Every time I see President Barack Obama speak on television, I have horrible flashbacks. My eyes are burning, I struggle to breathe, and when I inhale, the air stabs my lungs like a thousand daggers. A young child lies glassy-eyed in my arms, I load him into a truck, and then the world turns sideways and goes black.

Then, someone is shaking me, kissing me, crying over me. Suddenly, the world comes back into focus, and I see my friend, shouting: “You’re alive! You’re alive!”

I am a survivor of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons attacks of Aug. 21, 2013. One year ago today, my heart stopped for 30 minutes after I inhaled nerve gas launched by Assad regime forces on my hometown of Moadamiya, a suburb of Damascus. The scene outside my front porch that morning was like something from Judgment Day:
Neighbors I had known my whole life were running, screaming, and writhing in agony as an invisible killer claimed their lives.
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Today, a year later, I remember my dear friends with sadness, knowing that the man who killed them was spared punishment for the atrocity he committed that day.

But the worst sadness of my life did not come the day my friends died. It came three weeks later, while watching a livestream of President Obama. I learned from that speech that the United States would make a deal with Russia to rid Syria of its chemical weapons, instead of striking at Assad for his atrocities. I had to translate this news into Arabic for my friends — we cried harder than we had on Aug. 21, because we knew that Assad now had a green light to kill all the Syrians he wanted, so long as he did not use sarin gas.

The past year has played out as I feared. Assad may have relinquished most of his sarin gas, but he has also found a new weapon to replace it, which also kills invisibly on a massive scale. Americans might recognize this weapon because fanatics from the self-styled “Islamic State” recently used it to kill Yazidis on Mount Sinjar. That weapon is starvation.
Over the past year, Assad has killed hundreds of civilians in rebel-held areas across the country by denying them food, water, or medicine until they succumb to starvation. As with the Islamic State’s pretend “caliph,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Assad’s only goal with starvation is to inflict unbelievable pain and suffering on innocents until they assent to his bloody rule.

In my hometown, there are few extremists. Emissaries from al Qaeda who came to our town to scout for recruits left Moadamiya after concluding in one day that we were “apostates.” We are locals fighting for democracy in Moadamiya — and for this reason, Assad is slowly starving us to death.

I was in Moadamiya until February, and I saw the full impact of Assad’s “starve and surrender” weapon myself. In October 2012, Assad’s forces commenced a total siege on Moadamiya, blocking all food, medicine, and humanitarian supplies from entering the town. While we initially found sustenance from a bumper crop of olives, food began to run out as winter set in, and residents were reduced to eating weeds and stray animals.

Once more, I held infants in my arms as they lay glassy-eyed and dying, this time from malnutrition. I consoled parents on the deaths of their young children — such as my friend Abu Bilal, who was a grocer before the siege but could not even save his own daughter during it. Another friend of mine was desperate to get medicine for his dying daughter, but was caught by regime intelligence. We found him with his throat slashed and the skin peeled off his entire body.

These are daily realities for tens of thousands of Syrians. Entire towns are slowly dying of starvation, and the U.S.-Russian chemical weapons deal made it possible. I know that the United States can save my friends and family in Moadamiya, just as it saved the poor Yazidis on Mount Sinjar.

Obama recently dismissed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) as “former doctors, farmers, [and] pharmacists,” incapable of fighting Assad and the Islamic State at the same time. I know the FSA fighters in my hometown, and the president couldn’t be more wrong to write them off: Before I blacked out a year ago today, I watched with my own eyes as they repelled a massive attack by Assad troops in full chemical gear. The “farmers and pharmacists” of the Free Syrian Army have defended Moadamiya from everything Assad has thrown at them, and they deserve America’s support.

Last November, I initiated an indefinite hunger strike to draw attention to the horrific daily realities in my hometown. The hunger strike garnered international attention, and Congressman Keith Ellison even fasted for a day in solidarity. But it also drew the attention of regime authorities, who began to seek ways to kill me. With death possibly just around the corner, I entered into “negotiations” with the regime and managed to trick Ghassan Bilal — the chief of staff for Maher al-Assad, Bashar’s brother and feared enforcer — into thinking that I was ready to work with him. This allowed me to escape to Lebanon, and from there to Turkey, before I finally found refuge in the United States.

Since coming to the United States, I have been shocked at how little citizens of the world’s most powerful nation discuss global affairs. But I have also been pleasantly surprised by Americans’ generosity and love of liberty. I see statues all over Washington celebrating the American Revolution — a revolution that could not have happened without the many farmers and doctors who took up arms. I am confident that, once Americans realize what is happening in Syria, they will come to the aid of the Syrian “farmers and pharmacists” who power our revolution as well.

