As a society, we cannot afford to grow fatigued by injustice.
In the face of adversity, discrimination and racism, we must unite and organize to advocate and spread awareness for those that are marginalized. Despite the multitude of issues across the country, there are a number of people fighting for progress and they remind each of us that we can all make an impact in our own unique way.
In our new video series, “Millennials Making an Impact”, we explore the motivations behind some of these real life people who empowered themselves to solve the issues they grew disheartened by.
This video features Lida Dianti, a senior at the University of Southern California.
Lida initially became aware of the the Syrian Civil War through an internally displaced person she was tutoring overseas. Internally displaced describes a population that was forced to flee their homes to escape violence. As a result, they live in dire conditions and struggle for basic survival needs like food, water, and clothing. Unfortunately, they don’t have the resources to leave the country as 6 years of war has destroyed a lot of their assets and documentation. Currently, Syria has an estimated 6.5 million displaced people within their country. Learning about the crisis from someone involved first-hand, Lida grew horrified by the story:
In March of 2011, troops open-fired on anti-government protesters. Instead of backing down, the protesters grew in number. Despite President Bashar al-Assad promise to start a dialogue of national reform, armed soldiers supported by tanks were sent to combat the growing resistance. The rebels initially became armed to fight and defend themselves from the government’s army. Then, they turned their weapons to civilians considered to be government loyalists.
In 2012, worldwide pressure called upon President Assad to resign, as over 100 countries recognized the opposition National Coalition as the “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people. The rebels launched an offensive on the capital of Damascus and Aleppo, killing four top security officers. As the death toll passed 60,000 the United Nations urged President Assad to accept a peace initiative, but he refused.
In 2013, the momentum began to shift in President Assad’s favour as the government forces worked with the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement, Hezbollah, and recovered territory. Western and Gulf allies ignored their appeals for heavy weaponry, fearing a link between Hezbollah and al-Qaeda. Of course this “victory” didn’t come without an extremely large death toll of 90,000 people. Then, on August 21st, President Assad was accused of implementing a chemical weapon that killed more than 1,500 people. The weapon contained sarin nerve agent, which attacks the nervous system causing respiratory failure and death within minutes, and was fired within a rocket at several suburbs of Damascus. Dozens of heartbreaking video footage of dying children went viral on the Internet. The US and France both threatened punitive military action, but neither carried out an attack. President Assad denied any involvement and blamed the rebels, but allowed international inspectors to destroy the country’s arsenal of chemical weapons, based on an agreement between the United States and Russia. That process was announced completed by June of 2014, but the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has continued to find evidence of toxic chemicals used in the conflict.
In 2014, the army made significant gains and President Assad was re-elected. However, in spring of 2015, the government began to face new defeats. President Assad attributed the rebels gains to support from their Saudi, Qatari and Turkish backers. Russia threw their support behind Assad and led a bombing campaign in Syria against what they called terrorist groups– including ISIL and the rebels. Russia also began deploying military advisers to Assad to strengthen his defences. Additionally, Iran and Afghan fighters joined alongside the Syrian government. In December of 2016, the Syrian government took full control of Aleppo, its biggest victory since the start of the war. There is evidence that they used chemical weapons in the final weeks of the battle.
As of now, the Syrian government currently controls the capital, Damascus, parts of southern Syria and Deir Az Zor, much of the area near the Syrian-Lebanese border, and the northwestern coastal region. Rebel groups, ISIL and Kurdish forces control the rest of the country. The rebel groups have continued to fight against each other. Consequently. the Free Syrian Army’s power has weakened, while extremist Islamist groups have become empowered.
