Syria: An Inside Perspective
On Feb. 8, the International Student Union (ISU) hosted a lecture in Davis Auditorium given by Skidmore student Abude Al-Asaad ‘17. Al-Asaad, a senior at Skidmore College, introduced the event, “Syria: An Inside Perspective” with the purpose of giving students an informed base of knowledge concerning Syria. He hoped that this base would promote informed discussion about the crisis. Al-Asaad grew up in Damascus, Syria until the age of sixteen when he relocated to Europe. From there, he moved to the United States to pursue his higher education at Skidmore College. Much of his family is still in Syria, while some have made it to Stockholm, Sweden.
He began his talk by giving a brief history about what led to the refugee crisis, the worst humanitarian crisis since WWII. The roots of the crisis emerged in 2011 with the Arab Spring, which started in Tunisia when a man self-immolated as protest to police corruption. This act of defiance reverberated amongst the Arab people and protests spread to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and in March 2011, Syria.
Al-Asaad explained that until 2011, Syria, though an authoritarian state where speaking English was unusual and criticizing the government was considered a crime, was a stable country. It was in the hopes of establishing a more open society that Syrians took to the streets in protests. Unlike protests in the United States, the protesters in Syria were met with snipers instead of tear gas. Al-Asaad described his memories of the Syrian government turning off the electricity throughout the city and lining up all the men of his neighborhood in a local square. With solemn detail he shared how an undercover operative would identify those who had participated in protest, and their immediate extrajudicial killing.
By his account, this violence on civilians contributed to many in the military choosing to defect. It was at this point that Al-Asaad said that the hopes for reform in Syria died, and the “spring” turned to “winter.” Soldiers that defected from the military joined other protesters and turned to violence as a means for change. “The moment you raise a gun you lose your legitimacy,” Al-Asaad explained.
The war between the Syrian people and the Syrian government is only one of the five wars, said Al-Asaad. Syrian ground became a stage for a regional proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which also served and continues to operate as a conflict between the United States and Russia. This is in addition to war between ISIS and the other players.
“I have nothing to do with it any more… this is not my problem anymore… this is not revolution anymore. Syrians have nothing to do with any of this,” said Al-Asaad, clarifying how a revolution to reform the government had turned to a center for international conflicts.
These wars have resulted in the mass movement of over 13 million people out of Syria, excluding those who are internally displaced. Al-Asaad’s own sister and her family managed to flee to Stockholm, Sweden to secure a safe and bright future for their three children. In Syria, his sister was a translator and his brother-in-law an engineer. Now, his brother-in-law and sister are both struggling to adapt to life in Sweden.
His sister and her family were some of the lucky ones, said Al-Asaad. As more and more refugees came to Europe, the European Union became increasingly concerned with keeping refugees out of the continent. Their response was to pay Libya, Turkey, and other neighboring countries to strengthen boarder control in order to keep the refugees out of Europe. He explained that like other countries who have faced refugee crisis, European nations have stemmed migration flows, contradicting notions of Europe as a humanitarian epitome.
Al-Asaad then discussed the US’s reaction to the crisis, which committed to taking 10,000 refugees. “Lebanon a country with the GDP of Boston took 1.5 million refugees. So did Turkey. And the US decided to take 10,000,” emphasized Al-Asaad. The main problem with the US’s reaction, he explained, was that the US partially sponsored the geo-political war and contributed to its severity and escalation, yet never supplied enough resources to make it a decisive victory for the Syrian insurgents. If the US wanted to stay out of the crisis, then they should have at least been committed to taking refugees, argued Al-Asaad.
As a final piece of wisdom given to the audience, he asked his classmates to stay informed, follow the news, and be critical of information.