Obama must realize that we are fighting for our liberty, and that his inaction while we are being slaughtered will go down in history as a moral stain on his presidency.

Image  —  Posted: August 22, 2014 by mhamou in Uncategorized

Message In A Bottle

Posted: May 28, 2014 by StopTheSiege in Uncategorized
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Qusai at the UN Security Council Meeting with Ambassador Samantha Power, 5/22/2014

All of ​the traveling, ​speaking ​at events​, telling my story over and over​,​ the meetings in DC,​ and with​ think tanks​,​ talking to ​the ​media, and ​all of the ​other things that I ​have been​ doing here in the ​United States since I arrived ​finally ​felt like they were beginning​ to pay off for Syria when I got an invitation from the lovely Ambassador Samantha Power ​to attend the United Nations Security Council session​ about the vote for the resolution on the war crimes in Syria​.​

I travelled to New ​Y​ork City​ the night before the UNSC meeting, along with some ​amazing Syrian activists.The US Mission to the UN offered lots of help in getting us to the meeting​.They took care of the details to make sure that everything would​ go well​ ​and​ thank God, it did​.

We went inside the hearing at 10:00 ​AM​ and​ as expected, the Russian and Chinese​ ambassadors​ used their v​eto for the fou​rth time against efforts to help put an end to the suffering of the Syrian ​people. A​fter the veto​,​ Am​bassador​ ​P​ower​ ​gave​ a historical speech exposing the brutality of this ​v​eto​. In the middle of her speech, she started reading my notes about some of the horrors that I’ve witnessed from the Assad regime. She asked me to stand up while she ​was​ speaking and so I did​.

It felt like we had a voice for the first time at the UNSC.​ I heard the echo of my memories resonating inside the ears of diplomats ​​and people of many different languages and skin colors. I​t felt like the world ​had finally ​started to find and read some of our messages in bottles​​.​ Am​bassador​ ​Power was the first person who had the ​courage to open and read one of ​those messages from the Syrian people.

I hope that more p​eople and officials will start ​picking up our bottles, pulling out our messages, reading them ​and ​responding to the continual SOS ​calls ​from the Syrian people to the world. ​

 

(See Ambassador Power’s speech beginning at 17:00)

 

 

 

 

Two Is Better Than One

Posted: April 22, 2014 by StopTheSiege in Uncategorized

0My racing heartbeats lead tonight’s dance with the sparkling light of the moon, each time her innocent shy face makes its way through my mixed emotions and my racing thoughts about Syria, my family, my uncertain future.

“No, I am not gonna fall again. I can’t be that stupid,” I tell myself and try to resist sending her another message or some dumb picture of me to get her talking again. My God, do I ever learn?

Is it love again? Or is it my endless search for home – for my mom’s tender hugs, my second half, my One – that is telling me now that it might be her this time?

How can I be so selfish, thinking about my childish feelings while I should be concentrating on my tour and the revolution during these critical moments? I start lecturing myself while finding my way through yet another airport, heading to another event in another state.

I look at all the pretty girls around me and convince myself that I can forget her. And then I remember her oriental beauty that caught me by surprise the minute I saw her smiling on Facebook. Oh, damn!

She probably notices that I care too much. I don’t know… does she? Should I tell her or is it too soon? What if she doesn’t feel the same? What would I do then? I am a teenager again.

Oh dear God, I don’t think I can take another barrel-bombed heart. Yes, her love is barrel-bombing me and there is no place to hide from barrel bombs.

I am gonna write to her and say:

Sarin gas stopped my heart
Can you be my atropine, yes or not?
Surviving starvation was so hard
Can I have the piece of candy called your hand?
Careful though with the red lines I say
Cuz I am not Obama. I’ve got revolutionary sway
Be my Erdogan, don’t be a Bashar
So you can roll my soul when I am near or far
My love is action
I am not Ki-Moon
I will fight to get you, even if all I have is a spoon
I should stop writing, oh my God
Please say yes and we will be so glad
When we will be together, we will have fun
Please listen to ‘Two is Better than One’
I am waiting for an answer from you to hear
…till then I’m out of here!

 

I was looking at the most amazing scene I had seen since I arrived in the States – the flowering cherry blossoms.  My God, it felt like heaven.  The sun was sneaking through the shy clouds.  Poems of unconditional love were being recited by the light wind playing with lovers’ faces while they were standing there holding hands enjoying the beauty of an early spring day.

