Two years later, and still fighting for freedom
On March 16, a Global March for Syria was held in Victoria Park in support for those fighting against the oppressive Assad regime.
This march marked the second anniversary of the Syrian uprising, which began on March 16, 2011.
Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad has been in power since 2000, when he succeeded his father, Hafez al-Assad, who had ruled the country since 1970. Both father and son have been accused of numerous human rights abuses during their rule.
Tens of thousands of people have been fleeing Syria since the fighting began. Refugee camps have been set up in neighbouring Turkey and Jordan. As of March 2013, the UNCHR has registered 776,008 refugees, with the UN estimating more than 70,000 causalities.
Cheghaf Madarati is a Syrian student who is studying health studies at the U of R. While Madarati and her family live in Canada, she left many relatives behind in Syria.
“One of my uncles is in a refugee camp in Turkey. The conditions are really bad there because this refugee camp doesn’t get all the benefits the other refugee camps do,” she said.
Madarati explained that these conditions are due to lack of funding and that the camp is close to the border where a lot of fighting occurs.
While the uprising began in search of freedom, a year and a half into fighting, the international community deemed it a civil war. Madarati, like many Syrians and activists, disagree with this label, calling on the community to call it a revolution for freedom and justice for all Syrians.
“When it started, it was a civil war. There was a division between the Shias and the Sunnis and people wanted to call it a civil war for that reason. The international community was very slow at calling it a civil war though, and by time they called it a civil war, it wasn’t a civil war anymore,” Madarati explained. “When you bomb a city or a village, everyone is involved…now everyone suffers from the regime’s atrocities.”
Originally, the Alawite minority, a sect of Shia Islam, have supported the Assad regime. They make up about 12 per cent of the population. The small Syrian Christian minority has also supported Assad, due to the belief that he is more secular.
In Nov. 2012, Syria’s opposition to Assad formed a unified group called the Syrian National Coalition. Mouaz al-Khatib was chosen as the first prime minister. In December, most of the international supporters of the revolutionary forces have officially recognized Khatib’s group as the true representation of the Syrian people. Canada has not yet officially recognized this.
"Bodies are lying everywhere…The free Syrian army hasn’t had a chance to move them because of the fighting, and sometimes they are left to rot. My family members have to witness that. It is pretty emotional.” – Cheghaf Madarati
However, in a turn of events, Sunday, March 24 saw al-Khatib resign from his position as leader of the coalition out of frustration over the international community’s inaction towards Syria.
“I announce my resignation from the National Coalition so that I can work with a freedom that cannot possibly be had in an official institution,” al-Khatib said in his resignation statement. “For the past two years, we have been slaughtered by an unprecedentedly vicious regime while the world has looked on.”
Syria’s uprising has left an economic toll on the country, along with the destruction and loss of many homes and livelihoods. Along with the economic stress, the cruelty of the Assad government weighs heavily on the Syrian people, both emotionally and physically.
“I have a childhood friend, she is probably now 22. She went missing last year and was kidnapped by the Assad forces. Normally when the women are kidnapped they are raped. We hear a lot about raping of women. There are roadblocks everywhere you go. Every five minutes of walking you will be questioned. If they decide they don’t like you, they will shoot you. Bodies are lying everywhere…the free Syrian army hasn’t had a chance to move them because of the fighting, and sometimes they are left to rot. My family members have to witness that. It is pretty emotional.”
The setbacks of everyday life in Syria are coupled with the horrifying prison system that survives under the Assad government.
“Syrian prisons are known for their torture and how cruel they are… My cousin was protesting in Syria and was captured about two years ago. He went in and they started torturing him, and he witnessed other people being tortured. But, his dad had so much money that he bought him out of prison. This is a new trend in Syria, where they kidnap young people and they harass their families for money…this is another way to fund the regime’s activities.”
The international community has been divided on what to do about the conflict. The UN Security Council has remained split, with China and Russia blocking western countries from pressing hard sanctions on Syria. Specifically, Russia has been a major ally of Syria because of the relationship the two countries have in international arms export – Syria is one of Russia’s top customers.
Madarati believes more international help needs to be taken. While the United States, for instance, is providing food and non-lethal aid to Syria, Obama has stated that American would not be providing military help unless Assad crosses the “red line” and begins using chemical and biological war weapons on his people.
“I think [an] international effort needs to be made to help the free Syrian army to outpost [Assad’s Regime]. They need to have the capability to take out the…Assad without spilling anymore blood,” Madarati said.
“This inaction is causing many doubts for the Syrian people and creating more conflict. Because of the inaction, Syrians are believing the international community is siding with Assad and they want their death. It’s a problem because a lot of Syrians are upset and hopeless now. I guess they appreciate any international help. We do recognize there has been a lot of help for the refugee relief funds. But that’s about it. Especially after they started labelling our freedom fighter groups as terrorists, the Syrian people have lost hope in the international community because instead of helping they have started labelling.”
Photo by Taouba Khelifa