LETTERS TO SYRIA A collection of portraits and letters for the people of Syria

Letters to Syria is an ongoing collection of letters and portraits addressed to the Syrian people. An act of solidarity, a form of advocacy, and an attempt to restore hope

Since the start of the Syrian Civil war in 2011, more than 400,000 Syrians have been killed. More than 4 million people have fled Syria, while an estimated 12.3 million are internally displaced. Both civilians and rebel fighters have been subjected to chemical weapons, bombings and other horrific acts of war. Ancient cities have been turned to dust, families are starving, children are dying, and those who have left are uncertain of their future. And the future of Syria.

The Syrian people continue to persevere, but suffer while much of the world has remained silent. This book is an act of solidarity, a sign to Syria that there are people who are listening and watching. It is a form of advocacy and an attempt to bring hope and restore dignity to a seemingly hopeless, broken situation.

Syria needs you to listen. Syria deserves your attention. Syria needs your help.

Syria. A place where individuals are fleeing for their lives. A place where fear is hiding around every corner. A place where buildings are destroyed and families are torn apart. A place where gun shots are heard daily and death is a reality. And yet… a place of beauty and restoration.

Dearest Syria,

In the midst of tragedy you have opened your arms to share the most beautiful part of your country with the world, YOUR PEOPLE. Through hearing the testimonys of your people, I have seen strength rise out of the nation. I have heard stories unfold of families pressing on through loss, children entering new schools, learning new languages, and families continue to love. This, to me, proves victory. Victory over death, victory over disaster.

Syria, while your nation and your heart may be broken, all eyes are on your people. You are teaching the world many things like:

  • Fight. And keep fighting. Even when it seems impossible.
  • Find the ones you love and cling to them above all else.
  • Keep an open heart and mind, even when all your other options have failed you.
  • Always hold onto hope, even when you cannot see it.
  • Your country and your people have changed the world forever.

Hannah, United States

Syria, while your nation and your heart may be broken, all eyes are on your people. You are teaching the world many things....

I’ve been anxious as I think about writing this letter. I think that’s because I don’t feel qualified to speak – I have minimal understanding of what it feels like to be forced out of a country, of the unrest in the region, or even the particulars of the culture.

But I’m fighting against that feeling. My capacity for empathy must be greater than the fear that leads to division and sequestration. And I must be continually aware that each of you are more than refugees. You’re intelligent, passionate, principled, opinionated everyday people. Your patchwork of identities, traditions, heritages and experiences makes you uniquely valuable – as it does for any of us. And as such, you and I have so much of value to contribute to whatever culture we’ve found ourselves in. So, whoever you are, wherever you are, if I have anything to say about it: welcome.

Elliott, United States

You’re intelligent, passionate, principled, opinionated everyday people. Your patchwork of identities, traditions, heritages and experiences makes you uniquely valuable – as it does for any of us.

Dear Friends,

I’m so glad my naturally introverted husband did something contrary to his nature – he offered you a ride home one day from work at the library. From one simple act of kindness, a beautiful friendship has formed.

I am so glad we became like family to each other those short years you were at Purdue. We shared holidays together – from the 4th of July to breaking the fast for Ramadan. I have so many wonderful memories of shared conversation over delicious meals and cups of tea. I learned I loved kefta and baklava, and I introduced you to Midwest classics of pot roast and mashed potatoes. With each meal it became less about our natural curiosities about different cultures and more about good friends sharing life together.

Being your friends made what was happening in Syria personal. If I am honest, when I hear on the news such atrocities against humankind on the scale of Syria – I usually black it out. It’s too hard to process – too overwhelming to try and empathize. I might say a prayer to the loving God I believe in, but not begin to fathom where He is in the midst of the pain and suffering. But your friendship kept me from turning a blind eye. My heart broke for the fear in your faces for your family. I didn’t know what to say, my friend, when your brother was killed, but know I grieved with you. The most difficult thing to witness was seeing your despair grow for your country and believe it is beyond hope. How you two, who are incredibly talented, passionate leaders are exactly what Syria needs, but you can’t return home without fear for your life because you dared to dream your country could be different and free.

You have taught me what a Syrian refugee can mean for your life – amazing blessing and friendship. You have taught me the beauty of the Syrian people, their culture, their intelligence, and their perseverance despite such suffering. You are some of the best people we know and you are our dear friends.

I can’t help to think if everyone in America could put down their fear and actually take time to know a Syrian refugee, this refugee crisis would be over. They would understand not only the serious tragedy the Syrian people have undergone and respond, but they would also see how their lives could forever be changed for the better by gaining an amazing friend.

