Middle East

Honoring the memory of 100,000 victims

BEIRUT: As the third anniversary of the Syrian uprising arrives Saturday, the last of 100,000 names of people killed in the conflict will be read aloud outside the White House.

A project lasting continuously for three days, it involves over 140 people reading aloud for half-hour periods, some in Syria itself, participating via Skype, and some who are reading the names of their own loved ones whom they have lost.

While the U.N. may have stopped counting the dead in January, saying it could not keep an accurate count due to the chaos on the ground, those killed in Syria continues to rise by around 100 to 200 each day.

Lina Sergie Attar, a Syrian American architect and writer, is one of the main organizers of the event, entitled “Over 100,000 Names, How Many More?”

Having watched a video last November which said it would take 72 hours to read the names of all the dead, Attar says, “When I heard that sentence, I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do: an oral memorial that runs on our voices alone.”

“I wanted to find a way to commemorate the third anniversary of the Syrian revolution in a way that both honors the over 100,000 Syrian lives that have been lost and also represents the magnitude of that loss.”

The names were compiled from the Violations and Documentations Center and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based network which now puts the death toll at over 140,000.

In a media landscape inundated with news from around the world, and with many people feeling far removed from what is going on in Syria, a conflict the U.N.’s refugee chief has called “the great tragedy of this century – a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history,” Attar wanted to remind people of the scale of the conflict, of the millions of lives irrevocably changed.

“I think people have become numb to the death tolls and the protracted conflict. It’s easy for someone to brush Syria away by saying, ‘It’s too complicated,’ or ‘It’s happening across the world and doesn’t affect us,’ but that is not a luxury afforded to Syrians,” Attar says.

So it is vital, she says, to “keep counting, naming, and remembering our dead even while the dead keep piling up around us every day. We have to keep resminding the world that in a place named Syria, genocide is happening in front of our eyes.”

“To ignore that is to ignore our core beliefs in human rights for every citizen on earth and the responsibility to protect.”

Asides from the deaths, at least another 2.5 million Syrians have become refugees, and over 6 million are internally displaced.

The location for the event was chosen, Attar says, “because we feel that President Obama is not listening to the Syrian people’s suffering. We wanted to read the names of our dead in a place where he could see and hear us clearly – every name is a human being who died because of the world’s inaction.”

Here, she says, is where anyone can get involved: “People need to pressure their governments to work to end the Syrian conflict, stop the bloodshed, and begin the process of rebuilding what has been destroyed.”

“People need to look at the images of the Syrian children who are suffering from cold, hunger, disease, and in some cases torture, and imagine that those children were their own. Or their neighbors. What would they do? Turn a blind eye? Pretend it’s not happening? I don’t think they would. I think they would act to end this brutality and protect the innocent. That is all we are asking for Syria.”

To accompany the project, the portraits of 15 Syrians – a mix of men, women and children, unknowns and iconic figures, from a peace activist, Ghiyath Matar, 25, allegedly tortured to death by the regime, to Muhammad Abyad, 28, a doctor allegedly killed by Al-Qaeda-inspired extremists, have been painted by artist Molly Crabapple, and will feature in a book including all 100,000 names, “A Book of Syria’s Dead.”

Visit the project’s site at 100000Names.com or follow it on Twitter, hashtag #100000Names

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 13, 2014, on page 8.




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