On Campus

Local refugees gather for vigil in solidarity with Aleppo, call for government aid of Syrians

Ally Moreo | Asst. Photo Editor

Community members gather outside Hendricks Chapel for a vigil held in solidarity with the people of Aleppo, Syria. The vigil was also a protest, with the group calling for a ceasefire and the delivery of aid to people in the city.

Syrian refugees on Wednesday evening called for humanitarian action from the United States government to provide aid for Syrians in Aleppo, and shared their appreciation for the support the local community has given.

About 70 Syracuse community members — including local Syrian refugee families, Syracuse University students and faculty — gathered for a vigil at Hendricks Chapel to show solidarity for the civilians and rebels trapped in Aleppo, Syria. Syrian refugees, many of whom have been in the U.S. less than six months, encouraged community members to seek documented evidence of the Syrian government, share their voices and reach out to refugees in Syracuse.

The refugees spoke mostly in Levantine Arabic, and were translated by Manar Shabouk, co-organizer of the event and a professor of Arabic in the College of Arts and Sciences. One refugee from Homs, Syria, invited community members to visit refugees’ homes, where they can teach Arabic and the community can teach them English.

“Just gather with them, and see how they are living,” Shabouk translated. “Because we are one people. We are humans at the end.”

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Ally Moreo | Asst. Photo Editor

At the end of the event, attendees filed out of the chapel and into the below-freezing, blustering weather to stand at the bottom of the chapel. The refugees sang and chanted in Arabic as others listened, cupping their hands around flickering candle flames.

The purpose of the event was to demand the U.S. government to ensure safe passage for the civilians trapped in Aleppo, “mark the names” of the civilians who had been killed, raise awareness for the rebels in Aleppo and call for an immediate ceasefire and delivery of humanitarian aid by international organizations, according to the vigil’s Facebook event page.

Flyers with sayings such as “Where is the humanity” and “#Save_Aleppo,” along with a list of ways for people to help the situation, were distributed. The list encouraged people to use hashtags, attend marches, write to representatives and get involved with local organizations that support refugees, such as CYO, InterFaith Works of Central New York and North Side Learning Center.

The event was held in response to the escalating conflict in the Syrian capital. On Tuesday, Russia and Turkey — allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government — and Syrian rebels had announced a deal to evacuate civilians and rebels trapped in the city to the rebel-held territory in northern Syria.

But on Wednesday, evacuation plans disintegrated and vehicles left the city empty, and artillery shelling resumed. At the beginning of the event, attendees stood in a moment of silence for the 82 civilians shot down by the Syrian army.

Tula Goenka, co-organizer an associate professor of television, radio and film in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, began the event by telling attendees she was tired of organizing vigils, but added it was important to respect humanity — even those far away — because everyone breathes the same air.

Ken Harper, director of the Newhouse Center for Global Engagement, spoke from his perspective in the media and encouraged attendees to get out of their seats and demand justice.

“It’s important we all hold on to our First Amendment rights to speak, and hold people in power accountable,” Harper said.

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Sam Ogozalek | Staff Writer

Harper’s wife, Dara, also spoke about local support of the refugee community at The Mosque of Jesus, Son of Mary, where clothes, houseware and food are provided.

The Harpers’ two children were also in attendance — along with a handful of other refugee children — and Harper said that was because they come most places with them, but also because Wednesday was an opportunity for them to learn and empathize with others around the world.

“If there’s any real education, this would be it,” Dara Harper said in an interview after the event. “Knowing that people are suffering in the world, and we suffer with them.”

The handful of refugees who spoke called for an end to the “pain and blood,” Shabouk translated, and said that because the U.S. is a powerful country, it can help intervene in Syria. The refugees also shared some of their experiences in Syracuse, such as one refugee’s positive interactions with his neighbors.

But another refugee shared how his son felt discriminated against at his school because he didn’t speak English. Another said he had to walk his children to school — in the dropping Syracuse temperatures — because his family lived outside the radius for the school buses and he didn’t have a car.

Jimmy Cinski, a freshman SU student, said he came to the vigil to show solidarity with the community and hear ways he could help out. Cinski came with Alec Petraske, also a freshman student, who said the event was powerful and personalizing and made him feel personally attached to the situation abroad.

“I read about Aleppo, and I know it was happening, but I had never seen the face of a Syrian refugee,” Petraske said.

Toward the end of the event, Dara Harper shared a quote from “The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World,” written by the 14th Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams, where the authors cited a Tibetan saying.

“Wherever you have friends, that’s your country,” Harper quoted. “And wherever you seek love, that’s your home.”

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