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.
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.
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.
Over 1500 people in Syria were killed within minutes on Wednesday. Minutes.
I think the saddest thing about the chemical massacre in Syria is that we will all, eventually, move on. Probably soon, hopefully not, we will have another massacre on our hands that we will raise awareness for and address. But the lives lost will still be lost.
Think about it, at this very moment, people are being bombed on while we sit in the comfort of our own homes. To some degree, we’ve already moved on as we use Facebook, enjoy morning coffee, and go back to our lives as though nothing happened.
I don’t think the human mind is capable of comprehending tragedy. Think about your life, and all that you’ve lived through and still have yet to see. Multiply that by 1500. All that was lost within minutes on Wednesday. Now multiply that by ~100 times, thats all that has been lost in the past 2.5 years.
Worse, those numbers don’t include the millions who have PTSD, lost their homes, limbs, family members, hope, happiness, childhood, and everything they and their families have worked for all of their lives.
That’s the true meaning of massacre. That’s the true meaning of tragedy. That all that life was lost, all that life will never be the same, all that life never had a fair chance, and the consquences, as large as they are, escape us.