Love,

Dana, United States

You have taught me the beauty of the Syrian people, their culture, their intelligence, and their perseverance despite such suffering. You are some of the best people we know and you are our dear friends.

To a little boy in Aleppo,

I watched you kiss your dead brother’s cheek, and I cried for you. I just wanted you to know that I saw you, heard you, and felt with you. I can’t truly empathize and can barely even imagine your day-to-day reality, let alone your pain, fear, and frustration… and I don’t pretend to know you because I don’t, but I see you – that you are strong, that your brave, that you are loyal and resilient, and that you have had to grow up much too fast.

You’re a good brother. You will always be a good brother and death does not take that from you. You can’t give him back his life, but you will honor and love him with yours. And, years from now, I pray that you won’t have forgotten how to laugh, that you’ll remember what it is to play.

“and death is at your doorstep,

and it will steal your innocence,

but it will not steal your substance…

you are not alone in this

and you are not alone in this.

As brothers we will stand and we will hold your hand,

hold your hand”

Jess, United States

And, years from now, I pray that you won’t have forgotten how to laugh, that you’ll remember what it is to play.

Dear Person,

My name is Maan Bajnaid. I am a Saudi Arabian living in the United States. I am currently looking for employment in the states. My personal desires are as simple as getting rich, meeting beautiful women, and enjoying the earthly pleasures of life while indulging in a rewarding career. I am a simple man living a simple life, for that is all I know. I have a feeling that you know what that’s like, being as simple as I am. You’ve lived it before, haven’t you? The life I live now? The life I pursue? Or the life I knew as a child in love with nothing but his tricycle? I have a feeling that you know who I am. That you can look back at those days and say “I remember what that feels like.” You know what it’s like to be simple. You can empathize with me.

I am sorry. I am sorry that I can’t reciprocate. I am sorry that I can’t feel what you feel when I hear your story. I am sorry that I can’t be the person you are now, someone who fights for the things that makes them a person. Yet, I hear your story and think, “Dear God, that was just another person like me one day…”

In case the world around you forgot, I will always remember that you too are a person. Your life is just as valuable as mine and should be just as simple.

Warm Regards,

Another Person, Saudi Arabia

In case the world around you forgot, I will always remember that you too are a person. Your life is just as valuable as mine and should be just as simple.

Dear Syrian Refugees,

I am ashamed that my country has not done more to help you and your families. I and many other Americans are also angry for you. We are angry that there are those who denounce helping you because there “aren’t enough resources”, yet when it comes to propagating the very wars that have made you refugees, there is an exhaustive amount of resources. I want you to know that there are an abundance of Americans who reject this idea including myself, and who care about your struggle. There are many who are working not only to find the resources for you, but many who are also humanizing your cause so that others are aware and will make a difference.

I can understand that probably all you really want is your country, your livelihooods, your heritage, and most importantly, your families back. You never wished harm on anyone. You never wished to become a refugee. You never wished that you would one day have to ask for someone’s help. I could say that I feel sorry, but I know that at this point it means nothing. Saying that I feel sorry does nothing for you. Only action, any kind of action, is what you need, which is why in the process of writing this letter, I donated fifty dollars to the United Nations Children’s Relief Fund.

Lastly, I hope that we will continue to accept many more refugees because I believe that undoubtedly, immigrants, especially refugees, are the best investment that American society can make. We are a country of immigrants and as American history proves, it is with every new wave of immigrants that we become better. We need you more than you need us. We need you to remind us that different is good. We need you to teach us that our misconceptions are wrong. We need you because we can learn from your experiences, culture, and value. The hard lives that you have endured only means that you are empathetic when you come across someone less fortunate than you, you are open to those who are different from you, and you work harder than the rest for a better life. As an American, and as a son whose father survived the Lebanese civil war and immigrated to America, I know that we need more of you.

Your friend and advocate,

Adam, United States

We need you to remind us that different is good. We need you to teach us that our misconceptions are wrong. We need you because we can learn from your experiences, culture, and value.

My father is a world traveler and speaks Quranic / Classical Arabic. When I was younger, I would ask him why he wanted to learn this language. His reply was always this, “ I have a heart for the people who speak it.”

Fast forward to September 2013. My sister met a Syrian man at our local coffee shop in the college town that I’m from. We had him over for dinner and got to know him well. His brother eventually joined him and we quickly became friends with him as well. They told us stories of the revolution that was happening, of friends and family members that were tortured and killed for no apparent reason. I learned about Islam and met some wonderful Muslims. People who shared similar values as me.

