While deadly explosions rocked Syria’s capital one year into an ongoing but stuttering uprising, a peaceful protest took place in Washington Saturday with demands for more U.S. help to protect civilians.
Protesters mixed between Arabic and English as they chanted for Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to step down. They also called for more U.S. assistance to help speed his resignation.
Some of them traveled hours to take part.
A Syrian-American doctor now living in North Carolina, Mazen Hamad, was among them. “Assad is getting mixed messages. On the one hand, saying you have to leave, but on the other hand nobody is forcing him to leave or not threatening to use external measures to make him leave," he said.
Hamad is from the city of Hama, where in the 1980s, Syria’s former president, Hafez al-Assad, the deceased father of the current president, oversaw the crushing of a previous insurgency.
Michigan resident and Syrian-American Abe Alo is from the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, where in the current uprising, more than 280 people are estimated to have been killed.
In the past year, people in Syria have been in constant movement, trying to flee violence as fluid conflict zones have engulfed many cities.
Saturday in Washington, Alo was taking pictures and taking part in the protest as a show of solidarity. “It is very important when they see somebody in the heart of the free world, in front of the White House, that we are here to support you guys. I think that is a big moral boost," he said.
Egyptian-American student Mariam Ghanem, who last year took part in the early days of Egypt’s own uprising in Cairo, said she also needed to show support in Washington for Syrian victims.
She said the struggle for human rights across the Middle East is only at an early stage. “It is going to take time but things have to change because people cannot keep living like this. People cannot live in their own countries and feel insecure and feel like someone could barge in, either take their land or murder them, or just do awful things that are happening right now. You cannot say that it is going to change this year or tomorrow or next month, it is going to take time, but it has to change," she said.
Between 8,000 and 10,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Syria’s uprising, most of them civilians.
Of all the long-time rulers who have faced sustained civilian protests and or armed uprisings with varying degrees of external action - with several of them already out of power, killed, incarcerated or in exile - analysts say Syria’s president appears to have put up the most brutal and effective defense.