Mentions of Syria bring forth jarring images of people washing up ashore, constant bombings, and endless bloodshed. Thinking of Aleppo, my family's home in Syria, brings tears and heartache. Last Thursday, during a bombing that killed 45 civilians, the regime dropped flyers on Aleppo that read, "This is the last hope... Save yourselves. If you don't leave these areas quickly, you will be annihilated. You know that everyone has left you alone to face your doom."
I was born and raised in Memphis. I went to Dogwood and Farmington elementary schools, and Houston Middle and High School. Many of my fondest memories are of my classmates and teachers in Memphis. Upon introductions or reading my name for attendance, classmates and teachers would often ask me where I was from, to which I proudly responded, "Syria!" I was outgoing in high school and was voted "most likely to be remembered." I wonder if these teachers and classmates remember me now when they see Syria in the news.
My parents were born and raised in Aleppo. Throughout my childhood, I visited Aleppo many times with with my parents and four siblings. I had major culture shock when I first arrived. It was overwhelming at first, but soon I found myself loving Syria and looking forward to visiting. I can still smell the delicious aroma that filled my grandmother's house when she would cook for us and our big extended family; it was such a festive event.
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After dinner, we would sit at a long table on my grandmother's balcony, our aunts and uncles sharing funny stories and memories and laughing together. I would stand against the rail of the balcony, listening to the constant beeping of cars and watching the endless stream of people walking the streets. I loved the bustle and excitement of Aleppo. A bomb hit my grandmother's house about a year ago, leaving it a vacant, empty shell of memories.
My last summer in Aleppo was 2007, and I wish I'd hugged my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents a lot tighter when I left. I wish I'd gone back to Syria again before the war began, and what I wish most is for the war to be over. Three of my grandparents passed away after the Syrian Revolution started, and I wasn't able to spend time with them in their last years or hug them one last time before they were gone. It is very painful to know that they spent their last years witnessing their beloved home country become engulfed in bloodshed.
I am writing this not for your pity, but because I know the majority of American people want to see this bloodshed come to an end. When the photo of young Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, washed up on the Greek shore, surfaced, hearts broke and everyone wondered what they could do. As a founder of the Syrian American Council Memphis chapter, I've brought speakers to raise awareness about the conflict, held clothing drives, and supported Syrian refugee families resettling here. However, as many political activists have told me, "Humanitarian aid is like putting a Band-Aid on a wound. You're not healing the problem. You are just covering it."
As chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Senator Bob Corker can put his support behind the Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act. This bill would place sanctions on individuals aiding the murderous Assad regime and support feasibility studies for civilian protection measures in Syria such as a no-fly zone or safe zones for civilian protection.
On November 15th, this bipartisan bill passed unanimously in the House, and now we just need it to pass through the Senate. As Tennesseans, we must call upon Senator Corker to either hotline the bill, bringing it directly to a vote on the Senate floor, or ensure it is put on the Foreign Relations markup schedule immediately.
If I could ask for one thing to happen in Aleppo, it would be a no-fly zone. My aunts and uncles tell us they feel like they are the living dead. My 8-year-old cousin told me that if she doesn't hear the sounds of bombs, she feels worried because it has become a constant — something they are used to hearing. If they leave the house, they have to avoid snipers from the Assad regime and pray to God they don't get killed that day. They deserve to know what safety means.
Should Senator Corker take a stand, it's possible we could soon see an end to their suffering. I can only hope that soon my family will finally be able to visit our dear relatives in Syria and see joy on their faces — the joy of long-awaited freedom and peace.
Emanne Knefati is the founder of the Memphis chapter of the Syrian American Council.