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Slideshow: A trip to Syria

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Editor's Note: For more on the ongoing conflict in Syria, please read Kristin Wright's "From Indianapolis to the Syrian Border: An Adventure that Broke My Heart" to be released in the June 26 edition of NUVO for a report on a Indy resident's experiences in a refugee camp.

One need look no further than the efforts of Indy's Syrian American Alliance to understand the challenges its members face in raising awareness about the atrocities endured under the Assad regime.

On Facebook, 24 people said they would attend the "Global Walk for the Children in Syria" planned for June 1 on Monument Circle.

When that Saturday arrived, no one showed up but the organizers, IUPUI Students and Syrian American Alliance members Jihad Saadah and Mohamad Saltagi. Both had visited Syria and were eager to discuss the country's struggles and its people hopes for future.

"Everyone wants freedom: Elect people who will represent the people," Saltagi said. Syrians "want a new Syria to be a free state for Christian, Jewish, and Islam," he added.

Government oppression of Syrian citizens is a long-standing hallmark of the Assad family - a "commonality for the past 42 years, since his father," Saltagi said. "The citizens are the victims."

"During Hafez Assad's era, people who frequented mosques were targeted by the regime and interrogated, because they were seen as a potential threat in the midst of the Muslim brotherhood's attempt at overthrowing Assad," Saltagi said. "My grandfather encouraged my dad to avoid going to the mosque too much, because he didn't want the government to put its eyes on my dad and start interrogating him."

Saadah agreed to share with NUVO the photographs he took on his trip with Saltagi to Syria earlier this year in hopes that they would help outsiders to understand the devastation the Assad regime is wrecking across the country.

Both students denounced what they called the hypocrisy of Russia's involvement.

"There is an international double standard," Saltagi said. "Russia doesn't want foreign intervention, yet they still are supplying Assad with missiles, planes, and tanks."

Everyday people cannot finance a war and the rebels are "very under-weaponized," he added. "The best job for a Syrian is 20,000 (Syrian) pounds, or $200 a month."

During their travels, the students delivered aid packages to war refugees living in what Saadah described as "shift houses, tents, basic ghettos."

Despite the ongoing war, Saltagi and Saadah also said they witnessed considerable optimism for the future; they witnessed 150 students return to school after five months with out of classes. "All of them were happy to be back in school," Saltagi said. "They see a future for themselves."

Saltagi said he finds hope for the future when he considers how the Jewish people recovered following World War II.

"Jews went on to be successful," after the war had ended, Saltagi said. In Syria, he added, "parents died to give [their children] freedom, they'll realize that and use it."

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