For all my life, I have never been more proud of anything than being able to call myself a Syrian. Over the last nine years though, pride has taken on a whole new meaning. In March of 2011, the world watched as Syria began to crumble when protesters took to the streets amidst the Arab Spring. When Bashar al-Assad, who was educated in the United Kingdom as a doctor, assumed power after his father’s death in 2000, the people of Syria expected change. They expected a shift from the despotic authoritarianism of his father to a more open, democratic Syria. By the time the Arab Spring rolled around, however, no such change had been enacted in the country, and the Syrian Revolution began to take root. Although it’s been nearly a decade and the situation is far more complex than a two-sided war, I’ll never forget how it all started. I’ll never forget the damage this country has lived through and the devastation the Syrian people have endured.
In Dara’a, a town south of Damascus near the Jordanian border, children at a local school were caught up in the pre-revolutionary fervor. On television and on the internet, they saw images of the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt fall as protesters had taken to the streets demanding regime change – with successful results. In Arabic, these students spray-painted “you’re next, doctor,” a clear sign that they believed Assad was unfit to rule; that his expertise was only limited to the medical field and nothing else, especially not the rule of Syria itself. Within days, the Syrian Army had sniffed out the children responsible for the graffiti and tortured the students responsible. For days, their families had no idea what happened to them while under custody ofthe army, and then finally, they received their long-feared answer.
Their children were returned to them, tortured, burned, mutilated, and with their genitals removed. The regime had brutalized and murdered them, and in their outrage, protesters took to the streets, hoisting the coffins of the deceased children aloft, demanding the resignation of Assad and justice for their murdered children. When Syrian soldiers neared the protesters, they tried to get them on their side, telling the soldiers that they were all brothers in the pursuit of freedom and by virtue of their Syrian blood. Their chants and appeals for unity fell on deaf ears, as Syrian Army forces began to fire upon the crowds who fled in a spate of panic and eventually returned to their homes.
These protests were not limited to Dara’a, however. Within days, rumors and news of the atrocities committed in southern Syria spread across the country, and large masses of people began taking to the streets in Homs, Aleppo, and Idlib. The Syrian Revolution had indeed begun and soldiers from the Syrian army began to crack down on protesters in ways very similar to Dara’a – arresting activists, torturing them, and shooting at large groups of people in broad daylight. Assad feared being another domino in the history of the Arab Spring, so his army did everything they could to quash the uprising.
This was the start of the Syrian war we’ve heard about over the last ten years. Between then and now, there has been nothing but suffering, pain, and soil soaked with the blood of the innocent. For ten years this war has raged on, but it’s hard for me to see it as anything but a war on those caught in the middle. It’s hard for me to see this as anything besides the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives lost amidst the fire and cruelty.
I remember all of these moments in time as if it were yesterday. I remember the fire that raged in me being thousands of miles away from my family and a country that I call home. That rage quickly turned into pride, which then transformed to hope as the years and the war went on – hope that the Syrian people would receive their long overdue freedom in a country enriched with history and beauty on every corner. The hope is still there, but isn’t felt nearly as often as it comes and goes in waves. Waves of hope, yes, but also waves of helplessness. Waves so strong that sometimes I feel as if I’ve been carried to a time and place I no longer recognize, gasping for air that is out of my reach.
I say all of this to remind you that Syria has lived and continues to live under a brutal authoritarian regime. I say all of this to remind you that Syria continues to live under nothing short of a monster.
When the wave comes crashing next, it will be me drowning in hope that one day my father, a man with a burning love for his homeland, can return to his country and see a free Syria. It will be hope that one day the Syrian people will live a life free of suffering, death and war. Hope that my family and I can return together, hand in hand, and smell the sweet scent of jasmine that fills the streets of Damascus again. I pray the next wave hits me so hard that I wake up not in a time and place that I don’t recognize, but instead somewhere in which all of these hopes have finally come true.
Citrine Ghraowi is a Texas raised first-generation Palestinian/Syrian. Citrine is unsure what a fulfilled life truly entails, but imagines that it starts with seeing a free Syria and a Palestine existing outside of Israeli occupation.