Yaman Sawaf, hoding the Save the Children of Syria sign. All photos via the author.
Last week, on the day of the Syrian Election (or otherwise referred to as the #BloodElection), the Syrian community gathered together in solidarity across the world. In Toronto, they stood in front of the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Toronto to read out loud the names of 100,000 so far victims of the crisis in Syria. They handed out information fliers, waved flags, and a main banner read: "Together we voted for freedom; but Assad killed the voters and stole elections again. Hell has surely frozen over."
To start the commemoration, Ali Mustafa’s—a Toronto photographer who was killed in Aleppo last March—sister read the first names into a microphone. The campaign was also happening in different cities in countries all over the world including the US, France, Germany, and Syria. In Syria, people read names in Homs, Kafranbel, and Aleppo. This was especially meaningful (and dangerous) in Homs and Aleppo because both cities have been under constant attack by Bashar al-Assad’s regime in recent months.
The revolution in Syria began in 2011 and last March marked the third anniversary. The #100000 names campaign was first held in Washington, D.C at that time to try and bring attention to the growing number of fatalities in what the UN has deemed one of the worst humanitarian crises in recorded history. Syrian activists had come from all over the world to read names out loud for three days straight in front of the White House, where often “unidentified” is read out loud to memorialize a body that could never be named because it had been too badly destroyed. A “Book of Death” was also started at that time and holds the names of as many deceased as activists have been able to put together.
“The main idea here is to show the people of Syria that since they haven’t been able to have a proper memorial, this is working as a memorial for Syrians and for other to people to see that the people who have died, have not died in vain,” said 17-year-old Noor Mamlouk, “and that they are never going to be forgotten.”
Noor Mamlouk reading the names of the dead into the microphone in front of Russian consulate.
Noor has been an important voice in Syrian activism here in Canada and helped host the event along with other activists. She read hundreds of names out loud both days.
Activists across the world chose to reignite the #100000 names campaign to draw attention to the fact that Bashar al-Assad was running again for president and would probably win. They were right. While names were being read in Toronto and other cities, Syrians lined up to vote in an election that was handed to a man that has already been proven guilty of using sarin gas and other terrorist-style measures against his own people. According to Ya Libnan press, one man voted for Assad by marking his ballot with blood. At the protest in Toronto, activists discussed the election as being a joke, calling it a “theatre play,” and something that means absolutely nothing to Syrians anywhere.
“We believe that more than 200,000 people have already died and it’s unbelievable that he is running for president and that his campaign slogan is ‘Together,’ especially when you see all the terrible destruction in the country,” Mamlouk said. In Syria’s capital city of Damascus it was reported that military aircraft could be heard overheard bombing rebel-held suburbs.
Another 17-year-old Syrian-Canadian read hundreds of names in honour of the people in his family who have been tortured and killed by the Assad Regime. “It means a lot to me to be here to say the names of the people who have died, especially because Bashar’s father also did the same thing to my family,” said Yaman Sawaf, who still has family in Syria that is frightened for and has already lost many relatives in this war.
Activists holding a banner similar to the ones held in other cities.
Activists also chose to protest in front of the Russian consulate because of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s involvement with Syria and general backing-up of Assad. It has been no secret that the two leaders have been supporting each other during the midst of individual political chaos. The fliers that were handed out included information regarding Russia’s current contracts with Syria for arms that have an estimated value of over $1 billion and include attack helicopters, scud balletic missiles and Russian-made T tanks.
“My parents and my two sisters are there and every day we have hundreds of people, women, and children being killed,” Rasha El Endari said. “My family won’t leave because they say it is their home and they want to fight for their freedom and their home.”
According to a recent UN Security Council report the council is “Appalled at the unacceptable and escalating violence and deaths of more than 100,000 people in Syria.” However, it does not seem like there is an end in sight for the people of Syria who have been living in such extremely terrifying conditions that no one who hasn’t experienced it themselves could possibly understand. Over 10,000 of the fatalities have been children and there are over 2.5 million refugees now living outside the country. But, Syrian activism, such as this most recent campaign in Toronto, has been relentless and continues to involve social media and youth as much as possible.
“I want people to know to keep to their faith and that everything will be solved,” Sawaf said.