On the night of 6 March 2011, a group of teenagers ran through the streets of Daraa, carrying some cans of paint. One of them had sprayed up the phrase ‘The people want to topple the regime’. It was a slogan that was heard in Egypt and Tunisia during the Arab Spring. Another one wrote, ‘It is your turn doctor’, a dig at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who worked as a doctor in the army.
Kids have been spraying graffiti on walls since the scene kicked off in New York back in the late seventies – but this was different. The words these kids wrote sparked the civil war that still rages today, four years later.
The regime reacted immediately, arresting 15 boys aged between 10 and 15. They were interrogated and tortured. People gathered on the streets of Daraa to protest. The boys were released, but the protests continued.
Soon, thousands were on the streets in cities all over Syria. On 18 March, protestors in Daraa were killed as security forces tried to stop a protest rally.
“Before March 2011 Daraa was a peaceful place,” says Achmad*. He was 20 when the protests began. “We did not know these first days that it would become bad like this. After some days of only shouting on the street, I don’t know who started, but the shooting started. Blood on the streets, it became easy to kill someone. My father said: ‘this will never finish’.”
The protests continued across the country, with violence erupting in several places. Within weeks the death toll rose to hundreds, mainly civilians. By the end of April 2011 troops with tanks were sent to restore order on the streets of Daraa.
“Many friends of mine got killed,” says Achmad. “It is hard to believe that they are gone. We lived together, ate together, now they are dead just for being on the streets. One of the friends that died was like a brother to me.”
An estimated 400,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict. UNHCR believers more than 6.6 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes since 2011 and another 6.7 million people remain displaced inside the country. The vast majority – approximately 5.5 million refugees – have found refuge in neighboring countries, primarily in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.
Achmad now lives abroad himself – he says: “Especially the 18 to 25 year olds face big difficulties. Our future has gone. There is no hope for a job a career. We only want to live the next day. The youth ask how they can live, how they can have a family, how they can go to work, how they can live as normal people.”
But he is not without hope for his nation. “In a way the war is very bad, miserable. On the other hand it helps people to find Christ. The war helps us as church to be available to others. Share Jesus Christ’s love. It is like when you really want to see how beautiful white is, you have to see black. To really see the love of Christ, we need to see the evil side of man.
“I personally don’t know how this ends. I believe God has a solution, I don’t know what, or how, but He has a new future for Syria. There is still hope!”
In the ten years since war broke out, your support for the Syrian church has been monumental. In the last two years, over 1,700 income generating projects have enabled people to set up their own businesses. Meanwhile, thousands of people have been helped with hygiene kits and the restoration of homes, and over a million food parcels have been delivered to vulnerable families. And that’s not even the full story – you’ve helped in many other ways, too.
Please pray for peace in Syria. Achmad says: “First pray for a peaceful government. Pray for the people in misery. Pray that God stops the killing and bloodshed. Pray for a new Syria.”
Give to help Open Doors partners play a role in rebuilding Syria:
*name changed for security reasons
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.