As the civil war in Syria enters its fifth year, there’s a sense of great loss that’s settled over Syrian Americans — many of whom still have family in the country, most of whom have been impacted in some way by the violence and chaos of the last four years.
On Sunday, hundreds of Syrian Americans from around the country gathered for a fourth year in front of the White House to commemorate the beginning of the revolution, and to honor the 220,000 people who have been killed since it began and renew their calls for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
This year, the attendees were also protesting against the Islamic State group, chanting “ISIS and Assad are the same, the only difference is the name.”
In fact, according to one of the demonstration’s organizers, this was the first time an anti-Islamic State group protest had been held in the United States. Even amid a sense of fatigue many people feel after years of unrest, those who rallied outside the White House said their aim was to re-energize the Syrian community to hold onto hope.
The protest showed both Syrian and American identities, as people chanted hurriyeh, the Arabic word for freedom, to the banging of a tableh, a Syrian drum. First and second generation Syrian Americans waved Syrian and American flags — a mix of red, white, blue and green on the windy day.
Despite feelings of anger, fear, frustration and grief, those who attended Sunday’s rally said they have not lost faith. “The revolution continues,” they cried.
The rally came on the same day that Secretary of State John Kerry told CBS news that the United States would have to negotiate with Bashar al-Assad’s government to end the conflict. Speakers at the protest expressed their frustration with the move, saying that negotiations with Assad would be akin to negotiating with terrorists. The State Department later tried to clarify that Kerry was not specifically referring to Assad, and that Washington would never negotiate with the Syrian president.
The humanitarian situation in Syria has grown dire, with more than 2.5 million displaced from their homes and a 30 percent increase in demand for international aid. A recent report drafted by numerous aid organizations sharply criticized the UN Security Council for not doing enough to respond to the crisis and allowing for conditions in the country to get worse.
For more on the state of the Syrian Civil War four years in, watch PBS NewsHour tonight. Judy Woodruff will speak with Former Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, Washington Bureau Chief for the Al-Arabiya News Channel, Hisham Melhem, and Steve Heydemann, who has worked extensively with the Syrian opposition.