Saturday, 12 March 2016

Activists who lit Syria revolt washed away in migrant wave

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 "When I arrived in Germany, I felt like I was living with an open wound, like I'd lost my soul. I felt guilty for leaving everything behind," says Jimmy Shahinian, a 28-year-old activist with sharp features and jet-black hair. "We had made a promise that we would change things."

 Syria's conflict erupted on March 15, 2011, when protesters massed on the streets to demand that President Bashar al-Assad step down. Shahinian, a Christian, joined the movement, and was subsequently jailed and tortured.

 When the jihadist Islamic State group took over his native city Raqa in 2013, he began receiving terrifying death threats. Smuggled into Turkey in an ambulance, Shahinian became one of nearly five million Syrians who have fled the country since the conflict began.

 Yazan lived through a brutal, nearly two-year siege in the Old City of Homs, once known as the "capital of the revolution" but now squarely back in regime hands. "In Syria my body was besieged. Here, I am besieged in my head," says the 30-year-old. He admits he can't move on while his father and brother remain among the estimated 200,000 people held in the regime's hellish jails.

 "Here I can eat, I can sleep in safety. But however hard I try, I can't imagine the future," Yazan says. "My whole life is on hold until the regime falls."

 Ahmad al-Rifai, a 24-year-old who spent months taking photos in opposition strongholds across northern Syria, is also in Germany -- where more than one million asylum requests were registered last year. He blames the Syrian government but also the international community for the transformation of the revolt into a war that has killed 270,000 people.

 "In the good old days, the people would decide when and where to protest, or when to go on strike," Rifai says. "Now, the Syrian people have no decision-making power at all. Syria has become a playing field for major powers like Russia, the United States and Iran." '

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