Many worry about loved ones’ safety in the homeland
As the international community grows increasingly alarmed over Syria’s rising death toll — now estimated to be over 8,000 civilians killed — the violence continues unabated.
The siege of the city of Homs, the centre of political resistance in Syria, has many in Calgary deeply concerned about the future their families face in the troubled country.
Adel, who didn’t want his last name published for fear of retribution against his family in Syria, left for Canada 10 years ago with his parents and brother — he now has a wife and children in Calgary. In Homs, he has an aunt and cousins.
“I have lost two cousins and I’m not going to forgive (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad for that,” he said.
This year, Adel said he lost one cousin from a sniper bullet. The other was tracked down and shot in front of her family when the army listened in on her criticizing the government while she was on the phone with someone.
Adel added it is near impossible to contact his remaining relatives in the city.
Phone lines have been cut, along with electricity and water access, cellphone towers have been demolished and fuel and food has become scarce in Homs.
Adel has been horrified by reports of women and children being ruthlessly targeted by the Syrian army, the hallmarks of a massacre rather than armed conflict.
“This is not a war,” he said. “The army should be protecting these people, not killing them.”
Zain, who also did not want his last name used for publication, has family mostly living in the capital city Damascus, where the situation is much better. He came to Canada eight years ago with his family but his parents have since returned to start a business in Syria.
“I would like to see the regime change,” he said. “I would like those people giving theorders to kill people to be tried in court.”
As for immediate actions that should be taken, he said that Canada should immediately recognize the Syrian National Council — which is based in Istanbul and represents the opposition to al-Assad’s regime — as the true voice of the people.
“We need Western recognition of the Syrian National Council, as other countries have done,” he said.
Ihsan Efrini came to Canada as a refugee and has resided in Calgary for six years. He is a member of Syria’s Kurdish minority, a population that has been brutally oppressed by the Syrian regime since the 1960s, when the authorities stripped 300,000 Kurds of their citizenship.
A dentist in Syria, Efrini decided to flee the country after a stint in jail for teaching the Kurdish language to children. He expressed admiration for Canada’s constitution, which enshrines equal rights for minorities.
“We have to study the Canadian system,” Efrini said. “Why can’t we do it in Syria?”
The Syrian community has helped to organize a rally in front of Calgary’s City Hall on March 17 to mark the one-year anniversary of the uprising. Other rallies will be held in support of the Syrian dissidents in cities around the world.