January 27, 2013

Students Gather to Honor Deaths in Syria

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In the wake of bombings at Aleppo University in Syria that killed at least 87 people on Jan. 15, about 30 students gathered on Ho Plaza  Saturday for a candlelight vigil to honor the victims of the attack.

Adam Abboud ’14, president of the Islamic Alliance for Justice — a student organization that helped organize the vigil — said that the event was planned to spread more awareness about the Syrian crisis throughout the Cornell community.

“If we don’t share these stories, we are taking a back seat, and we are just as involved as our own government and the U.N. in not helping the situation,” Abboud said. “The university is a sacred institution. Students [in Syria] are no different from you and me and are using that knowledge to advance their families and communities.”

Six students, including Abboud, spoke at the vigil.

Abboud began the vigil by discussing the human suffering involved in the Syrian crisis. Speakers read poems in Farsi and Arabic as well as Jewish and Muslim prayers.

In his speech, Abboud connected the moral implications of the bombing of an educational institution to the suffering associated with the Syrian opposition movement as a whole, noting that about 60,000 people have died there since March 2011.

“We also gather to remember, mourn and pray for the more than 60,000 brutally tortured and murdered, and the many more that will fall today and tomorrow,” Abboud said. “We gather to remember and pray for the more than 2.5 million displaced and refugee-seeking Syrians.”

Abboud said that the vigil was also meant to allow those personally affected by the tragedy an opportunity to gather in a public venue.

“A lot of people feel powerless,” Abboud said. “The least we can do is share these stories and and give people an opportunity to feel.”

To connect the suffering in Syria to the student body, Noor Hashem grad, one of the speakers at the vigil, said the death toll in Syria was equal to two and a half times the population of Cornell.

“I think it is all about putting yourself in the position of people,” Hashem said. “Sometimes those numbers could get so daunting and so large. I was trying to bring that home.”

Hashem also tried to make the bombings at Aleppo more relatable to student life at Cornell by explaining at the vigil that, since Aleppo was bombed during exam period, more students were concentrated in the affected area, and thus more people were killed.

In addition to members of IAJ, other attendees at the vigil included passers-by and those who had heard of the event from word-of-mouth. Many sympathized with the goal of the event’s organizers.

“It was good for us to show our support and show that we are on their side,” Reem Khondakar ’16 said.

Heather Herman ’16 said she attended the vigil because she wanted to learn about the events in Syria.

“I am speechless right now because I didn’t know much of what was going on. This campus can be like a bubble,” Herman said.

Hashem said he was pleased that attendees acted in the spirit of the vigil.

“I thought everyone was very respectful,” Hashem said. “I was very glad to see people there and to see such different cultures and faiths coming together in solidarity.”

Abboud also noted that a single vigil was only a small step given the scope of the damage caused by the instability in Syria.

“To be honest, I would like to have a vigil every single night for the massacres that happen every day,” Abboud said.

Original Author: Erica Augenstein