KAsem’s adolescence was spent living under siege in the city of Homs, where friends and family disappeared in the regime’s prisons and his family lived much of the time without electricity, struggling to get food and medicine. Meanwhile, Bashar al-Assad’s air force dropped barrel bombs and cluster munitions in his neighborhood.
When the city fell, the Kasems faced a choice that millions more would make over the course of the war: stay and face Assad’s troops, who would treat them as terrorists, or flee to Idlib province, also unstable but still unstable. at least outside the regime. control.
“I thought we were going to go from one hell to another,” said the 21-year-old student. “But at least once we got there I was able to focus again on studying and how to help rebuild Syria again. My generation still has the same hopes for justice and freedom. We will not give up what the previous generation started. “
After 10 years of war, Assad, with the help of his Russian and Iranian allies, has regained control of most of the country, and the dream of a “free Syria” is limited to a northwestern pocket formed by the city of Idlib. and the surrounding countryside.
An Islamist group with ties to al-Qaida seized control of the area from other opposition factions in 2019; Regime air strikes and the possibility of a full-scale assault remain a constant threat.
There are few jobs and a steady stream of aid cuts has made life even more difficult for the roughly 3 million civilians caught between the two forces. And yet, every Friday, groups of people continue to flock to town and village squares to chant slogans and wave banners in support of the Syrian revolution, reiterating the same demands they had a decade ago. Big celebrations are expected on Monday March 15, the anniversary of the day in 2011, a few dozen protesters braved the streets of Damascus to demand freedom.
“The price of joining the revolution was not small. We have paid a huge price and have suffered huge losses. But we are not just victims. We are survivors, ”said Hasna Issa, 36, an activist previously detained by the regime who now works on gender equality and female leadership programs at Kesh Malek, a civil society organization working in northwestern Syria.
“We are raising the next generation in a way unlike anything we could ever imagine before. My twin daughters are nine… They will not only be able to vote in free elections in the future; they know they can run for office. “
Kesh malek, created in the early days of the uprising, organizes workshops for young citizens where young men and women can learn about the principles of democracy, human rights, and non-violent resistance that underpinned the revolution. Organizers also see the show as an important bulwark against extremism.
“I didn’t think we would continue to fight for basic rights long afterward,” said Mohamed Barakat, manager of a Kesh Malek community center in Killi village.
“When the revolution started I thought that what happened in other countries like Tunisia would also happen in Syria. I thought that the regime would walk away and give in to the people’s demand for freedom. Instead, they launched military actions and bombings, and I realized that we were going to fight for a long time.
“We have to keep the dream alive for the next generation… they are very motivated. Working with young people gives me hope and joy ”, he added.
Young people in Syria bear many scars, both physical and mental. For teens and those in their twenties, it is difficult to reconcile past memories of happiness in peacetime with the present.
“I have lost a lot in the war. My father, my brother, years of my life when I was young, ”said 23-year-old photographer Hiba Barakat.
“I love my job as a photographer, but it is difficult to earn enough money and the situation here is unstable and dangerous. During the military campaign against Idlib last year, I went to document the bombing of a school, the day the regime attacked five schools in a single day.
“I have to do something in a situation like this. I have to tell the story. But life here is unbearable. Activists, journalists, social workers. They all apply for asylum ”.
Dima Ghanoum, director of a school in Daret Azza, says that all her students would also leave Syria in the blink of an eye if they had the chance.
“Younger children are very curious about life before the war. My own daughter will ask me, ‘Did you really go to restaurants where you could order food and sit down? Did you really have electricity all the time? They are the first generation to be born free, but they still do not understand what it is or the price we have paid for it.
“Under the regime we lived in an extremely unequal society. I can’t quite describe how it feels to teach in a tent, to have to stop class sometimes just to hug the students and keep them from shivering with fear and cold.
But he would never return to the control of the regime. We live in hardship and fear … but it’s still better than that. “
For now, putting Syria’s pieces back together remains a distant dream. For the new generation, it may not even happen: According to Save the Children research, one in three internally displaced children want to leave, and 86% of refugee children interviewed in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and the Netherlands they said yes. They don’t want to go back to the country their parents left.
“We face different things at our age than the previous generation of activists,” Kasem said. “Our childhood was completely destroyed. But we have the duty and the ability to move forward … Our efforts to make Syria a better place deserve the support of the outside world.
“Without the Syrian revolution, I would not be the person I am now.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism