Demonstrators call for international action to end the bloodshed
The steps of City Hall were covered in green on March 17, but the green flags and signs held by people gathered in front of the building were not marking St. Patrick’s Day, but a much more sombre occasion.
Roughly 100 people gathered downtown to mark the one-year anniversary of political turmoil and violence in Syria. Protestors waved the green flags that have become a symbol of the uprising in Syria, chanting along to the sound of a megaphone-amplified protestor. Most chants called for the international community to take action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The gathering was one of many “Global March for Syria,” events that took place worldwide over the St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
Nagah Hage, former chair of the Muslim Council of Calgary, was at the demonstration, and said that though most Canadians are aware of the Syrian regime’s violent response to the political uprisings, not many people are speaking out against the crackdown.
Hage noted that while the Government of Canada has closed its embassy in Syria, the Syrian embassy in Canada is still operational. He said protestors here in Calgary hope that the Canadian government will “send a message to Syria” by closing the Syrian embassy in Ottawa and expelling Syria’s current ambassador to Canada.
Hage also said he hopes the Canadian government will provide humanitarian aid to Syrians who have been injured or displaced by the violence in their home country.
“They’ve got tens of thousands of people who have been killed or wounded,” he said.. “Tens of thousands who have been displaced, who are in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, and we don’t believe [the Canadian government] has done enough yet.”
Some protestors at the rally sported tinted sunglasses and shielded their faces from photographs. Others were reluctant to be identified by their full names. They said they were fearful that being identified at a protest — even half a world away from Syria —would lead to the persecution of their family members who are still living in the country.
“It’s a very, very nasty regime,” said Hage. “Somebody’s out here demonstrating, it goes back to the regime and they go after their families there.”
University of Calgary student Zahida Haji-Moustafa was one of the many protestors worried about family members in Syria.
“It’s very scary to think about that at any moment my family could be targeted,” said Haji-Moustafa.
And the young woman’s family has not been untouched by the current violence. She said her cousin, a fellow university student currently studying in Syria, has been detained and tortured by government forces.
“[My cousin] describes to me images that security forces come into classes and that after 24 hours, after torturing them they let them go,” she said.
Haji-Moustafa said she hoped Saturday’s demonstration would elicit a response from the Calgarian community. She encouraged Calgarians to contact their elected officials and ask them to take a stand against the violence.
“We want to relay the message to Harper and our government to relay the message that we need to act upon this. It’s been a year, we need to act, sanctions are not good enough.”
Demonstrator Anas Habach agreed with Haji-Moustafa that the violence in Syria has gone on for too long.
Wrapped in a green Syrian flag, Habach stood in the crowd with his two children. Habach said he has come to stand in front of City Hall with his sign — which lists statistics for the steadily rising number of people killed or detained in Syria — on almost every Saturday since the violence began.
“The first time I wrote this sign, the number of people killed was 3,700, says Habach. “Now it’s 11,000.”
“It’s so strange for the world to keep silent even after one year of killing.”