Dutch priest dubbed ‘Syrian of Syrians’ is assassinated at his monastery in Homs

Oula Abdulhamid and Father Frans van der Laugt. The last time Oula saw him. Syria/2004

Oula Abdulhamid and Father Frans van der Laugt. The last time Oula saw him. Syria/2004

“He was always pushing us to move forward past our difference and to dream and coexist as Syrians,” said Oula Abdulhamid, 27, the daughter of a prominent Syrian dissident, who had known the priest since childhood and described him as a “grandfather” to her. “Because of him, I learned so much about my country.”

“He said he would be the last person to leave and would suffer the same fate as his people,” said Abdulhamid, who is now based in the United States. “And people are dying there, and now he’s dead too, murdered.”

Full Article: By Loveday Morris

 A Dutch priest who had steadfastly refused to leave the besieged Syrian city of Homs was assassinated by masked gunmen Monday, a killing that robbed Syria of one of its most high-profile interfaith figures.

The Rev. Frans van der Lugt, 75, a Jesuit who had lived in Syria for almost 50 years, was shot in the head in the garden of his monastery in a rebel-held area, according to colleagues and Syrian opposition fighters.

It was unclear who carried out the killing, as rebels and the government blamed each other. But residents said tensions have been high over a possible cease-fire agreement that would evacuate more civilians from rebel-held areas of the city, similar to agreements brokered in the Damascus suburbs in recent months. Extremist rebel groups had objected to further evacuations, said Khaled Erksoussi, head of operations at the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

The priest was “a Syrian among Syrians” who refused to abandon his adopted people even when it meant risking his own life, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said. In a statement, the Vatican called van der Lugt a “man of peace” who wanted to remain faithful to the people to whom he had dedicated his spiritual service.

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SUMMER SCHOOL FLENSBURG – Eine bedrohte Demokratin

All rights reserved by European Centre for Minority Issues

All rights reserved by European Centre for Minority Issues

My Interview with the German Newspaper Flensburger Tageblatt (German Language)

Oula Abdulhamid is a Syrian asylee in Washington. In Flensburg, she learns from the German-Danish border region, as she visited the Summmer School of  the European Minority Center (ECMI) and the University of Flensburg for ten days. The theme was :”National Minorities and Border Regions”.

The Complete Interview in German:

Die Syrerin Oula Abdulhamid hat Asyl in Washington. InFlensburg lernt sie vom deutsch-dänischen Grenzland, als sie für zehn Tage die Summmer School des Europäischen Minderheitenzentrums und der Uni Flensburg besucht. Das Thema: „National Minorities and Border Regions“.

Wenn sie über ihre Familie in der Heimat spricht, steigen ihr die Tränen in die Augen. „Meine Großmutter und Cousins sind immer noch dort, aber sie wollen ihr Haus nicht verlassen“, sagt Oula Abdulhamid. „Falls ich sterbe, sterbe ich in meinem Haus“, zitiert die Syrerin aus Damaskus ihre Oma.

Oula Abdulhamid ist eine der 29 Akademiker aus aller Welt, die Flensburg heute wieder verlassen nach der zehntägigen „Summer School“ des Europäischen Minderheitenzentrums und der Uni Flensburg. 14 von der Robert-Bosch-Stiftung geförderte Wissenschaftler vom Balkan und aus dem Kaukasus sowie weitere aus Deutschland, Spanien, Tunesien haben unter dem Titel „National Minorities and Border Regions“ Vorträge gehört und diskutiert. Die 26-jährige Abdulhamid wollte erfahren, wie andere Länder „mit ihrer Diversität und Komplexität umgehen und koexistieren“.

