When Radwan Ziadeh was living in his hometown of Daraya, southeast of Damascus, its population was 300,000. Now, he says, the population is zero. Ziadeh, a political opponent of the Bashar al-Assad government, came to the U.S. after his outspoken belief in democracy made it unsafe for him to remain in Syria.
But after 10 years, the U.S. may no longer be an option. In June his application for political asylum was revoked because of a conference he organized between Syrian opposition groups. The State Department saw the conference as offering “material support” to terrorist groups despite the American government providing aid to several of them. During his 10 years in the U.S., Ziadeh has been a fellow at Harvard, Georgetown and the congressionally funded U.S. Institute of Peace.
His story is a part of We Are Syrians: Three Generations, Three Dissidents with the narratives of fellow activists Nalia Al-Atrash and Sana Mustafa. The book, edited by Adam Braver and Abby DeVeuve, details their acts of resistance against a totalitarian regime, offering a personal perspective of a humanitarian crisis. The book was created with the assistance of Scholars At Risk, an organization that assists many Syrian scholars escaping the conflict. The organization will put on a free talk at NYU Skirball Center on October 30.
The UN estimates over 400,000 killed in the civil war between the Assad government and a host of rebel forces, both sides backed by international players. It’s been called “Hell On Earth.”
Ziadeh was a dentist before an increasingly authoritarian state prompted him to begin publishing political material. His work caused the government to confiscate his passport and ban his family from traveling. When Ziadeh was questioned in 2007, Ali Mamlouk, security adviser to Bashar al-Assad, told him, “This is the last time you’ll visit us as a guest.”
His family remains scattered around the world. Most recently, his sister was able to slip into the U.S. between the issuing of Trump’s first and second travel bans.
The consequences of Ziadeh’s activism on his life are innumerable, yet he feels there is no other option. “This is nothing compared to the hundreds of thousands that have died,” he said.
The divided interests of international powers has prolonged the crisis. He believes the only way forward is having global forces focus on ensuring the political transition of the Assad government.
The book to him shows the collective aspirations of Syrians. “We can share different stories but have the same dream.”