Daily Hampshire Gazette, Sunday, December 18, 2016

NORTHAMPTON — A world away from Aleppo, Syria, Zaid AlNassar stood behind a microphone Sunday and in Arabic tried to convey an unimaginable feeling: the pain of a relentless war that has ripped apart his homeland.

Wind swept in and clouds churned overhead as about 100 people huddled in front of First Churches of Northampton, endeavoring to do what they could to help put an end to Syria’s civil war.

“The pain and the bloodshed is unimaginable in Syria and in Aleppo,” AlNassar said through a translator. “Every day hundreds and hundreds of people die.”

AlNassar, 37, who now lives in Westfield with his wife and five children, said he and his family were resettled in Massachusetts two years ago from Daraa, Syria, a city credited with helping spark the rebellion aimed at toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2011.

“He is begging the international community and governments to respond to this crisis,” the translator told the crowd. To the crowd, and to Americans, the translator said, “He’s very grateful.”

“Thank you so much,” AlNassar said into the microphone, in English.

The international community has failed to stop the bloodshed throughout Syria, where the Assad regime, backed by Russia and Iran, has tangled with the Islamic State, various rebel factions and Kurdish fighters in a bloody fight over territory. The world’s attention has been drawn to Aleppo in recent weeks, where leaders have struggled to come up with an evacuation plan for civilians left behind as government forces have wrested control of the city from rebels.

In Northampton, organizers urged those gathered to keep up pressure on world leaders to hash out a plan to shepherd civilians to safety and more broadly negotiate an end to the war.

And while organizers said governments have so far failed Syrians, they urged regular citizens not to forget them.

“When people say that the world has turned its back on Syria, I think governments have turned their backs on Syria,” said Sara Weinberger of the Valley Syria Relief Committee. “But ordinary people have not. And this community has not, and we hope, will not.”

She said the Valley Syria Relief Committee has raised about $150,000 since last fall to be donated to the Syrian American Medical Society, a non-political nonprofit working on the front lines in Syria to provide medical aid.

In addition, the Catholic Diocese of Springfield is coordinating the resettlement of 51 refugees to the Pioneer Valley, some of whom will be Syrian. Refugees could start arriving in mid-January, said Yamila Irizarry-Gerould, who helped plan Sunday’s rally and who said she’s been working on resettlement efforts.

Irizarry-Gerould said there’s “a lot of doubt with the new administration coming in” about the future of refugee resettlement from war-torn areas.

Irizarry-Gerould and Mukaram Hhana, a postdoctoral fellow at Smith College studying Middle Eastern history, handed out pamphlets with names of groups those gathered could donate to, including Mercy Corps, White Helmets, Doctors without Borders and NuDay Syria.

Also on the pamphlet were the names and numbers of Massachusetts’ congressional delegation, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, the White House and the Russian ambassador to the United States.

“It is critical that you donate,” Hhana said. “It’s really just about everybody putting in what they can to show our support and solidarity for the victims of political warfare.”

Toward the end of the event, Alia AlAbsi, 39, who said she was Palestinian, held up a poster with a picture of a wounded Syrian child, stood behind a microphone and sobbed.

“Please,” she said. “Please do something.”

Contact Jack Suntrup at jsuntrup@gazettenet.com.

Check out photos and video at Gazettenet.com