Albany’s Townsend Park became a scene of protest on Saturday (Aug. 31) as more than 100 activists stood with antiwar signs and gave speeches in a show of solidarity with the people of war-torn Syria, as part of a global network of demonstrations against military strikes aimed at the government in Damascus.
“Syria used to be a very neutral, peaceful, enjoyable country. We don’t want Syria to be another Iraq or Afghanistan,” Dr. Hassan Ziud said over the public address system set up by organizers at the park. Dr. Ziud who is originally from Hama, Syria, drove from his home in Pittsfield, Mass., to attend the demonstration. “I don’t believe it’s a good step in this now-critical situation in Syria.”
The demonstration took place as the United States, France and other nations have called for military response to an alleged chemical-weapons attack that took place in Syria on Aug. 21. Russia, China, Iran and Jordan oppose any military response, leaving the U.N. Security Council divided.
The demonstration coincided with a speech by President Barack Obama from the White House’s Rose Garden. “Now, after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets,” Obama said. As commander in chief of the American military, the president stated that he has the authority to order strikes against the government of Bashar al-Assad.
“I spoke with all four congressional leaders, and they’ve agreed to schedule a debate and then a vote as soon as Congress comes back into session,” Obama said deferring any military action to legislators on Sept. 9 when they reconvene. The British Parliament voted against any British military involvement in Syria on Aug. 29.
As the president’s speech streamed live, Albany mayoral candidate Jesse Calhoun held his iPhone up to the microphone so the people gathered could hear it over the public address system.
“I really hope they take a stand against [military intervention],” Fadia Rostom said after listening to the president’s speech. Rostom is a native of Damascus, and like Zuid, she traveled from Pittsfield to attend the demonstration. Rostom addressed the activists at Saturday’s demonstration: “God knows what will happen after today.”
The alleged chemical-weapons attack occurred in the suburbs of Damascus. Three separate Damascus hospitals reported that approximately 3,600 patients were treated with neurotoxin symptoms, and that 355 patients reportedly died, according to a press release issued by Doctors Without Borders.
Both the Syrian government and the rebels fighting them accuse each other for the attacks. There are several reports issued that give conflicting numbers of the casualties, according to Reuters news service.
The United Nations sent a chemical-weapons inspection team to Syria to investigate the attacks. The team sent samples to laboratories on Sept. 2, and the United Nations plans to release the results later this week, according to a statement issued by the U.N. News Centre.
The conflict in Syria began in March 2011 after the government of Bashar al-Assad repressed people protesting against his government as part of the movement now known as the Arab Spring.
In June, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement placing the total number of casualties in the Syrian conflict at 100,000.
A report issued from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees on Sept. 3 states there are now more than 2 million Syrians displaced since the start of the civil war.
According to Occupy Albany, which organized the event, between 100 and 125 people attended the Saturday afternoon demonstration. The rally at Townsend Park was part of series of protests that took place across the United States, Germany, Jordan, and the United Kingdom according to a report from Reuters news service. Locally, there was also a demonstration in Scotia.
“I think people need to be focused and understand what’s going on in Syria and not take either side because either side is wrong,” said Eddie Alkurabi, a Palestinian-Syrian born resident of Albany. Alkurabi worked with Occupy Albany to organize Saturday’s rally. “We need to talk about how America can develop a cease fire so that the fighting can stop.”