Three Syrian-Americans reflect on the war

BY Noreen Nasir and Joshua Barajas  September 9, 2013 at 1:19 PM EDT

PBS Newshour talked to three Americans with Syrian roots to share their perspectives on the conflict.

As President Barack Obama continues to make his case for a U.S. military strike against Syria, a wide majority of Americans oppose U.S. intervention. A recent Pew Research Center/USA TODAY Poll finds that most Americans — 63 percent — say they are against U.S. military airstrikes targeted at the Bashar al-Assad regime for its reported use of chemical weapons against civilians.

The PBS NewsHour reached out to Syrian-Americans to get their perspective. We spoke to several people who shared their childhood memories of pre-war Syria. They described their struggle to stay connected while living in the United States and recounted heartwrenching conversations with family members who are still in Syria. They also shared their thoughts on a possible U.S. military intervention, along with their hopes for a country damaged by two years of war.

Syrian-Americans are well versed in the casualties this war has caused as Assad’s forces and rebel fighters battle for control of the country. According to the U.N., more than 100,000 civilians have been killed and some 4 million have become internally displaced.

Abdulmonam Alikaj, 54, lives in Virginia with his immediate family. He is originally from Aleppo, where some of his family still lives. He reminisced on his simple childhood in a “modest neighborhood” of the old city. For him, the most difficult part of the past two and a half years has been seeing the images of his hometown through the lens of war — buildings collapsed and burnt out from within while rubble piles up in the streets.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “Every time I see a picture, I cry. That’s the only thing I can do.”

Jomana Qaddour, 30, was born in Homs, but moved to the United States at a young age. She has wrestled with feeling removed from the struggles her extended family faces firsthand in Syria or as refugees in neighboring countries. In her effort to stay connected while living so far away, she and her father co-founded the organization Syria Relief and Development, which provides humanitarian aid to Syrians on the ground. They’ve raised $8.4 million so far.

“It’s a modest amount,” Qaddour said. “But it’s something small that we’ve taken upon us.”

Jomana Qaddour, who co-founded the humanitarian organization Syria Relief and Development, shares her thoughts at a recent Washington, D.C., panel on the conflict in Syria. Photo by Joshua Barajas/PBS NewsHour.

Ramah Kudaimi, 27, is a Syrian-American activist whose parents were raised in Damascus. She recalls fond memories from her trips to Syria each summer growing up, and since the uprising began in 2011, says she’s felt more connected to Syria than ever before. “I started to realize it’s more than just my parents’ homeland,” she said. “I have a personal connection to it that’s beyond just my parents.”

While Congress debates the appropriate course of action to take in Syria, Syrian-Americans continue to watch from the sidelines, grappling with the emotional burden of feeling so connected to the events on the ground, while living so far away.

Video by Noreen Nasir and Joshua Barajas.