Oula Abdulhamid wird nicht in ihre Heimat Syrien zurückreisen können. Denn ihre Familie werde gesucht. „Das Regime kennt mein Gesicht“, sagt die Studentin, die in den USA den Abschluss in internationalem Recht anstrebt. Sie, ihr Bruder und ihre Eltern haben seit acht Jahren in Washington Asyl. Ihre Eltern haben Ende 2001 die Tharwa-Stiftung gegründet, mit der sich die Familie und ein großes Netzwerk für die Demokratisierung Syriens, für Menschen- und Minderheitenrechte einsetzen. Tharwa sei arabisch und bedeute Reichtum – im Sinne von Vielfalt, erklärt Oula Abdulhamid. Sie wird über Berlin in die Türkei an der Grenze zu Syrien reisen und dort auf andere Tharwa-Aktivisten treffen. „Ich glaube daran, was wir tun“, obwohl es riskant sei, lebensgefährlich.

Wieder werden ihre Augen feucht. Wenn sie von der Lage in ihrem Land spricht, vergisst sie alles andere um sich herum, rührt ihr Mittagessen kaum an. „Sektierer“ ist noch ihre harmloseste Bezeichnung für Assad, der die Bevölkerung einschüchtert und zur Loyalität zwingt; sie nennt ihn auch „Diktator“ und „Teufel“. Seine Reformen seien oberflächlich gewesen, unnütz für das Volk. Assad habe den Mittelstand zerstört. 250 000 Menschen hätten ihr Leben verloren, nicht 100 000, widerspricht Abdulhamid den offiziellen Zahlen. Immerhin sei sie „erleichtert“, dass die Welt endlich erkannt habe, wer die Verantwortung dafür trägt. Eine internationale Intervention sei zwar „kostspielig“, „aber der politische Weg funktioniert leider nicht“. Natürlich habe sie Hoffnung, auf lange Sicht: „Ich glaube an die Jugend in Syrien.“

http://www.tharwa.org

Source : Shz.de

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Syrian Americans anxiously monitor uprising

By , Published: January 8, 2012

Every night, as most of her neighbors in Silver Spring are going to bed, Khawla Yusuf opens her laptop and plunges into a revolution.

Using Skype or Facebook, she connects with Syrians who have been trying for 10 months to change their government. She watches footage, recorded on shaky cellphones, of protests in distant towns and listens to her countrymen describe the surreal daily life of a nation under siege.

(Sarah L. Voisin/THE WASHINGTON POST) - Oula Abdulhamid, 25, checks her facebook account for the latest news from Syria.“Sometimes I tape them, because it’s a part of our history,” said the 43-year-old mother of two, who took a leave from her job as an Arabic teacher to help the uprising that began in Syria last spring and has been met with a violent crackdown. It’s a family enterprise: Her husband, Ammar Abdulhamid, 45, a longtime activist, and their children, Oula, 25, and Mouhanad, 21, also spend their nights as virtual revolutionaries.“Our Facebook pages are like media agencies,” said Yusuf, who has 7,000 Facebook followers. “Sometimes I have 10 people on a chat.”Syrians around the world have reacted to the events in their country in a variety of ways, a fact dramatized in the summer when two competing groups of Syrian demonstrators — supporters and detractors of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad — converged in front of the White House on the same day.An estimated 400,000 to 500,000 Syrian Americans live in the United States, according to Faraj Sunbuli, president of the Chicago-based Syrian American Council. They represent Syria’s complex melange of religions, and many have been here for generations.Some feel unconnected to the events in Syria. Some stand assiduously by Assad, warning that his departure would lead to chaos. Others rail against him, citing more than 5,000 deaths that human rights groups have tallied in the crackdown since March and calling on the international community to intervene.Sunbuli estimates that about 10,000 Syrian Americans are involved in helping the uprising. They lobby lawmakers and diplomats, disseminate information about arrests and killings, send money covertly into Syria and provide funding and medical supplies to refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan, which border on Syria.It is a change for a diaspora community accustomed to keeping a low profile.In the United States, as in Syria, a substantial silent majority stays out of the fray. These include members of religious minorities who are unsure what their rights would be in a post-Assad Syria and many who want to travel to Syria or have families there whom they fear toendanger.Living in the United States does not provide immunity from reprisal, they say, noting the case of a Syrian pianist living in Atlanta who played at a July rally in support of the opposition. Afterward, his elderly parents in Syria were badly beaten by thugs.

