By Maham Haq –
A dozen Arizona State University students gathered Oct. 2 outside Old Main on the university campus to stand in solidarity with the victims of Russian air strikes that killed 33 civilians and three children in Syria on Sept. 30.
The vigil was organized by Students Organize for Syria (SOS), a group formed in 2012 to raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis in Syria and to assist in the country’s rebuilding.
Since the early spring of 2011, Syria has been the center of a revolution. The crisis began with nationwide protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s government, which in turn responded violently. After months of military sieges, the protests turned into an armed rebellion by various groups, most notably the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front. As of this year, the death toll has risen above 220,000, more than 7.6 million Syrians have been displaced, and more than 5 million have fled to neighboring countries as refugees. Following the use of chemical weapons and the torture of protesters and activists in state prisons, the Syrian government has been chastised internationally for violating human rights.
Most recently, Russia has shown support of al-Assad’s regime and says it is targeting ISIS and other terrorist groups with air strikes. On Sept. 30, however, the Russian air strikes were accused of attacking civilians and groups opposing al-Assad. Most of the areas targeted in the strikes were not even under ISIS control.
Russia’s involvement is being questioned by many who feel it is necessary to stand up for the Syrian civilians, including the SOS organization at ASU.
Fawsia Osman of Chandler, one of those attending the SOS vigil, voiced concern that in addition to the brutal dictatorship of al-Assad, “it seems that Syria has now become a battleground for powerful countries such Russia and USA to show off their power and control, such was the case during the Cold War.” Added Osman, “Sadly, it is the lives of innocent Syrian civilians that are paying the ultimate price.”
Osman said she strongly favors holding vigils as she believes they “give us the opportunity to humanize those caught in war by mourning the senseless loss of life but more importantly honoring and letting them know that their lives matter.”
Ridhwaan Syed, 19, of Tempe, who also attended the vigil, said that events like the civilian deaths “often become nothing more than 15-second clips on the news, mere statistics. We forget that these people have lives, people who love them, and now they’re gone. These vigils are little reminders to keep us from forgetting that.”