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Group aims to keep Syrian conflict in local minds

  • “Driven from their Homes,” a sculpture installation by Harriet Diamond in Northampton, is among the events planned to call attention to the 6-year-old war in Syria. SUBMITTED PHOTO



Recorder Staff
Thursday, March 16, 2017

Six years after the Syrian civil war began with Arab spring protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, the bloody conflict rages on, displaced from front pages in this country.

An estimated half-million Syrians have been killed, with more than 11 million displaced, according to Reuters.

An area group, Valley Syrian Relief Committee, continues to raise humanitarian aid and public awareness about the crisis, with a month of events that include an Oscar-winning film showing in Greenfield and a series of programs in Deerfield.

Two of the group’s three founding members are set to speak following Monday’s 7 p.m. showing of “The White Helmets” at Greenfield’s Second Congregational Church.

The Oscar-winning documentary provides a close-up view of the humanitarian work of the Syrian Civil Defense forces, otherwise known as the White Helmets, with footage provided by one of the troops, Khaleed Khateeb.

This event, co-sponsored by Temple Israel, is part of a “Month of Witness and Action for Syria” and marks the six-year anniversary of the start of the war.

The First Church of Deerfield is among houses of worship around the region addressing the moral dimensions of the Syrian crisis in sermons, talks, films and other activities throughout the month.

There, children and adults wrote “Letters of Hope” for Syrian refugee children on a recent Sunday as part of a larger valley-wide effort to send messages of encouragement. Temple Israel’s Refugee Support Project plans to do the same on March 26 as part of its Art, Creativity and Community weekend.

The Deerfield church also plans to focus on the Syrian war for its Palm Sunday service, said its pastor, the Rev. Liza Knapp.

“The need is just tremendous,” Knapp said. “To speak out for peace and against violence — particularly where there’s been a lot of fear in our country, in general, of ‘the other’ and people who come from different parts of the world, and where there’s been false witness — we’re doubly called on to be a caring presence.”

The relief committee — two of whose co-founders, Michael Kane and Deborah Shiver, plan to speak at Monday’s Greenfield film showing — has raised $150,000 over the past three years to support the Syrian American Medical Society, which cares for war victims and its refugees.

Other public events include an exhibit all month by sculptor Harriet Diamond depicting the bombing of Aleppo and the fleeing of refugees at Northampton’s Oxbow Gallery on Pleasant Street.

The events will culminate on March 26 with a 3:30 p.m. panel discussion at Edwards Church in Northampton on the political and humanitarian ramifications of the war. Participants include Steven Heydemann, professor of Middle East Studies at Smith College; Stephen Rapp, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for War Crime Issues; Mouaz Moustafa, director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force; and Nadia Alawa, founder and director of NuDay Syria. The events seek to raise money for SAMS, for NuDay Syria and the Syrian Emergency Task Force and its various humanitarian programs as well as its efforts to bring Assad to justice.

“Governments have turned their backs on Syria, but people haven’t, and that includes our Pioneer Valley community,” Kane wrote recently in an editorial page piece. “You showed up at ‘Songs for Syria,’ held Soup for Syria events all over the Valley and called the White House and your legislators, demanding that they act. You held clothing drives for those living in refugee camps, and showed up to bear witness … western Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern has been one of the few members of Congress to hold our government accountable for its moral failures in Syria. Your generosity and willingness to act fuel our efforts. Public visibility will be needed much more in the future. Aleppo has fallen, but the war is far from over.”

You can reach Richie Davis at rdavis@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 269