Syrian emigrant reflects on war ravaging homeland


By Hannah Bleau |

For Marian Asfoura, who emigrated from Syria to the U.S. in 2006, the country that she left behind is not the one she recognizes on nightly news reports. She now worries about relatives who remain there as the two-year-old civil war rages on.

“I was very sad. It was shocking,” Asfoura said, recalling her initial reaction to the violence in Syria.

Asfoura decided at a young age that she would one day come to the United States. She made the move to America when she was 18 years old, along with her parents and two younger siblings. In the six years she has been living in America, she has obtained her bachelor’s degree in Health Services Management and works as the assistant manager at a New York and Company outlet store in St. Augustine.

It’s been six years since she left her homeland of Syria. Little did she know of the unmitigated chaos ensuing in the years to come. The Syrian civil war reignited in early 2011, with Syrian rebels demonstrating their dissatisfaction with the Assad regime. Nearly 100,000 people have died in the past two years of civil war, and it’s only escalating. As civil unrest grows, human rights violations do as well. The tragic mark occurred on August 21, 2013, as rockets of sarin gas were sent into civilian populations in Syria, killing an estimated fourteen hundred people. The question remains: Was Assad’s regime responsible, and should the rebels (who are a mix of moderates, Al Qaeda and members of the Muslim Brotherhood) be aided? Answers remain complicated and unclear.

The American Dream in Syria?

While life in Syria had its ups, it also had many downs, which ultimately brought about Asfoura’s emigration. She didn’t come to the U.S. because of violence and disaster in Syria, but rather because she wanted a better life–one that could not be achieved in what she describes as a third world country.

“The stuff that I had offered to me here, I would never dream of having back overseas. I would never dream of driving a car because it’s so expensive over there and only rich people and wealthy people can do that,” Asfoura said. “I would not have imagined to have financial aid help me go to school because overseas you don’t have that.”

Syria was not able to provide her with what she wanted– in particular, human dignity. Positions in universities are often only secured for what she describes as “the governor’s son or the mayor’s daughter.” Family status is everything, and one gets treated accordingly.

“This is what I like about here [the United States]. You get treated as a human being. You are a very respected individual no matter what color you are, no matter where you came from, no matter what you do for a living. And here, it doesn’t matter if you are a professor, or if you are the garbage man, or if you are the maintenance people, or if you are an electrician. They have respect for you.” Asfoura said.

“It’s basically everyone’s dream to come study here, grow here and do everything here. Plus, it’s a free country so you have your freedom, you have your rights, and you can do whatever you want. There’s no fear of what you can say and what you can’t say because back overseas, a lot of stuff you cannot say. Otherwise, you will be killed,” Asfoura said.

Chaos in Syria

In the past few weeks, Syria has been the topic of much national debate, with U.S. intelligence reporting that Assad’s regime used chemical weapons against his own people, resulting in approximately 1,400 civilian casualties.

Asfoura was shocked when she heard about the chaos in Syria.

“When I moved here, nothing was going on in Syria. Nothing. It was perfect. Everyone was happy,” Asfoura said.

It’s hard for American citizens to gauge the chaos in Syria. Has it always been this way? When Asfoura was in Syria, there was no violence in particular between religions. She describes herself as a Christian who went to church back at home. She recalled interactions between Muslims and Christians.

“Before, you would see the Muslim people celebrating Christmas with us, and us celebrating with them their Eid. But now? No. Now, they don’t even dare to put up Christmas trees, because they know that ‘this house is Christian’ and they will go kill them,” Asfoura said.

But the crisis in Syria is a complicated situation. It’s difficult to pinpoint the “good” people versus the “bad” people, and that is where much of the debate of American intervention is grounded. Who can be trusted? Are the rebel forces good? Asfoura herself isn’t so sure what the objective of the fight is.

“Now they call Christian people like they are the bad people, and they have to kill all of them. Why? Is this what made you start everything? Is it religion? Is it freedom? What are you asking for? This is the thing. They don’t know what they’re asking for. If they’re asking for freedom. If they’re asking for their own rules. If they’re asking for their own constitution. What they are asking for, we don’t know,” Asfoura said.

Asfoura still has family back in Syria, the pinnacle of current Middle Eastern violence. They long to come to America, but it is difficult for them. She describes them as “emotionally exhausted”. Violence and oppression have been escalating in the area for three years.

It’s extremely difficult for her to know how her family is dealing with the internal conflict. Few can be trusted. Their main means of communication is by telephone, which happens to be heavily monitored by the government in control. This poses a major obstacle. It’s difficult for her to know if her family is safe because of the great fear of government censorship and the consequences it could entail.

“Every phone line is monitored. So they can’t say anything other than everything is fine, because they will be afraid that whoever is monitoring the line- they’re going to harm them…you don’t know if you can believe your friends and family that when they’re saying ‘everything is okay’. If they are forced to say that or if everything is okay. This is what makes it more difficult- that you don’t know. If you’re not there, you don’t know.” Asfoura said.

The heartbreak is worse than the media portrays. The citizens of Syria are scared. Asfoura chillingly described how bad the tension is.

“People say their goodbyes if they’re going to buy bread because they don’t know if they’re going to come back or not,” Asfoura said.

She also described more devastating facts of Syrian daily life, often not reported by the mainstream media. House theft is a major issue.

“If they [citizens/rebels] know the house is empty, they will take it,” Asfoura said.

America’s role

As an American citizen and a Syrian native, Asfoura isn’t sure what America should do. She’s not opposed to American intervention, but she believes anything that would cause a war should be avoided.

“I would love for America to start doing something, but I don’t want it to be something that will harm people in Syria. Because if you’re trying to help them, you’re not helping by starting a war over there because you’re not going to know who’s good and who’s not. And this is what it comes down to: We don’t know what we want America to do,” Asfoura said.

Asfoura would love to visit her homeland one day, but now is not the time. Her heart is broken over what’s going on in her homeland.

“Nobody ever guessed that it would start in Syria,” Asfoura said.

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