Fighting far away from home

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Sarah Meehan / Senior staff writer

A world away from her childhood home in Syria, Oula Alrifai watches YouTube footage of the revolution there, praying the friends and family she left behind survive the military barrage. A brief phone call to her grandmother in Syria reassures her. They chat about life’s mundane details — last night’s dinner, the weather — but never of the crowds protesting outside her grandmother’s front door and the military tanks that still surround her city.

“If we talk, we have to talk in code because there’s a revolution,” said Alrifai, a senior government and politics major. “Everything is monitored; the phones are monitored.”These check-up calls and cellphone videos from protesters on Syrian streets are the 25-year-old Alrifai’s only glimpse of life in Syria. The country’s dictatorial regime operates skewed news outlets, taps phone lines and does not hesitate to remove anyone who challenges its legitimacy, she said.

It’s this pervasive corruption that Alrifai said made her parents and her younger brother begin to protest years before a revolution erupted March 15. It’s also the reason this family of political asylees may never return to Syria — going back would be a death sentence, Alrifai said. She now supports her homeland from abroad. Since the first day of the revolution, she said she has spent every Saturday in Washington, rallying support for Syria by day and lighting candles for the country’s martyrs at night.

But Alrifai said she would sacrifice anything to stand alongside her countrymen instead of campaigning overseas.

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Mourning a Boy, Crowds in Syria Defy Crackdown

By LIAM STACK and KATHERINE ZOEPF

Oula Abdulhamid, a Syrian activist who helped organize a conference for members of the Syrian opposition in Turkey this week, said the protest videos posted Friday were mainly the work of activists who had crossed Syria’s borders.

“In some of the areas on the borders, they’re using Jordanian lines and Lebanese lines,” Ms. Abdulhamid said. “They’re crossing the borders and going to Internet cafes. They’re doing such hard work just to get a few videos out. They’re risking their lives.”

Read the full article @ The New York Times 

MC Transfer Student… Making a New Start

oula

Having fled Syria in 2005, Montgomery College alumna Oula Alrifai ’09 is thriving in her new life. A government and poli- tics major, 22-year-old Alrifai graduated from the College and received a Transfer Academic Excellence Scholarship, which will cover tuition for four full semesters at the University of Maryland (UM).

Raised in Damascus, Syria, Alrifai finds life in America refreshingly different. “… I really value and appreciate the freedom here,” says Alrifai. “I can choose what to study and what to wear. I can express my thoughts freely.”

The eldest child of pro-democracy activists, Alrifai was raised with certain western values, which set her apart from many of her peers.

In 2002, Alrifai’s parents founded the Tharwa Foundation, which promotes human rights and poli- tical change in Syria, the Middle East, and the North Africa region. Tharwa in Arabic literally means “wealth,” but Alrifai explains that it also embodies the larger idea of diversity and accepting differences as a form of wealth for society as a whole. They lead grassroots efforts to break the government’s “infor- mation blockade.”

As a result of those activities, Alrifai says, her family was forced into exile and emigrated to the United States. They are considered politi- cal refugees. “We cannot return, until a regime change, and our relatives are banned from traveling.”

During her first weeks at Montgomery College, Alrifai found the multicultural atmos- phere helpful for overcoming
her initial shyness to communi- cate in English. “I met students from all over the world,” she says. “We could correct each other. To be honest, everybody, including professors, were very supportive.”

“The most important thing is that I can dream, and work hard, and I can achieve my dreams. I have done so many things since 2005 that I could never have been able to achieve in my homeland.”

Scroll down to page 3, Fall 2009 Montgomery College