March 15, 2013

Syrian History


Jessica: Two years ago, Syrians began protesting against their government. Those protests grew into a civil war which has now killed tens of thousands of people. And every week, thousands more fleeing the violence and ending up in refugee camps like this one on the border of Syria and Jordan where we heard stories from survivors.

Ibrahim: It was like death.

Jessica: That is how 26-year-old Ibrahim describes the nine months he spent in a Syrian prison.

Ibrahim: There were seventy men in a room this size. Only position we could sit was like this. I was tortured and even if I wasn’t, other people were. I’d get scared. We were always afraid.

Jessica: So, these are the cigarette burns and more scars from the electric shocks that he suffered while he was in jail and he says it covers all over his body.

Ibrahim’s crime? The former Syrian police officer says he was arrested for not going to work. It was a sign of protest against the Syrian government, a government which then labeled Ibrahim a traitor.

Who are you angry at?

Ibrahim: President Assad.

Jessica: Bashar al-Assad is the president of Syria. He has been in power since 2000. His family has controlled Syria for more than forty years.

Jessica: Before the civil war and all of the conflicts started, what did you think of President Assad?

Ibrahim: All of Syria liked him. We didn’t know he was like this. And now he’s shocked us with his actions.

Jessica: President Assad’s crackdown began in March 2011.

People across the Middle East and North Africa were rising up against longtime dictators in what became known as the Arab Spring.

It has been reported that what happened in Syria started with some students who wrote anti-government graffiti on a school wall. They were arrested and tortured. Residents from the students’ hometown took to the streets in protest. The government responded with a full out assault, and that ignited anti-government demonstrations across the country.

Once again, President Assad ordered his troops to crush these uprisings with rockets, mortars and tanks.

Assad’s reaction shocked Syrians and the rest of the world. That is because, unlike his father who was considered a dictator, Bashar was supposed to be different. When he became president, Bashar promised to make Syria more open and modern. He did make some improvements to the country’s education system, roads and economy but he continued to restrict freedoms when it came to religion, speech and the media.

The majority of Syrians I spoke with supported him before the Arab Spring uprisings. All that has changed after two years of civil war between Assad’s army and the rebels trying to overthrow him.

Much of Syria’s once modern cities are now piles of rubble.

The United Nations says more than 70,000 people have been killed, most of them civilians.

Jessica: What do you want to happen to Assad, Ibrahim?

Ibrahim: To step down, to leave us alone, to leave the country. Die.

Jessica: Ibrahim says he wants revenge for two family members who were killed.

Would you go back to fight against Assad?

Ibrahim: I can’t see out of this eye. I don’t know what they hit me with but I can’t see. They promise they are going to fix my eye so I can see again. Then I’m going to go back and join the young revolution.

Jessica: The rebels organized into the Free Syrian Army, or FSA.

President Assad calls them terrorists. But the FSA is supported by the Syrian Opposition Coalition, a group the United States formally recognized last year.

And just this month, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the United States will support the rebels by giving them money for body armor, medical aid and food. The U.S. stopped short of giving them weapons.

Jessica: This is where you live right now?

The civil war has also created a humanitarian crisis. Like Ibrahim, one million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Many are living in refugee camps like this one called Zaatari, located in Jordan.

They have traded safety for a life full of new hardships – sleeping in tents next to strangers, dependent upon foreigners for basic necessities.

What keeps Ibrahim going is dreaming of a peaceful Syria.

Ibrahim: I don’t care who rules Syria as long as they are honest and our country and the people come together. I want to return home and just live, that is all.

Jessica: The refugee crisis is accelerating at what some call a staggering pace. UN officials worry they may soon be overwhelmed.

Well, that wraps up our report from Zaatari camp. Now I will toss it back to the newsroom.


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