Students commemorate three-year anniversary of Syrian uprising with demonstration, solidarity week

Arya Aliabadi/Staff

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With their mouths taped shut and eyes blindfolded, students gathered in a silent flash mob on Upper Sproul Plaza on Monday, kicking off the first in a week of events coinciding with the three-year anniversary of the beginning of the Syrian uprising on March 15.

Some of the about 15 demonstrators held posters with phrases such as “7,000 children killed in Syria” while others lay on the ground covered by the Syrian flag, hoping to draw attention to and raise awareness about the humanitarian and political crisis in Syria. The demonstration marked the beginning of Syrian Solidarity Week, a weeklong series of events on campus organized by students who support the end of violence in Syria.

The revolution in Syria, which eventually transformed into a civil war, began in 2011 when a group of teens and children were imprisoned and tortured for spray-painting anti-government graffiti. These events sparked nationwide protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which led to government violence on civilians. According to the United Nations, as of July, more than 100,000 civilians have been killed since the start of the war.

“We are hoping for the bloodshed to stop — that’s the main thing,” said demonstrator Ziad Aljamal, a member of the Syrian American Council, a national nonprofit organization that advocates political freedom in Syria. “We (hope) that the international community will get involved in a serious way.”

UC Berkeley senior Noma Kahf, a coordinator of the event, said her family in Syria has witnessed firsthand the negative consequences of the war, motivating her to spread awareness on campus about the issue.

“Some people have been in prison; some people have been killed; some haven’t been able to finish school,” Kahf said.

Abdi Hassan, a UC Berkeley sophomore and one of the coordinators, said he got involved to support his Syrian friends and the Syrian people. Because his parents are originally from Somalia, he said he can relate to the hardships that people in the United States with family in Syria are experiencing.

Other events this week include a viewing of a documentary about children in Syria, a candlelight vigil on Sproul Plaza commemorating the lives that have been lost in the war and a student-led discussion during which participants can share stories and brainstorm ways to help with the crisis.

Michelle Cabal, a UC Berkeley freshman who stopped to watch the demonstration, said she appreciated learning more about Syria from Monday’s event.

“Having this display out on Sproul where you’re able to see a lot of statistics and actually get a view of what’s going on — wow,” Cabal said. “I think it’s a great way to get people to acknowledge what’s going on — to keep people informed.”

Syrian Solidarity Week is part of a larger effort for campuses to support the end of the Syrian conflict, with 24 schools across the country participating, including UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Diego.

Contact Jean Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @missjeanlee.

A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the Syrian revolution and civil war interchangeably. In fact, the former preceded the latter.