Because of these brothers stories, their optimism for life – after going through hell- and their love for people, I have learned so much. If one thing is consistent in different cultures, it is a need for understanding, connection and love.

400,000 Syrians have been killed since 2011. Millions are displaced. At what cost should people have power? This is not an easy subject but we can listen to people’s stories and try to grow and become more empathetic and active.

Hope, United States

If one thing is consistent in different cultures, it is a need for understanding, connection and love.

Dear Bana,

As I write this, I am not sure if you’re still alive. I pray to God that you are and that you will remain alive. I am so sorry the world has failed you, that it is not trying everything in its power to pull you and the children of Syria out of the rubble. Through social media, you have pleaded with the world to stop the bombings. What kind of world have we become that a seven-year-old girl has to ask this? You should be playing with your best friends, laughing, learning, and eating dinner with your family. You’re seven and all you’ve know is destruction and the failure of people. I’m so sorry, Bana. I don’t know if you’ll ever see this letter, but I’m paying attention to you, to your family, to your city, and I’m pleading alongside you. My heart breaks for you. I long for this war to end so that you can know the beautiful parts of life. So that you can live to be a beautiful person… I’ll keep talking, Bana.

Love,

Brianna, United States

I long for this war to end so that you can know the beautiful parts of life. So that you can live to be a beautiful person

Dear Memories:

I am sorry for not checking on you in a long time and running away for no good reason. I can say that I have busy and that life took me away, but that would be a lie. I ran away because recalling you is too painful and brings me to tears, so I chose to avoid it. This letter isn’t meant to make any of us cry, but I’m only writing to tell you that I have missed you a lot and you have been the reason I still go on. You should know that all the details about you still remain in my heart and I will always have hope that one day, I can revive them and see my family and friends, my old neighborhood, my lost love, my laughter, my smile and my lost life.

Dear Memories, please stay strong and still in Syria as I know that one day, I’ll be able to come back with my new memories and show you that I never gave up and fought as hard as I could to keep strong and survive such an unfair world. As Nietzhe says, “what does not destroy me makes me stronger”

So Dear Memories, until we meet again….

Sincerely,

Lilas, Syria

Dear Memories, please stay strong and still in Syria as I know that one day, I’ll be able to come back with my new memories and show you that I never gave up and fought as hard as I could to keep strong and survive such an unfair world.

Hello,

I wanted to tell you a few things. It’s a crazy time for all of us, and sometimes it’s just good to be reminded of what’s true. I want to tell you that you deserve a safe place to rest your head. Walls that distance you from the tumult of the world around you. You deserve the feeling that rushes over someone when they think about going home – warmth, peace, expectant relief. You deserve the same opportunities that I have had. You are talented, intelligent, brave, and an inspiration. Perhaps the future seems dark, and to be honest, I cannot guarantee safety, peace or prosperity. But what I can tell you is that to me and countless others, in the current darkness, you are a raging light. You burn brightly, and we see you. Please. Keep going.

My heart is with you, and I long for your safety for you happiness. For your home. I hope and dream for a place to lay your head, away from gunfire and violence. In your journey, remember that we see you. We hope for you and when you make it home, we will celebrate you.

In love,

Max, United States

In your journey, remember that we see you. We hope for you and when you make it home, we will celebrate you.

People of Syria,

I don’t know if compassion, sympathy or pity will help, but I believe there is hope and reason. I am sorry that Syria is an example of religious divide and cynicism but the war will soon be over and it will be a representation of how political status, religion and countries are just imagined realities and stories that we have told each other and made people believe. This war and its atrocities will help all of us learn and prevent the hundreds of wars that may come in the future. It will be a milestone in making the world a better place where people are happy, participant and connected. If you have been affected by the war, I hope your dreams come true and you eventually lead simple and happy lives. I hope you find safety and comfort, I am confident that someday you will be able to live happily in Syria.

I’m really fond of baklava and I’ve heard that the best baklavas are from Syria! I sincerely hope and look forward to the day we can all go to Aleppo and sit in a small street side café and peacefully eat a baklava.

Hope this helps.

Shivank, India

If you have been affected by the war, I hope your dreams come true and you eventually lead simple and happy lives.

Friends,

Please ponder the words of an ignorant and self-concerned American. You all have encountered more loss and tragedy than I can process. I am incapable of summoning some phrase or comment that could appropriately address the suffering your people have endured. I am so sorry for your loss. I am sorry for my silence. I am sorry for my apathy. You all are worthy of more.

With this note, my desire is to honor you all and to speak briefly to the caliber and stature of the Syrian people, which I’ve come to know through my Syrian friends…. sharing my hopes for those whom I pray remain hopeful.

