Online Conference Highlights Untold Stories of Aleppo
NCRI - Individuals from Aleppo, Syria, held an online Q&A using social media to highlight the situation in Aleppo. The sponsor for this event was iranfreedom.org. The panelists included Dr. Zaher Sahoul, a Syrian American physician, past president of SAMS and founder of American Relief Coalition for Syria; Abdulkari Alhamdo, an English teacher and activist; and Bana Alabed and Fatemah, a 7-year-old girl who tweeted about the harrowing situation in Aleppo and her mother.
“What is important is human beings. When we saw all the demonstrations around the world, it gave us hope,” said Alhamdo, when asked about the effects of the global demonstrations on the population of Aleppo.
The situation for refugees from Aleppo are in difficult circumstances, as various panelists documented citizens leaving with just the clothes on their backs. Many are living in camps that are not addressing their basic needs. “Still, we will go back to Aleppo,” said Alhamdo. “It is our right.”
According to Dr. Sahoul, 1.7 million individuals used to live in eastern Aleppo and many have been evacuated, but many have lived under siege in the city. “Politicians were not able to provide protection to citizens, so there is this forced evacuation from the city,” said Dr. Sahoul. “People connect with these average people who have spoken about their ordeals…at the human level.”
In order for the refugees and displaced to go back, they have to be provided with protection, hope and jobs. That is what the politicians need to focus on,” said Dr. Sahoul.
Aleppo has become a symbol and touchstone of the situation in Syrian throughout the war. Currently, children are not able to attend schools, hospitals have been destroyed and many of the citizens left in the city are struggling to care for their most basic necessities.
“When you have people come together with hope to build a future, that is when you begin to build a nation,” said Dr. Sahoul.
Fatemah, Bana Alabed’s mother, said that the schools have been bombed out and no one is able to go to school. “The children just want to be like all the other children around the world,” said Fatemah. “I miss Aleppo,” said Bana Alabed.
Prior to the start of the online conference, a cease fire was declared in Syria. Panelists seem to agree that the cease fire would not stop the resistance from asking for their freedom from Assad’s regime. A consistent message has been that these refugees want to go back to Aleppo and Syria to rebuild the country. “We didn’t want this destruction and this war to happen, we just wanted out freedom,” said Alhamdo. “It’s not a cease for speaking out and resisting Assad’s regime and his family.”
Dr. Sahoul spoke of cities who have outlived the dictators that tried to destroy them and he wants that for Aleppo, but he pointed out that protection is necessary for those who want to return and rebuild.
Children were the focus of the Q&A, as rebuilding was discussed in the context of the future of the children. Many citizens, including children, have died during the bombings and siege.
Throughout the conference, many messages came in from around the world in support of the Syrian people. Those watching were tuning in from a larger international community, including the United States and Europe.
The discussion turned to the Iranian regime and its maneuvers in Syria. This included blocking refugees from departing and fighting in various cities. The Iranian regime has long considered Syria a providence of Iran and they feel if Assad falls, then they would be in a bad position in Tehran. “The officers in Tehran have more power than Assad himself in Syria,” said Alhamdo. “All the talks are with Russia and Iran. That means Assad can’t say or do anything without Iran’s words.”
“We need to separate the Iranian regime from the Iranian people. We have a historical connection to the Iranian people,” said Dr. Sahoul. “The Iranian regime has injected sectarianism and this is very dangerous. It will cause animosity among the people for a long time. It is dangerous for the region, not just Syria.”
Zolal Habibi, guest moderator for Iran Freedom pointed out that Iran is a source of the division and violence, throughout the region. Alhamdo talked to one of the captured mercenaries, who let him know that they were coming to fight for the money, which they are sending back to their families in Iran. The crimes against humanity are part of the signature style of the Iranian regime in their determination to remain in power and members of the Iranian regime were against the evacuation of citizens from Aleppo.
The international community has taken steps to investigate crimes against humanity that have occurred in Syria, which is the first step toward international accountability for these crimes. “A new normal was created in Syria,” said Dr. Sahoul. He spoke of the bombings, chemical warfare and sieges against the people of Syria, particularly the bombings of hospitals and the killing of doctors and nurses. When individuals then get displaced, it has a larger impact on the international community, particularly the increasing Islamaphobia and the refugee crisis. “There needs to be accountability to avoid this new normal becoming the permanent normal in Syria,” said Dr. Sahoul.
All the panelists agreed that injustice in Syria cannot continue and it has ripple effects throughout the international community, as well as for the citizens of Syria and those living within the region.
Their message to the audience was to keep pressure on the policy makers, stay informed about what is happening in various areas in Syria, as well as using social media to keep the world aware of what is going on. Dr. Sahoul also spoke about the situation of the children of Syria, who do not have schools to attend or safe places to play. “The hospitals and schools need to be rebuilt,” said Dr. Sahoul.
“There is an oppressed people in Syria, and people need to speak about what happened to us,” said Alhamdo. “The evacuation is not the end, it is just the beginning.” He expressed discouragement in the international governments that he feels have not followed through in Syria, but encouraged individuals to continue to support the Syrian people by putting pressure on their governments to act. They noted that social media has allowed individuals to have a greater voice than ever before.
The moderator said that these regimes have been like “a cancer” in the Middle East, as they oppose peace and democracy for their citizens. Many messages of support were read throughout the discussion that were posted via social media. The panelists also thanked the Iranian Resistance for providing them a platform to speak out about the situation in Aleppo and Syria.