The Syrian conflict has created profound effects, as it has been established as the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II. Both the government and the rebel forces have committed a number of war crimes including but not limited to rape, torture, murder and enforced disappearances. They have blocked access to food, water and health services. Civilians have died from starvation, infections, and attacks. More than 4.5 million people have fled Syria, yet 6.5 million remain displaced. Neighboring countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey have struggled to cope with the rise of refugees, but there are many issues of overcrowding and lack of housing. In all of these countries, high numbers of refugees live in abandoned buildings, makeshift shelters and tents. They struggle with food and are particularly vulnerable to unsafe conditions. More than half of all refugees are children. Not only do they struggle with post-traumatic stress and illness, but they have been out of school for years. This lack of educational resources can eventually substantiate a barrier for them to ever find relief or lift themselves out of poverty.
Throughout the Syrian Civil War, President Obama was hesitant to declare military action. Being that he was elected to get America out of messy Middle-Eastern conflict, he remained convinced that a military intervention in Syria would be a costly failure. The complex battlefield of dozens of armed groups supported by competing regional and international powers would have required the commitment of thousands of troops and billions of dollars. Senior military and cabinet officials proposed cheaper options like arming the rebels and setting up a safe zone from where they could operate early in the conflict. They also proposed military strikes on the Syrian air force to force President Assad to the negotiating table. Reinforced by the lack of support from allies like the United Kingdom and Germany, President Obama rejected all of those ideas. Instead, he focused on providing humanitarian aid and promoting a ceasefire and political negotiations aimed at Assad’s departure– all of which was criticized by Republicans as weak. As a part of a fight against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, Obama authorized the bombing of ISIL groups within Syria but remained out of the Syrian conflict. His absence left the rebel groups to rely on aid from ISIL and other terrorist groups, while the Syrian government relied on aid from Russia and Iran. Russia’s entrance into the war greatly helped solidify President Assad’s grip on Syrian cities, which empowered and emboldened Russia, leaving President Obama to harsh criticism.
Nonetheless, President Trump maintained a non-interventionist attitude including barring refugees from entering the United States. On the campaign trail, President Trump consistently villainized Syrian refugees accusing them of being terrorists and not acknowledging that they are families caught in the dangerous crossfire of war. Dismissing the rigorous 1-2 year long vetting process Syrian refugees go through, Trump proposed an unconstitutional ban on all refugees approved to enter the country.
On Tuesday, heart-breaking footage dominated news cycles as Syria experienced one of the worst chemical attacks since the start of the crisis. At least 70 people died, although estimates are still being determined. A few hours after the chemical attack, a neighboring medical facility was bombed as well. On Friday, President Trump retaliated by firing 60 missiles without Congressional approval at the base that was used to launch the chemical attack. In response to the airstrike, Russia has pledged to help Syria rebuild the damage done to its air force, has stated that the US had no evidence that the chemical attack came from that base, and has threatened consequences for the action taken.
It is unclear how the world will react to President Trump’s illegitimate act of war, but we must not forget about the consequences of this 6-year destruction of human lives.
Lida Dianti has not forgotten the people affected by this great atrocity. She understood the humanity of those stuck in the crossfire of extremist Islamic leaders and a brutal dictator. Despite the current political climate that turned so many Americans against those seeking refuge in our great country, Lida had the courage to found an on-campus chapter of Students Organize for Syria and lead a massive tutoring campaign to remind those internally displaced young people that despite the horrific war surrounding them, they still had a future to hold onto. She morphed her club into a relocation service, where she assessed the needs of Syrian refugees newly arrived to our country and helped them obtain furniture, food, hygiene products, and even business investments. Recognizing that the children still suffer from post-traumatic stress and a general fear of going outside, Lida and her team organized trips to Disneyland and Chucky E. Cheese.
As we decipher this conflict, we must not forget that this war has caused families to run for their lives with little besides the clothes on their backs. We cannot allow division or hatred to tear our minds away from that undeniable truth. I encourage you to like Lida’s group, Students Organize for Syria at USC, on Facebook and visit their website to donate and show your support. Please listen to her interview here and subscribe to our Youtube channel to keep up with our new video series “Millennials Making an Impact”.
There are so many amazing young people to highlight. If you know someone who deserves this spotlight for their efforts to make an impact in issues related to social justice, policy and politics, please email email@example.com
I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
– Helen Keller