Chicago vigil for Syria

Photo by Franklin Dmitryev for News & Letters

Chicago—Activists around solidarity with the Syrian Revolution came together March 24 to hold a vigil in a downtown area with a lot of foot traffic. We were there to oppose the bombing of civilians, hospitals, schools, and children in the Syrian province of Idlib by the Bashar al-Assad regime and its allies, particularly Russia. Banners and signs featured messages in English, Arabic and Russian. As well as solidarity with the Syrian people against Assad, signs called for an end to bombing of civilians in Yemen and freeing of political prisoners in Russia. A sign in Russian said, “Putin, hands off Crimea, Donbass, Moldova, Georgia, Itchkeria [Chechnya]!” The vigil was called by the Anti-War Committees in Solidarity with the Struggles for Self-Determination. Many passersby took the leaflet, one side of which reproduced a letter from the previous week “From a Free Syrian Teacher in Idlib to U.S. Representatives Ilhan & Tlaib”:

Dear Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib,

Photo by David Turpin

First, I wish to express my appreciation for your statements on the eighth anniversary of the Syrian struggle for freedom. Your words are so very important because our struggle has been met with both genocidal repression and terrible slander. Thank you for standing with us against the Assad regime.

As I know you are friends of the Syrian people, I want to share with you the difficulties we face. I am a teacher in the province of Idlib. Our city is the most dangerous in the world. Idlib lives under attack night and day by the Assad regime and Russia, and is constantly threatened by violently sectarian Iranian militias. We have been under attack for eight years, and many good men and women and children have been martyred. The attacks, the bombing, are relentless. There is no safe place to live. Moreover, the air and artillery strikes have caused great physical damage: sometimes we go without electricity for days.

Our children often cannot go to school; our hospitals are also targeted. Many injured by the bombing die for lack of treatment. We live constantly with a fear of death. Many try to escape to Turkey, with the help of smugglers, but they cannot be trusted and the journey is dangerous. In any case, we can see that Syrian refugees find cold welcomes, and where would millions more go?

The situation has become even more critical now that aid agencies, under pressure to avoid letting funds fall into the hands of the sectarian terrorists of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), have cut off all funding to the province. Our hospitals lack medicines, our schools need supplies, our doctors and teachers work without pay. In my case, I am fortunate as I am able to work a job at night so that I can continue to teach our children during the day. But there are very few jobs, and those fortunate to work don’t earn enough. Wages are about US$70 per month, while the United Nations’ minimum to meet the needs of a family is US$5 per day. Why are there international discussions about renewing aid to the regime, even as it executes prisoners and bombs us day and night? It feels as if we are expected to die alone, and quietly.

For weeks now our communities in Idlib, with support from Syrians in exile around the world, have been mobilizing in peaceful marches to commemorate the eighth anniversary of our struggle, to demand freedom for the political prisoners, and to defy the regime’s attempt to terrorize us with bombing. We also want the world to know that we are not HTS. Today, as I write this letter to you, there was another demonstration by the people in Marat Alnouman against HTS, together with a march in Alatareb. We are not terrorists. The Assad regime is terrorizing the Syrian people.

We often wonder why we have been abandoned. Millions of Syrians are trapped in refugee camps and in exile, thousands are dying in prison, raped, tortured and starving. Homes, families, our country, have been destroyed to preserve a dictator. Does no one care? Your words in support of our struggle are so very important; we must find a way to help others to understand as you do.

We know that another congressional representative has visited Syria, but only to meet with the dictator who murders our people. I would invite you to come to Idlib, to see our situation first hand, but that would be too dangerous. Perhaps you could visit the refugee camps that are home to many hundreds of thousands, millions, in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, to bring attention to the terrible situation facing our people. Perhaps you could meet with the representatives of the United Nations to demand that aid be delivered, not to the dictator, but to our hungry people. Perhaps you could meet with the families of our political prisoners. We welcome your voices.

We want the world to know that we, and our children, have a right to a dignified life, as we too are human.

Thank you for your understanding and patience,

Muhammad Al Kasoom

Photo by Franklin Dmitryev for News & Letters

Photo by David Turpin

Photo by David Turpin

–Participant

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