On the 26th of November at Humanity House we find ourselves in the Eye of the Storm listening to ‘Voices from within’, voices of activists from Syria. Organized bij CCSD the Centre for Civil Society and Democracy to strengthen the civil society and democracy in Syria and promote values of freedom, justice and coexistence.
These days the activists are on a broader mission to raise the voices of Syrian women and men, civil society actors. The aim is to listen to the voices on the ground and identify priorities and needs for Syrian people, not only in order to make daily life more bearable but also to influence policies and strategies here in Europe and the Netherlands.
The briefing aims to inform a general audience of students, ngo’s, professionals, media and government representatives and discuss the situation on the ground in Syria (Idlib, Afrin and Racqqa). To gain insight in how local activists are working for a peaceful Syria and also find out how we in the Netherlands and Europe can support.
The activists are young people with determination, from different areas living within Syria and Lebanon. Women and men who are willing to share their experiences on the ground, who’s eyes, ears and hearts reveal their being witness of the atrocities, the innumerable death-toll, despair, loss, hunger and many more things that cannot even be expressed into words.
The sounds of the ud- of musician Amer bring us to an improvisation of the famous song ‘Hal Asmar Al-Lon’ an ode to the beauty of the dark color, uniting us to see light in the midst of darkness.
Co-founder and director of CCSD Renas Sino reminds us of the origins of the beginning of the revolution. ‘Syria a country with fierce dictatorship for over more than forty years. We have been too idealistic to expect that this system would be easily overthrown.’
‘The humanitarian situation is under pressure as 4,4 million IDP’s, internally displaced persons, are dwelling around within Syria. It is a hidden story already for more than eight years. These people cannot return to their homes, they cannot leave the country because the borders are closed. These people have lost everything and have no money to live by and are struggling on a daily base for their basic needs.’
‘As for the besieged areas for example in Raqqa people cannot go back because of the landmines and the total destruction of houses. As a result there is a smell of decomposing corpses from under the rubble everywhere. Amnesty International confirms that the US-led coalition is in deep denial of casualties in Raqqa: ‘a war of annihilation’. ‘Many people have tried to go back but the smell of death is breathtaking and the thought that these people were former neighbors, loved ones and God knows who, make it impossible to return. In Idlib people can literally see their own homes but because of the continuing violence they still cannot go back. The treaty between Turkey and Russia is violated time and again by the regime. Violations everywhere. You have to know that another hidden story is the more than 220.000 people being tortured in prison!’
In silence we turn back to the music of Amer and the poetry of Natalie Mitchell:
Eye of the Storm
step by step
as in a dance with the chaos.The goal the Eye of your Storm,
the waiting place of your Wisdom.To draw on the sorrow,
bring it near
to the chambers of your heart.Feel it completely,then release it to the Hurricane.
The calm in your terror.
Feel it rush through and out,
to never return.
Fill the empty spaces with Power.
Power you feel in your fingertips,
through to every muscle
as determination takes form,
overtakes your crippling fear.
It is facing the horror and still drawing your weapon.
It is trembling, almost weeping
and still standing your ground.
It is fighting,
even in having no guarantee your victory.
This Will to live a life of purpose.
In the Eye of your Storm
hear The Light calling out to you
amidst the agony,
Feel the Peace wash over you,
and go back to this place
when the Hurricane pulls you in,
tries to dissolve you in its destruction,
Fight back with everything you’ve got!
Return to the Eye,return to that place set out for you.
Then we create space for the contribution of Nour Burhan, program director of Women for the future of Syria Program, who will focus on women empowerment & leadership.
‘As one of nine daughters in a row waiting for a boy finally to be born into our family I started to be a feminist at a very young age. This is only one of the Syrian traditions that needs to change. I am deeply convinced of the fact that when women will contribute there will be a different future for Syria. Women have taken on many roles now since the war providing for their families on many levels from daily needs, providing peace and claiming human rights and livelihood.’
‘I constantly try to find opportunities to work towards peace. Women are playing a pivotal role in this as 80% of the families are headed by women. I am happy with the #HearMeToo campaign to ask attention for violence against women. In Syria we call this #AhkeebilSotAlee, speak with a loud voice! Currently the violence against women is increasing. Women are disappearing systematically, the regime wants to stop us this way. They know that families are ashamed when women disappear.
The United Nations Human Rights Council confirms these claims. They have interviewed 454 people: ‘survivors, relatives, witnesses and doctors, who confirm the use of rape as a tool of war.
This is a way to put pressure on families who don’t want to cooperate in any kind of way. In Europe you don’t seem to hear so much about it. But it is important to get this message across. Not only that, in the current peace process there is very limited access for women to contribute. This is vital to create change at the negotiating table. Under the Resolution 1325 it has been proven for many years that involving women will result into long-term sustainable peace. If we don’t involve women in the peace proces the war will take longer.’
Last but not least Mohammed Badran gives an insight into the situation for Syrian Refugees and IDP’s in Lebanon, where currently more than 25% of the population consists of Syrians. Most of them are living in tents.
‘Can you imagine that 0,5 cm is the seize of the layer between you and your surroundings? Anything can happen to you in a tent. People are arrested because they are living in Lebanon illegal. The World Food Program is currently stopped and people are not allowed to work. Where to even begin living?’
‘Some people try to return to Syria. Yet when there is no solution for the 4,4 million IDP’s within Syria, we cannot start to go back. We will only increase the problem. On top of that we also need safe zones in order to be able to return. Just last week my friend Hussein returned to Qalamoun and he got killed.’
Amer ends with special music he composed on his way fleeing to Europe called: New Birth. ‘I started composing this music to remind me that everyday is one, and we need to make the best of it to keep hope.’
The audience is witness of this evening shaken by the facts and experiences. Moved by human courage and undauntedness. Witness of shining eyes when sharing a solid vision of a society based on justice, freedom and peace. All of them have been activists during the first hours of the revolution, walking in the peaceful demonstrations in 2011, now almost nine years ago…