Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Monday

February 4, 2013

Syrian-Americans worry, give

Michigan boasts about 10,000 from country

WEST BLOOMFIELD (AP) — Thousands of Michigan residents with family ties to war-torn Syria are worrying about the fate of their loved ones. Many are giving aid, and some are putting their own lives at risk to help the people of their ancestral homeland.

West Bloomfield resident Dr. Ammar Sukari, 37, said he tried to persuade his father to leave Aleppo in northwestern Syria, but the 68-year-old said he'd rather die than leave the family home. On Dec. 29, the retired elementary school principal was shot to death by a sniper as he walked toward an army checkpoint.

"My dad is just one story out of more than 60,000 stories," Ammar Sukari said, referring to Syrians killed in the two-yearlong conflict. "But when it happens to a family member, you really feel it."

Syrian-Americans nationwide have sent millions of dollars of aid and have tried to assert political pressure. In Michigan, many Syrian-Americans, including about 50 doctors, have traveled there and to neighboring countries to care for patients or to deliver supplies, according to the Detroit Free Press.

About 10,000 people of Syrian heritage live in Michigan, a third of them born in Syria, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Yahya Basha, 65, of West Bloomfield, has been working to end the rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

"He's terrorizing his own people," Basha said. "I never thought it would be this bad or horrible."

Basha said he met with National Security Council officials in November along with other Syrian-Americans. He said he wants President Barack Obama and the U.S. government to further its support for the Syrian opposition.

"We trust the heart of the president," Basha said. But, "we need him to act. Make it more of a priority."

Muna Jondy, 37, president of the Flint-based United for a Free Syria and a member of the Syrian National Council, said she doesn't support putting U.S. troops on the ground but said that "we do need to arm the Free Syrian Army."

Abdullah Aldahhan, a 24-year-old medical student from Detroit, was participating in a relief mission in Syria when he came under fire from a convoy of government army tanks near the city of Ariha.

"You could see the top of the tank (gun turret) spin around and fire at us," Aldahhan said of the December incident. He said he has been on two relief missions and plans to make a third.

"We had so many close calls," he said. "But we have to help. The Syrians feel like they've been rejected by the whole world, that no one is caring or helping."

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