they died. They are free and they do not let anything stop them from doing what they want to do.

Malala stood up against the Taliban, knowing that she was a target. She was shot in the head and almost lost her life standing up for what she believed in. Today, Malala is alive, sixteen, touring the United States, meeting with the Barack Obama, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She continues to spread her message of the importance of education, and is even working to raise 500 million dollars for the education of Syrian children.

These people had a vision and freed themselves from their own inhibitions to stand up for what they believed in. Malala freed herself from fear of the Taliban so children can have their right to education, Syrians freed themselves from fear of the Assad regime to stand up to an oppressive regime and call for a new world order. They’ve faced fear, they’ve faced struggle, they’ve faced challenges, but they overcome, persevered, and continued on.

Everyone who believes in a cause should do the same. Everyone who believes in Syria should do the same thing. Free yourself for a Free Syria. Host a protest, raise your voice, educate others, do whatever you want. Just don’t be silent, don’t be scared, don’t be discouraged, and never never never give up. Because change truly does come from within. In order to change your community, you must change yourself, and in order to change the state of our country, we must change the way we think, act, and talk about freedom. To have a free Syria, we must be free, we must stay free, and we must operate under the notion that we are already free. 

Free yourself for a Free Syria.

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My thoughts on Assad’s Interview with CBS’ Charlie Rose

I watched Assad’s 9/9/2013 interview with Charlie Rose and I noticed a few inconsistencies between Assad’s actions and words. I point them out below. The link to the video is below, if you would like to watch the video before you read it, please do so.

1. Assad was remarkably disrespectful to Charlie Rose, Obama, the American government, and the American people. He said Obama did not know what he was talking about and only operating on claims, that US intelligence has no way of collecting the proof they need to make their claims, and that Obama’s red line is something subjective and that what Assad does in Syria is not his business. He insults the American people by thinking that we cannot see through his rhetoric and by insulting our government and using 9/11 as a way to make us fear intervention in Syria. He also insults the Armed Forces by saying that any attack the US does will not be significant and if done, will only support AlQaeda.

I just want to say, Assad, if you think the American people fear anything, you don’t know who we are. And if you think that we do not have the appropriate intelligence to know the consequnces of our actions and who our strikes would support, you are deluded. We do not fear, we do not back down, and we do not take threats or insults.

2. Assad was inconsistent. First, he acknowledges that he did bomb Ghouta with missiles only. But he also said that his government is against WMDs and that all killing is a crime no matter how it is done. So then why did the regime choose to bomb a civilian suburb?

3. Assad also says that there is no evidence that chemical weapons were used in the area at all. So then why are you blaming it on the rebels?

4. The Assad says that the rebels may have had the chemical weapons, and during shelling, the stockpile was bombed and exploded. But he also says that only the Syrian Army knows what happens in the country because they are physically there. Okay, so why is your intel of what is going on in your own country so poor that you did not know they were there? And why are you STILL UNABLE to give a report about what happened?

5. Assad later claims that if he had no public support from Syrians the country would degrade and his presence would no longer be feasible. Well Assad, the country IS degarding and you are only there because of Russian and Iranian support.

6. Then, he says that outside support would not alone be able to keep him in power, BUT then he acknowledges that puppet governments exist, so why isn’t he a puppet government? Assad does acknowledge that he does get political support from Iran and Russia. Assad also fails to acknowledge the terrorist tactics that can be used to force a people into submission, thats what a dictatorship thrives on. He claims that this maintenance of power is due to popular support and that no country has helped him keep his position. However, I would say that political support is a way to keep a ruler in power. I would also say that terrorist tactics DO cause individuals to stay quiet.

7. When asked whether or not the war is sectarian, Assad flat out says no. However, if that is the case, when why has Assad previously discussed protecting the interests of the minorities, meaning, why does he specifically cite them? Why has Assad claimed that it is him who protected the minorities in the country? Why does Assad work with the terrorist group Hezbollah that blatantly uses religion as an excuse to even exist? Based on these facts, it would seem that Assad cites the minorities to scare them into supporting him by making them believe that they will be at risk without him in power. But how can that be the case if he works with groups like Hezbollah whose entire identity is based on religious identity?

