In Syria, there is an ancient story behind every rock and tree. This is the place that gave the world the first alphabet, the first plow. This is the place where a woman, Queen Zenobia, led a revolution against the Roman Empire. A visitor would fall in love with everything Syria represents and never wish to leave, and yet today its residents pray desperately, hopelessly for escape.
I remember my favorite spot in the Old City in Damascus, the streets around Ummyad Mosque. My friends and I wore out our shoes by walking the stony narrow roads, inhaling the scent of the nearby spice market mingled with the fragrance of jasmine. In Syria, each house nurtures a jasmine bush, its white flowers clinging and stretching across stone walls. But all the jasmine in the country cannot hide the smell nor the color of bloodshed.
Like many, I left my home country in search of opportunity before the revolution began. As a member of the persecuted Kurdish minority, I could not get a job because I did not have a scholarship from the Syrian government, a relative who was an official, or the money to pay for my ambitions. I left for the United Arab Emirates with grief and anger in my heart, afraid for my loved ones who stayed behind and who would have to face the hardships of continued life under the regime.
Since the Revolution started in March 2011, the Syrian diaspora, of which I am a member, has been tormented by the guilt of not standing with our people, but also by the realization that we are in a unique position to give voice to our people’s struggle for freedom, dignity, and justice. As time passes, the scale of the savage massacres grows and with it the despair and grief that lives in the hearts of Syrians who live abroad.
I have developed a habit since my people revolted. I cannot go one hour without picking up my smart phone and checking the news from my country. At 3am faint lights come through my window and blur the darkness. My phone glows as I search the headlines with eyes half open.
On March 11, I remember my horror as I went through my hourly ritual and learned of the Karm el-Zaytoun Massacre in Homs. My phone beamed the images of five savagely slaughtered children, their colorful clothes wet from fear, a baby’s rattle lying motionless beside its slain friend. Again this May, I learned of the Houla Massacre, of a mother shot dead with her three children. She was trying to protect her babies from the beasts of the night.
Assad supporters say children must be killed because they must prevent them from avenging the deaths of their parents in the future. These murders are not self-defense. They are not acts of fear. These are not the actions of terrorists or armed gangs. This is called extermination.
How can a human being be so merciless to slaughter a child, to do this over and over again to many children? What kind of being can ignore the screams of a baby? Is there joy in the cries of a powerless, dying child? To think that such beings, such killing machines lived and walked among us. To think that they are Syrians like us, humans who think and feel.
When the Revolution started some 18 months ago, massacres like the above took place in Deraa South Syria. A civil and peaceful movement against Assad armed forces erupted across the entire country. Syrians sang and danced in the streets to make their disapproval known. To face the growing numbers of protestors, the Syrian regime took out heavy artillery and used it against its own people.
On the 14th of June 2012, Amnesty International issued a report providing evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes that are widespread and systematic. These crimes are part of the Syrian government’s policy “to exact revenge against communities suspected of supporting the opposition and to intimidate people into submission.” Amnesty International adds that the international community must make a decisive act. The UN issued a statement saying about 1.5 million Syrians need aid. Many will face famine if the Syrian regime continues to block food and water and to set fire to local crops.
Every day an estimated 120 Syrians are killed. Many more are injured, missing, detained, and displaced.
Until now, the international community has not admitted that there is a revolution in Syria. Instead, they call it a crisis, a conflict. This is a forgery of people’s demands for their basic human rights. To call what Syrians are facing by any other name only allows the international community to escape the responsibility of protecting civilians. In some ways, these erroneous definitions give an excuse to Assad to erase his opponents—thousands of peaceful Syrians. Describing the situation in Syria as a fight between the regime and groups of armed opposition leaders is a dwarfing of Syria’s aspirations for freedom. And it is an easy excuse for the international community to overlook its humanitarian responsibility to protect human beings. It halts Syrians from being able to achieve a long-awaited democracy. Aren’t Syrians worthy of democracy?
The revolution is not one of ideology, of party lines, of groups who are opposed to Assad. It is a movement led by Syria’s people and it is a movement that is comprised of all parts of society. There are those who support Assad—Shabiha, the Syrian word for thugs—and there are those who are revolting against him. Those who revolt, the majority of Syria, demand the rights they have been deprived of for 40 years. They want to enjoy the resources that have been stolen from them; they want their heritage and ancient treasures to be protected and not sold in the black market. They want access to jobs, to scholarships. They demand the right to roar when an official abuses his or her power. They want a fair and just law that puts an end to the hegemony of a few opportunists ruling Syria. And this cannot happen while the old regime is still trying to enforce its power by terrorizing civilians.
Assad and his officials must leave Syria in peace. They must be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
This does not mean that Syrians want military intervention in their lands, nor warships on their doorsteps. This is a cry for the free world to carry out its responsibility for providing safe humanitarian passages for civilians. Enforce a no-fly zone to stop Assad airplanes from shelling residential areas. Support Syrians’ quest for freedom, dignity, and human rights. What is happening in Homs is a scandal where the Red Cross is not able to deliver food, water, or medical aid to besieged people in the city. They are not able to take out injured and trapped civilians from disaster areas due to the heavy shelling by Assad forces. UNICEF is not able to stop child arrests, torture, and molestation by Syrian forces. Even refugees in Lebanon are not protected nor getting sufficient help; Syrian refugees in Lebanon are harassed and denied aid by Hezbollah, who is supported by Iran. Humanity cannot remain apathetic anymore to the horrors taking place in Syria.
Don’t let your silence pave the way for more crimes. Raise your voice in any way you can; act in any way you can. Write to your officials and parliamentarians, protest in front of Russian and Chinese embassies that support the regime, raise funds for Syrian refugees, and demand their protection. Do so now, before it is too late. I dream of a day when I finally can return back to my country, to a new and free Syria—a Syria where you can hear the shaking of a baby’s rattle in the quiet, dead of night.
– This article I wrote was first published on World Pulse, an organization for empowering women, supporting grassroots community leaders and civil journalists.