Politicians say there is war in Syria.
For Ayhem, whose asked his last name be omitted to protect his family back home, it’s a revolution.
The Syrian conflict has killed over 100,000 people, according to the United Nations. Each day at least 5,000 Syrians flee, and conservative estimates state over 6 million people have been displaced from their homes.
Two years, six months, three days and counting — the conflict continues with no foreseeable end, according to the UN. For many Americans, what they see in Syria can be viewed as a question of politics, with some fearing their country will take military action.
For Ayhem, it is home.
“After three years, it’s like I don’t have feelings anymore,” Ayhem said via Skype. “Everything is just evidence — something else has happened — if I tried to live with those feelings I would only survive 10 minutes, so I just ignore them and try to forget.”
A senior at Yasar University in Izmir, Turkey, Ayhem studies software engineering and hopes to one day be a programmer — he was first inspired by his childhood love of Need For Speed II.
Yasar University is one of five schools the University of Montana has partnered with in central and southwest Asia for students to study abroad.
Ayhem, 22, lives five hours from the Syrian border with his parents and sister. He is originally from Damascus, but moved to Turkey over a year ago to begin at Yasar. His parents joined him soon after.
His grandparents remain in the Syrian countryside and Ayhem’s mom calls them every day to check in.
While Ayhem pretends life is normal, he cannot avoid reminders of war at home. He remembers speeding away from crossfire between rebels and soldiers during his last visit on June 16, 2012. And two weeks ago, he found out his best friend — a Red Crescent worker — had shrapnel in his knees from an explosion outside the relief organization’s Damascus building.
“It is not political anymore,” Ayhem said. “It is about humanity now.”
The conflict is between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and hundreds of rebel groups seeking to oust him. The Syrian government receives support from Russia and Iran, while rebel forces receive military aid from Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
The UN recently confirmed that the Aug. 21 chemical attack in Ayhem’s hometown was the worst chemical attack in 25 years.
For weeks, Syrians and Americans waited for news on a possible U.S. military intervention. However, that was put aside with an agreement from the Syrian government to dispose of its chemical weapons stockpile. How Syria will dispose of the weapons and when is still a work in progress.
'WHETHER IT IS THEIR HOME OR NOT, THEY SHOULD STILL TRY TO UNDERSTAND.'
UM political science professor Karen Adams said military intervention is likely off the table for now. It will take at least five months for inspectors to search for chemical weapons, and the next step will be some sort of peace conference, which will also take months.
Adams said it can be hard for students to follow news in a war, but staying informed on the destruction affecting the Syrian people and their neighbors needs to be a priority.
“There is a lot of suffering going on in the world and many people can get tired of watching it,” she said. “It’s depressing.”
Julie DeSoto, a UM international development graduate, lives in Jordan working as a teaching assistant. She has seen the Syrian crisis seep into her new home.
“Jordanians seem to feel their country has changed,” she wrote in an email from Amman. “(They) have voiced their concerns about the topic of Syria — especially of the stress on the country’s economy.”
Most newspapers in Jordan have remained neutral on U.S. action, she said.
However, some articles are reporting on Jordan’s call for the international community to offer the country more support. Jordan is the region’s largest recipient of Syrian refugees, she said. DeSoto also works as an intern for the Noor Hussein Foundation and Institute for Family Health helping refugees.
“Most of the clinic’s current clients are Syrians and they have over 100 visits a week,” she said.
While Ayhem attends school knowing there’s a war back home, he encourages students from around the world to inform themselves through a variety of newspapers.
“Whether it is their home or not, they should still try to understand,” Ayhem said.
Ayhem said watching the news for updates has been especially disappointing in the last month as Syrians waited for a declaration of U.S. military action. Instead, they learned new rules were set by the United Nations, Ayhem said as he shook his head.
“If you kill someone with a gun and then give up the gun, then you are not guilty anymore,” Ayhem said, alluding to America’s policy on chemical weapons used on his hometown. “And this, this is new in the world.”
Ayhem said the American government’s decision not to intervene gave him the impression that “they don’t care about Syrians and Assad can kill us.”
Ayhem said the only way he knows how to explain dealing with the Syrian conflict is that his people are “born to survive” and must at least try to go on with life.
“At the beginning whenever I felt happy, I felt guilty,” he said. “Every day there is 100 people, 200 people, dying in my homeland, so I shouldn’t be happy. But after three years, I accept this is all I can do.”