The family was sitting in their home in Latakia, Syria, when they heard the news. Something was happening in Syria, perhaps something more than the media was leading on, said Sara Asker (name has been changed upon request), a Syrian native and BYU-Idaho student.
“It began about four years ago,” Asker said. “It began in Damascus and Daraa, and then it started moving towards our small town.”
As the unrest approached her hometown, international and Syrian media provided differing accounts of the events taking place.
“The Syrian media was saying that nothing was happening, but everyone knew that there was something happening,” Asker said. “International media was saying that a revolution had started in Syria.”
While Asker said frequent killings, bombings and kidnappings have all earned a slot in daily life, she said she is more consumed with her family’s safety.
“Latakia was the safest place in Syria, and now, nowhere is safe,” Asker said. “Years ago, when my mother told us she was pregnant, I was devastated. I thought, ‘What were you guys thinking?’ Children are seeing their parents killing each other; they’re raised on corrupt principles,” Asker said.
Asker said Syrian citizens cannot forget the awful events that are taking place in their home. She said corruption is everywhere and parents should not let their kids be exposed to it.
Asker’s family is one of the millions who have sought safety outside Syria.
“I think once I know that my family is finally safe, I can stop feeling so emotional when I talk about the war,” Asker said.
The war has caused more than 4 million of the county’s citizens to flee and seek refuge in the Middle East and Europe, according to The New York Times.
Bud Fackrell, branch president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ankara, Turkey, said Turkey is experiencing one of the greatest influxes of refugee traffic.
“There are over 2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey,” Fackrell said. “Turkey has opened their doors to people who have seen their lives torn apart because of the civil war going on in Syria. There is a lot of attention being paid in the media about countries taking in refugees, but Turkey has stood at the top of the list in helping. Other countries are talking about taking in a few thousand while Turkey has taken in millions.”
Asker said before the Middle East and Europe were brimming with refugees, the start of a revolution and the beginning of a civil war were initiated with peaceful protests in 2011.
“After two days of civil protests against [President] al-Assad Bashar, the militants associated with Bashar tried to put an end to the protests,” Asker said. “The anti-Bashar were fighting back, but then his army started shooting.”
Asker said the corruption that evolved from both the challenge to dictatorship and the rise of ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a Salafi jihadist extremist militant group, gradually expanded to the rest of Syria.
“You can’t have an answer to exactly why this is happening,” Asker said. “It’s a huge mess, and everything is so complicated. It’s not even two groups; there are even some groups that derive from ISIS and some from the army and some just make their own groups,” Asker said.
Asker said there are people who kill people for money without consequences.
“That’s how the situation became tense,” Asker said. “Individuals became corrupt.”
Asker said her family decided that education was a necessity despite the circumstances of her country.
“Our school was so close to where the tension was, but we still went,” Asker said. “Everybody got used to the situation and thought, ‘We can’t live like this,’ even if we hear guns and bombs and keep our lives going. Just before I left Syria, it was kind of calm; there were just kidnappings. Then came the bombings.”
Approximately 18,866 Syrian civilians have been killed in Syrian government air attacks, focusing blasts on mosques and schools while an estimated 181 Syrian civilians have died because of American air strikes, according to The New York Times.
Asker said she feels it will nearly a decade to make Syria livable again for people like her and her family.
“I think now more than ever, there is a chance to exercise freedom of speech in Syria, because nobody has time to listen to you,” Asker said. “All of the civilized people have either left or just shut up because they know they can’t change the world.”