For A Syrian Activist, Optimism Is Increasingly Hard To Find | KUOW News and Information

For A Syrian Activist, Optimism Is Increasingly Hard To Find

Dec 8, 2015
Originally published on December 8, 2015 3:42 pm

Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to get all sides in Syria's civil war to work out a cease-fire by the end of December. Opponents to the Syrian regime are trying to come up with a negotiating team.

There is movement, but reaching a truce is still considered a longshot in a war that's been raging for more than four years and shows no sign of cooling down. One Syrian opposition figure, Aram al-Doumani, who has good reason to be skeptical of the talks, is making the rounds in Washington this week to explain why.

Doumani, 32, took part in peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad's regime back in 2011. And he was there, he said, when Syrian security forces gunned down protesters in his hometown of Douma, near the capital Damascus.

"What happened there had a profound impact on us and on Syria in general. Five [people] fell in front of my eyes," including a 12-year-old, he said in an interview in Washington.

Doumani runs the Syria Press Agency, a network of 120 citizen journalists. When he and his colleagues heard reports of a gas attack on the town of Ghouta, near Damascus, in 2013, they were there in minutes with no protective gear.

"Upon seeing the very large number of dead bodies, just strewn across the street, we had nausea and felt dizzy and we were in a state of shock," he said.

Criticism Of U.S. Policy

Speaking through an interpreter, Doumani said he was initially encouraged by the Obama administration's threats to strike the Syria government forces following the chemical weapons attack. But the Obama administration eventually settled for a deal to remove Syria's declared chemical weapons.

"We lost faith in Mr. Obama's Syria policy," he said. "We were really dismayed that those civilians, women and children who were being gassed, tortured and killed, just had no one to have their back."

The war took another turn with the rise of the Islamic State. He said rebels forced ISIS out of his hometown of Douma, but now the area is being hit by Russian and Syrian aircraft. He doubts the ceasefire talks will stop that.

"The [Assad] regime and the Russian forces and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Forces and Hezbollah forces continue to target civilians in their homes, in shops, schools, so how can we have any faith in those talks?" he said.

Doumani left Syria three months ago and is threatened by just about every side in this war. His father was a political prisoner who died in detention more than a decade ago. Most of his family fled to the U.S. then. Asked how he's survived this long in Syria, Doumani takes a deep breath.

"I think it was my mother's prayers. I'm her only son. I have five sisters and I'm her only son," he said.

He'll join his mother and other family members in Los Angeles soon, but hopes to return to Syria one day, when it's safe.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

When it comes to diplomatic efforts to end the war in Syria, this is a pretty important week. Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to get all sides to negotiate a cease-fire by the end of the month. Now opponents to the Syrian regime are trying to come up with a negotiating team. NPR's Michele Kelemen caught up with one Syrian opposition figure who has good reason to be skeptical of these talks and is making the rounds in Washington to explain why.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Thirty-two-year-old Aram al-Doumani has watched many horrors unfold in Syria, even in the early days of what was a peaceful uprising against Bashar al-Assad's regime. Aram was there when the Syrians gunned down protesters in his hometown of Douma in 2011.

ARAM AL-DOUMANI: (Through interpreter) What happened there had a profound impact on us and Syria and general. Five fell in front of my eyes.

KELEMEN: Including, he says, a 12-year-old boy, Aram runs the Syria Press Agency, a network of 120 citizen journalists. When he and his colleagues heard of a sarin gas attack on a nearby town in 2013, they were there in minutes with no protective gear.

AL-DOUMANI: (Through interpreter) Upon seeing that, upon seeing the very large number of dead bodies just strewn across the street, we had nausea and felt dizzy, and we were in a state of shock.

KELEMEN: Speaking through an interpreter who's a fellow activist, Aram says he was initially encouraged by the Obama administration's threats to strike the regime but then saw the U.S. settle for a deal to remove Syria's declared chemical weapons.

AL-DOUMANI: (Through interpreter) We lost faith in Mr. Obama's Syria policy. We were really dismayed that those civilians, women and children, who were being gassed and being tortured and being killed, just had no one to have their back.

KELEMEN: The war took another turn with the rise of ISIS. He says rebels forced ISIS out of his hometown, but now the area's being hit by Russian and Syrian aircraft. He doubts the talks will stop that.

AL-DOUMANI: (Through interpreter) The regime and the Russian forces and Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces and Hezbollah forces continue to target civilians in their homes, in their shops, in their schools. So how can we have faith in any talks?

KELEMEN: Aram al-Doumani left Syria three months ago and is threatened by just about every side in this war. His father was a political prisoner who died in detention more than a decade ago. Most of his family fled to the U.S. then. Asked how he survived this long in Syria, Aram takes a deep breath.

AL-DOUMANI: (Through interpreter) I think it was my mother's prayers. I am her only son. I have five sisters, and I'm her only son.

KELEMEN: He'll join his mother and other family members in Los Angeles soon but hopes to return to Syria one day when it's safe. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.