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I was taken by the scene.  I looked at my cold hand – no lover’s hand to hold you today.  I am sorry. Let me warm you and my freezing lips up with a cigarette.  Yes my beloved cowboy killers – it’s time for you again.

Rushing down the steps to the street, calling a taxi to get me to a meeting at the State Department to brief some officials about my experiences inside Syria and my beloved Moadamiya, I tried to get myself together to focus. I took out a mint to erase the smell of tobacco from my breath.  “Looking good,” my friends who were escorting me to the meeting said, “now let’s go get ‘em.”

We went inside the State Department building and started talking about the chemical attack, the brutal siege, the constant shelling and massacres, Assad’s use of starvation as a weapon, barrel bombs, blackmailing the rebels to surrender through the civilians and calling that a truce, and my great escape.  As I spoke, it seemed to me like they really cared about what I was telling them. They asked a millions questions – hard ones and surprising ones.

Cherry blossoms – what a view.  The image remained in my thoughts during the meeting.  I started telling the officials that you need to act before it’s too damn late and how could Obama keep looking the other way about all that Bashar and Iran and Putin are doing in Syria?

I told them that since I’ve arrived here, all I’ve seen on CNN or NBC was news about the Malaysian airplane over and over.  With all due respect for it, I think there are much more important things going on in the world – like Assad’s using chemical weapons dozens of times in limited doses during the past few weeks, barrel bombs destroying what’s left of Aleppo and Syria, or how about how Bashar fulfilled his promise that he made in the middle of 2011 and turned Syria into a new Afghanistan, or how Hizballah and Al​-Qaeda are getting more experienced and stronger, while both of them  are fighting side by side against the free Syrian army, above and below the radar.

The officials told me that were doing their best and left. Then others approached me and told me to keep it up because I am right and there is much more that the US can do.

I felt a bit disappointed, but as we left the State Department, I remembered that someone as important and as pretty as Angelina Jolie had visited the Syrian refugee camps dozens of times and that she is somewhere here in the States and that she is standing with the Syrian people.  Angelina’s support gave me hope, especially when she called Kim Kardashian a witless bimbo after Kim misinformed people about Syria on Twitter.

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Suddenly it hit me in the face.  Why the hell doesn’t she run for president?  Imagine Angelina in the White House as the President of the United States of America. That also means that we would have Brad Pitt as the First Lady (man).

I think Angelina is like me.  She can see just how pretty the cherry blossoms are but she also sees the beauty of the Damascene jasmines and recognizes that they are worth saving.

I thought about that as I lit another cowboy killer to warm my cold hands and freezing lips and returned to the park with the cherry blossoms. My God, what a beautiful scene? And my God, how I love Angelina!

Image  —  Posted: April 14, 2014 by mhamou in Uncategorized

Lost and Lonely in Washington

Posted: March 20, 2014 by StopTheSiege in Uncategorized

There are echoes and shadows of previous days and old friends. It’s strange how life can become like daydreaming. No more black and white for me, I guess. Everything is colored in gray: my past, present and future.10013821_223389617857241_1084390771_n

It took almost three awkward weeks in Damascus, staying at the Dama Rose Hotel, meeting high profile officers from the Forth Division, acting and lying to them until I managed to make it to Beirut using a fake ID.

In Beirut, things became even more awkward for me as I met friends and reporters who I had spoken and worked with for months without ever meeting in person. It’s funny how these types of relationships develop, how we put names, faces and flesh to voices on the phone and Skype.

I got myself a new phone number in Lebanon using my fake ID and within hours it was under watch by God knows who. Sometimes while talking to friends, the line would open and I’d heard people talking in Russian. Sometimes, I’d randomly hear the answering machine of a Syriatel number, as if I called someone and their phone was turned off. The best part of Beirut was meeting a lot of amazing and pure hearted people and getting to know them better.

While in Beirut, I also broke up with my girlfriend who I hadn’t seen in years. It seems like sometime between the last time I saw her and the time I called her from Beirut, she had moved on with her life. She is not the girl I used to know. It also hurt that I was so close to my mom and family members but couldn’t see them.

Meanwhile, back home, friends and people I thought I could trust started saying bad things about me because I left or because I talked about the corruption that was happening in Syria.

The regime too was pissed at me and created a huge campaign against me and my family, accusing me to be a CIA agent or God knows what else because I am asking people in the US and the world to care more about Syria and push their governments to help.