8. Assad says that he will not accept or deny any fact about Syria’s possession of chemical weapons. Yet, he has accepted the Russian proposal to give the chemical weapons back to Russia. Also, if he had nothing to hide, why doesn’t he simply refute the claim especially when the international community is getting ready to bomb?

9. When discussing the 1982 Hama massacre, Assad says that external rebel groups should be dealt with brutally and therefore his father’s actions were justified. However, Assad forgets that the group that rose in 1982 was the Syrian brotherhood, meaning, it was a group of Syrian people who wanted government reform.

10. Finally, Assad says that his government is strongly opposed to using weapons of mass destruction and that killing, even one person, is a crime. So then why has Assad used SCUD missiles on multiple accounts? Why has Assad bombed civilian areas? Why have massacres like the Haloua and Banias massacre occurred?

11. Assad says that there is no such thing as a soft war and that government opposition is terrorism, but he never acknwledges that internal opposition exists, and when he does, he does not say how he addresses it.

So there you have it folks. Assad belittled Obama and US government intelligence, was inconsistent, justified his father’s actions in Hama, and made claims that he cannot support given his inability to properly collect information on the ground, as noted by his inability to provide an answer to the question of who committed the chemical weapons attack, even after the UN was able to collect samples that verified that Sarin gas was actually used. All of this, with the claim that he is “defending” his country. But when, just when, is this what defending your country looks like?

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And of course, you can watch it for yourself here:http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50154704n

Freedom, Oppression, and Experiencing both Simultaneously

Most people would consider me an “activst”. So far, I have raised over 150,000 dollars in aid, shipped 1000 pounds of medical supplies to Syria, raise awareness, and other things.

However, I used to be a runner. And while I am registered for a half marathon, training with a group, and even ran today, I no longer consider myself a runner.

I first started running to feel free. I would run and run and run, no matter the pain, weather, or how tired I was. I ran because when I did, I felt free. Running free made me an awesome runner because I did it with passion and love, passion and love for what I called freedom.

Then, the Syrian revolution happened and I became an activist. There are time where I’ve gone with so little sleep that I’ve started hallucinating, I’ve lost four pounds in a week because of worrying, I’ve cried countless times just wanting to give up, I’ve watched a country fall apart as the rest of the world remained silent, I’ve spoken to people who don’t even know what Syria is, I’ve spoken to people who think Syria is Afghanistan, I’ve yelled, I’ve been angry, I’ve hated, but most of all, I’ve lost my freedom.

You see, my ability to run isn’t remarkably dependent on my fitness level, it is more dependent on my ability to free myself and just run. Now, I am a terrible runner, and I can’t do that anymore. I am no longer free.

I am constantly checking my phone, computer, and email. When I’m not doing that, I am thinking about all of my Syria projects. Every possible action I can do in my day has been consumed by Syria. I think about Syria when I wake up, eat, listen to music, drive my car, visit my parents, watch TV, and when I run. I am constantly thinking about the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.

Oppression is defined as, “prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or control”, and as, “mental pressure or distress”. While I am not in a war zone under constant shelling, thankfully, knowing that there are people dying, starving, being raped, tortured, and shot as we speak causes my great distress. To know that no matter what I do, I will never be able to take away the pain and suffering the Syrian people have felt greatly distresses me. To know there are child amputees who will likely never get a prosthetic gives my great distress. These are things I think about constantly, and so does every Syrian Expatriate.

When the city was Qusayr was lost to Hezbollah, I cried. I didn’t just cry, I blamed myself for it. At some points in the revolution, I was so desperate for a solution that I began to fantacize being kidnapped by the Syrian regime knowing that this would result in me being tortured, raped, and many other terrible things. But I didn’t care. I was so desperate for anything that I thought, “If I were kidnapped as an American, maybe they would speak out, maybe they would come and save the Syrian people”. I was willing to make that sacrifice if it meant that the people of Syria would be saved. But I am also 21 years old. Thoughts like these don’t come to 21 year olds. 21 year olds are supposed to enjoy every second of life, I work and worry every second of mine.

