Samar Basha, foreground, of Rochester Hills weeps as survivors of the Syrian massacre share experiences at the Muslim Unity Center. (Jose Juarez / Special to The Detroit News)
Bloomfield Hills— Ameenah Sawwan is moved to tears recalling the tragic day last summer in her home city in Syria when she saw scores of people in pain.
Soon after government forces are alleged to have attacked with chemical weapons early that morning, the 23-year-old and her cousin rushed to a makeshift hospital and began treating victims with limited supplies available.
There, she tried to revive an infant. But a doctor told her: “This baby is already dead. ... You can’t do anything about this.”
On Thursday, Sawwan and other Syrians who survived attacks in the nearly three years government forces have faced off against rebel fighters shared their stories at the Muslim Unity Center. The group has been sharing those experiences as part of “Voices from Syria,” a tour sponsored by groups with ties to the nation.
The trio spoke this month to diplomats and non-government organization representatives hosted by the Permanent Mission of Norway at the United Nations. They’re also scheduled to testify before Congress in February.
Organizers of Thursday’s talk hoped the personal accounts would humanize the atrocities.
“We think there’s a lot of value in hearing first-hand experiences,” said Muna Jondy, board president of United for a Free Syria, a grassroots nonprofit involved in coordinating the event. “It ends up inspiring us.”
A crowd of about 100 people heard the gripping accounts, which were accompanied by photos, some graphic.
Hiba Sawwan described how after Syrian forces seized Moadamiya, delivery of food and basics were blocked. “After two months ... to have bread was a luxury,” she said. Some eventually died from malnutrition.
Anas al-Dabas from Daraya, Syria, remembered an attack in 2012. After the Syrian army allegedly opened fire in a nearby building, he said, he found dozens of people dead.
A neighbor survived but lost his family. Standing bleeding and dazed, “he couldn’t even say anything,” al-Dabas said. Later, al-Dabas, a pharmacist, struggled to offer comforting words. “What’s the word that we can say to him that’s appropriate in a situation like this?” al-Dabas said.
The Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons in August, calling the allegations “absolutely baseless.”
The two sides did not meet face-to-face at an international peace conference that began Wednesday in Switzerland.
Both sidesblame each other for turning the country into ruins, and they called each other terrorists. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ramped up criticism of Assad Thursday, calling him a one-man super-magnet for terrorism” who has committed war crimes.
For those who attended Thursday’s event, hearing the survivors’ accounts shed more light on a troubling conflict.
“It’s just hard to even put ourselves in their shoes,” said Noura Awad, 26, of Troy. “It’s shocking ... I just cannot believe people have the heart to do something like this.”
Awad also was reminded of stories from her uncle, who recently fled Syria due to the violence that affected him and other relatives. “Their homes are gone,” she said, adding a cousin also was detained, then went missing. “It’s sad.”