While leaving from Beirut, I went through a lot of trouble until I made it to DC. I felt like Ben Affleck in Argo, but the minute the plane took off from Lebanon, there was no more fear of being caught… I think.

Now here I am on the other side of the planet, away from my beloved Syria and Moadamiya, surrounded by so many amazing Syrians, crowded streets, tall buildings, and a loneliness growing like a beast, eating me from the inside.

Whenever I hear the sound of an airplane, my eyes turn to the sky in search of a MiG fighter or a chopper dumping explosive barrels. I always keep my cellphone on the charger in preparation for blackout. I store extra packs of cigarettes and candy bars so in case anything happens, I won’t be starving or dying for a smoke like I used to.

People here don’t know how much they are blessed to have power and food and safety and they take it for granted. They don’t hug their family and friends tight like we do because they don’t feel that this might be the last time they might see them. They don’t understand… they just don’t. But this is going to change. I will speak, scream, and write, until they start listening… until they understand.

In DC, I met a couple of friends I consider close, but I did my best to hide from them, because they know how much I suffer and I didn’t want to fall apart and cry like a five years old. That would only make both of us feel bad. But now I feel even worse because I realize that my avoidance made them feel like I don’t care about them, while all I was trying to do was stay strong enough to do the work I’m supposed to do here.

Somehow, I have to find a way to stop feeling lost and lonely in Washington.

The Syrian Revolution Continues…

Posted: March 3, 2014 by StopTheSiege in Uncategorized

In March 2011, the Syrian people rose up against the dictatorship of Bashar al Assad, demanding freedom and dignity for all Syrians. After three years of heroism and sacrifice we stand once again to tell the world that the Syrian revolution continues.

The Assad regime has tried to suppress the revolution with bombs, missiles, chemical weapons and starvation but we continue to stand tall against this evil. On March 15, 2014 we ask all of the decent people in the world to raise their voices with us and take action to support the Syrian revolution for freedom and dignity. Join us in Washington DC and in cities around the world to say down with the Assad regime. The Syrian people deserve their free Syria now!

Register for the anniversary event here: http://march15.splashthat.com/

Assad’s Trojan Horse Comes To Moadamiya

Posted: January 24, 2014 by StopTheSiege in Uncategorized

It’s been a while since I blogged and told the world about what’s going on in Moadamiya, but once again, the lack of electrical power and an overdose of trouble keep getting in the way. But I decided I have to make time for this no matter what, so here I am. Assad’s weapon of starvation is now in its most advanced stage: the Trojan Horse. The Assad regime is trying to turn people against one another, using food as a weapon of war and as a weapon to divide us. The regime has allowed the delivery of only three shipments of food containing just one meal per person since we agreed to the truce and raised the regime flag.

You know that prolonged starvation can stop your mind from thinking straight, change your beliefs and even your faith in things you previously took for granted. That’s my explanation for the big change I’ve noticed in many people here in Moadamiya.

For me, starvation inspired me to start the hunger strike, which is something I’d never thought about before. Only a few of our townspeople have made the best of our situation. For the majority, this unspeakable suffering has brought out an ugly side.I can somewhat understand why people seem to only care only about getting food, no matter what the terms are, but for me that is unacceptable. I feel the hunger they feel, but I am not willing to be blackmailed by the regime. Besides raising the flag, the regime wants us to also give up heavy and light weapons, which are the only protection we have against the regime coming in and carrying out a full massacre on our people.

The regime has also requested that all leaders of the Free Syrian Army and powerful local council members go out and negotiate with the regime face to face. They have called for all high level officers and prominent activists to report to the Fourth Division Headquarters, without any assurances of safety. At the division, they will be interrogated and asked to sign a statement stating they are terrorists and likely also be asked to sign blank documents, and God knows what the regime will use those for. This is the way of the Assad regime and we know it well.

Some members of the negotiation committee are working hard to stir a big mess in the town, which will make us weak and an easy bite for the regime. So, here’s the regime’s Trojan Horse: food and a truce, an apparent gift, which the town leaders sign for with good intentions, but this so called gift destroys us from the inside. Assad slowly takes control of the town, and activists like me continue to receive death threats for speaking out against the regime’s evil methods.

As my situation in the town grows more and more dangerous, I’ve decided to leave Moadamiya. This of course is impossible due to the siege, but I am working on finding a way out. Your prayers and well wishes are appreciated.

-Qusai Zakarya