The Syrian people, and non-Syrians who also feel strongly about the revolution, live and breathe the fight for freedom. We have internalized the revolution so much so, that a gain for the Syrian people, feels like a gain for us. A loss for the Syrian people feels like a loss for us. We feel it, we think about it, and yet, anything we do to help is only a drop in the bucket.

We live in a free country where we are free to do whatever we want. So, we have freedom. But, we also live a life of constant worry, sadness, anger, frustration, heartache, and, worst of all, helplessness, held hostage by a regime that is given de facto permission to destroy an entire people and country. You can ask any Syrian if they have sacrificed since the revolution has started, and while they can give you varying monetary amounts, they can all tell you they’ve lost their lives as they knew them before. They will also tell you that they will likely never be able to go back. Because they have seen so much that life will just never be the same. You can’t just see 1000 dead children and go about your life like nothing has changed. And after the war, there is rebuilding, and we will all be there to rebuild. Syria will take up the rest of our lives, and we accept. We want to help a people who have made us who we are today, who have empowered us, who have been so patient while the world has silently watch them suffer and die.

Mentally, we are tired, frustrated, alienated, and disillusioned. So while we live in a free country, we are oppressed by a regime and a crisis happening 11,000 miles away. Every Syrian suffers through this. Every Syrian Expatriate experiences freedom and opression at the same time.

International Intervention and International Indecision

With the United States leading the way for an offense against Syria, a lot needs to be said. First, the facts:

1. This is will be an international effort, not just an American effort

2. The strikes are intended to be limited

3. The strikes will be happening due to the use of chemical weapons

4. There are over 100,000 dead, 6 million displaced, 1 million child refugees, and over 11 billion dollars in infrastructural damage, and 3 generations of people likely have some form of PTSD.

That said, why now, and what now, are we really intervening for? And if Assad has caused all of this damage, why didn’t anyone get involved earlier? Excellent questions. Unfortunately, I am not writing to provide the answers. I am writing to discuss crime, the crimes of Assad and the crimes of the world.

First, using chemical weapons is a war crime and violates international law. However, killing people is also a crime, and there are over 100,000 dead. So what does that mean? Well, it means that Assad is a war criminal who has committed crimes against humanity due to an uncessary war he started. Not only is Assad a war criminal, he is a war criminal who works with Hezbollah, a terrorist organization, and Iran, a country with a crazy wacky government, and not good wacky. Assad is also being propped up by Russia who blocks any UN Security Council measure that would affect Syria in any way.

On the other side of the same token, the US has not attempted all of its options, England backed down, and Obama is still trying to figure out whether or not the offense should take place anyway.

So, where is the crime?

Well, the crime comes from all sides unfortunately. Assad is killing- that’s a crime. Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah are helping Assad by providing munitions, troops, and funding, blocking anything that would allow for the violence to stop, and threatening any parties that try to act against them, this would be the United States.

But how is the rest of the world guilty? Well, the rest of the world has let all of this happen for the last two and a half years, and it isn’t because they were not aware of the situation. The White House and others have provided condemnations left and right, but has never chosen to act. So the US and other powers are guilty of 1. Watching everything happen and doing nothing. 2. Having the power to do so, and refusing to act anyway.

But this isn’t the biggest crime. The biggest crime these powers can commit is getting involved in the conflict and not removing Assad from power. The White House has written enough condemnations to know that Assad isn’t the best leader there is. But, if the world responds with punitive attacks and nothing more, they will be essentially giving Assad permission to kill with everything except chemical weapons. Well, 1600 people died from chemical weapons, but 100,000+ have died by other means. 

This means that if the world gets involved and allows Assad to stay in power after these punitive strikes, he will be more empowered to kill however be pleases, and most likely continue to use chemical weapons- but just be sneaky about it.

It is a crime for us to finally respond to Syria, but not do enough to truly give the Syrian people peace. It will also be a shame.

Syria is going to be here no matter what, even if every Syrian in Syria is killed. The land will still be there, the rubble from the conflict will still be there, and the memory will still be there. So now, we should ask ourselves, do you want to look back and know that we have done everything in our power to guaranteee the freedom and safety of a people, or do we want to look back at a country that has become a graveyard?

The question is yours.

We will never truly know the Syrian people if we abandon them with a death sentence. Image