Here is what I’ve found to be true of the Syrian people. They are strong, focused, and generous. I long for the day when Syrians are no longer viewed as a people destroyed by war, or in need of aid, but instead that they truly would be recognized as the creators, stewards, and developers they truly are. I am praying for the day when your communities are restored and the people are celebrated as scientists, philosophers, economists, artists, doctors, lawyers, musicians, and designers of the utmost excellence.

You all are truly greater than I, and I write this as a person who is inspired by your strength, for you have suffered much, but still you stand – still you hope for your people and your country. I have suffered little, but doubt hope chronically.

In this season of growing difficulty and abhorrent actions of the Syrian government, you all have my prayers, my sympathy, and hospitality where I am able. You all will, so far as I can see, always have my respect and friendship.

Please pardon the words of an ignorant but hopeful American friend.

Sincerely,

GiJey, United States

I long for the day when Syrians are no longer viewed as a people destroyed by war, or in need of aid, but instead that they truly would be recognized as the creators, stewards, and developers they truly are.

And so Amran wrote to his photographer:

Take me to your world of Western illusions

Tell me a story free of your delusions

I’m tired of the coffins in the night

Write them with your darkened pen

Write about my darkness and pain

Look around at this (my) world of bombshells

Send my regards to your heaven from this hell

Don’t you see, I’m old and grey?

Don’t you see, we will all fade away?

Don’t you see, when you see tomorrow, I die today?

Anwar, Lebanon

Don’t you see, we will all fade away? Don’t you see, when you see tomorrow, I die today?

To all those in, near, or connected to Syria,

I want to start by saying hello. My name is Tate and I wish I had the means or opportunity to meet you. To sit with you and hear your stories, your dreams, your present struggles and sufferings. I want so badly to relate with you personally and not just through the news. Because although I am aware of stats, numbers, maps, sound bites, and political banter involving your nation and people, I feel like that is all worthless unless we also know your faces. Unless we also know your families and your favorite meals you eat and what makes you laugh and cry. I am so sorry that we manage to talk about you like we have any clue who you actually are.

My prayer is for peace. And peace only comes when we look beyond ‘topics and issues’ and look deeper into humanity and whom it is we are talking about. When we lay ourselves aside for the benefit of those who are different, in need, and forgotten. I have not forgotten that Syria is more than a news story. You are all potential friends and family. And you are in my prayers.

Tate, United States

My prayer is for peace. And peace only comes when we look beyond ‘topics and issues’ and look deeper into humanity and whom it is we are talking about.

I have put off writing this letter. I could blame everything in my daily life for keeping me too busy to write to you, but the truth is that I selfishly put off this simple task because I was scared and I did not want to feel your pain. You have more courage than I could ever dream of possessing. And I’m sorry… I’m sorry.

I am so sorry I have failed you.

When I see your face and the faces of those lost in your struggle I am at a complete loss for words. We are suppose to be here for each other, to share the pain and burden of this world together but you have taken the worst of what this life has to offer and it is not fair. You find yourselves without a home, without food, resources, safety, and wellbeing and yet you represent more hope to this world than what I am sure feels possible right now.

I want you to know that no matter where you are, or how lost you feel, you are not forgotten. Whoever you are, I think about you everyday. I wonder what you are thinking, feeling, if you know you are loved.

Because you are loved.

When the world gives you nothing and you feel like you have nothing left to give, remember that I love you. And I am not alone. You have brothers and sisters in America and all over the world who pray for you, cry for you, feel helpless because we don’t know what to do to protect you. No matter how far away you find yourselves from your country, know you have a home in us. A home in me – an Indiana girl whose heart bleeds for your injustices.

My prayer for you is that you travel far away from your danger with a story in your heart. I hope your story grows with every step of your journey and you tell it along the way. Your story has the power to change people’s hearts, change this world. You see despite the cruelty you have been shown, you are not the hopeless. You are hope. You embody the strength, courage and goodness this world needs and we all wish we could have. You have the power to force change in humanity so no one hurts anymore and we are all at peace together. Your story is more powerful than any weapon, hate or death could ever be.

I will be dreaming of you tonight. You will be safe, and loved, and warm with me and God. I will always be there for you. If nothing else, take shelter in knowing you are loved.

Jacqueline, United States

You see despite the cruelty you have been shown, you are not the hopeless. You are hope. You embody the strength, courage and goodness this world needs and we all wish we could have.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope It inspires you.

If you would like to know more or would like to learn how to participate, please contact Brianna at briannalargent@gmail.com

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