Syrian student shares conflict perspective
Family among millions forced to relocate due to violence
Published: Sunday, September 15, 2013
Updated: Sunday, September 15, 2013 23:09
While most A&M students have watched news on the Syrian conflict unfold on their TV screens, an international student from Syria gets a firsthand account of the crisis every time he speaks to his family late at night.
The Student — who requested to remain anonymous for personal reasons — and his family have a firsthand experience with the conflict, which has been waging for over two years between the Syrian government and the civilian opposition. The United Nations estimate that over 100,000 have been killed in the conflict and about two-million have fled from the country because of the violence.
The Student said he left Syria before the revolution began to study engineering at A&M. His main concern has not been whether or not the United States will intervene, but about his family and the lives of his fellow Syrians.
While his father still lives and works in Damascus, Syria’s capital, his mother and sister moved to Lebanon to escape from the violence in the region.
“Because of the situation and security, it is not safe to live in Syria anymore so they moved to Lebanon,” he said. “All of my family left. Everyone left.”
More than this, he said the conflict has relocated many all over the globe.
“I don’t have any friends in Syria anymore,” he said. “They went everywhere from Cyprus, Canada, London and Turkey.”
The student said his father, who recently found out a manager at his job was kidnapped for ransom, now works at home to avoid the threat of violence. Even so, he said his family is doing well, especially in relation to the two million refugees who have fled Syria and the thousands who have been internally displaced within the country’s borders
“I’ve heard stories about middle class people that lost their houses when one missile came to the building,” he said. “Thank God they were not in the building. But in like one minute, everything was gone and they were refugees. They went from middle class to nothing.”
The Student said he is able to keep in contact with his family regularly, with some exceptions.
“For example, two days ago, I called [my father] and he had eight hours without electricity,” he said. “I lost contact with him, but he called me the next morning.”
The Student was able to visit his family in Lebanon last year, and he spent some of that time fundraising to build a soccer field for the children in a refugee camp.
The conflict grabbed the media’s attention in late August when a chemical weapons attack killed an estimated 1,000 civilians. Since then, the nation watched as the United States debated using military force and then pursued diplomacy to address the issue. On Saturday, the United States and Russia, a key ally of Syria, announced that an agreement had been reached for removing and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons.
Larry Napper, former U.S. ambassador and senior lecturer at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, said the conflict pertains to the United States on the basis of humanitarian and security concerns.
“What you have here is a brutal civil war that has descended into greater chaos and confusion,” Napper said. “It has drawn in international players and has also tended to expand beyond Syria’s borders in destabilizing neighboring countries such as Lebanon [and] Iraq, and threatening to destabilize Turkey and Jordan, who are allies of the U.S.”
Khaldoun AbouAssi, assistant professor at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, said the longer the conflict continues, the more problems neighboring countries will face.
“The longer these refugees stay outside of their country, the more pressure will be on the economies and societies of the host countries, putting Lebanon for example — which is already unstable and still managing political turmoil and security concerns — at risk of internal conflict,” AbouAssi said.
The fighting in Syria has been characterized by the ethnic tensions within the country.
Napper said these ethnic tensions complicate the conflict. Napper said Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian President, is a part of a minority group, the Alawites. The majority of the country belongs to the Sunni Muslim sect, which have bad relations with Assad and his family’s rule.
The Student said he and the rest of his generation want to live in a Syria where all religions and sects can live peacefully.
“We have Christians, Jews and Muslims and we all lived in the same neighborhood with no problem,” he said. “We are not against the Alawites, we want to live with them. But we are against everyone with the regime who killed people.”
The Student said he does not support either side of the conflict because of the indiscriminate killing.
“I am against killing,” he said. “Although I am against the regime, I am against killing anyone. We don’t want war. This is not the way to communicate in 2013.”
The Student said the Syrian government may no longer use chemical weapons because of the recent agreement between the U.S. and Russia.
“A thousand people have been killed from the chemical weapons, but you forgot about the 100,000 that have been killed in the past two years,” he said.
In addressing the lengthy debate on foreign intervention in Syria, he said intervention should come in the form of assistance.
“Assistance must be in feeding the hungry, sheltering the shelter-less and facilitating the political solution that will preserve what is left in the country,” he said.
He said he and his friends support a political solution where Assad will step down and there will be a civil exchange of power resulting in a moderate Syrian government.
The student said he was most worried about what would happen if there was not a political solution. He said if Assad is removed by force, then chaos would ensue and war might continue for years.