Iowa City responds to Syrian conflict

BY KEVIN SVEC | JANUARY 24, 2014 5:00 AM

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With the Syrian civil war is approaching its third-year anniversary, local fundraisers have taken a more peaceful approach to the issue.

Jason Weeks and Newman Abuissa have decided to not combat the problem with ideas for a solution but to instead celebrate the very essence of the country.

“Tragedy has hit one of the most beautiful and historically rich places in the world,” Weeks said. “We must do more than mourn the losses in Syria — it is important that we celebrate the Syrian culture with food, music, conversation, and friendship.”

The goal of the event — Crisis in Syria: Iowa City Response — was to show the Iowa City community cares about the current refugee situation in Syria. Weeks and Abuissa believe action must be taken beyond simply saying “no to war.”

Starting Wednesday, officials from more than 30 countries — including Secretary of State John Kerry — are meeting in Switzerland to discuss resolutions to the war. The talks aimed to set negotiations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian opposition.

However, opposition officials don’t foresee a meeting in the immediate future.

The event featured a number of Syrian songs performed by a choir and an authentic orchestra performance. After the music, the event shifted toward food, friendship, and conversation as a buffet table with a number of Syrian dishes was presented to the attendees.

“We organized the event this time of year to highlight the suffering of the Syrian refugees in the dead of winter,” Abuissa said.

The entry donation for the event is $20 and with more than 200 attendees, the event raised nearly $4,000. All the proceeds from the event are going toward UNICEF to help Syrian children, Abuissa said.

With more than 2 million refugees from Syria, Weeks said this makes this conflict the worst refugee crisis in the world. The war has killed more than 130,000 people and has internally displaced more than 1 million. Refugee camps hosting Syrians are located in Turkey, Jordan, Eygpt, and Lebanon.

When asked about what steps would be necessary to reach a settlement in Syria, Abuissa responded by talking about the importance of international, regional, and local cooperation to bring an end to this detrimental conflict.

Abuissa believes a resolution to the crisis will not come easily. It could take months or years to sort out the disaster in the Middle East.

Mike Frangi, an attendee with roots in Lebanon, said he came to the event to support the cause.

“The big problem with the refugee crisis is that they are not getting their basic needs met,” Frangi said. “The problem is bigger than just Syria; the entire Middle-East is affected by this type of crisis.”

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