1,000 Funerals in the City of Flowers

1,000 Funerals in the City of Flowers

Syrian-American community mourns the passing of Yahya Shurbaji, Muhammad Shurbaji, along with countless other peaceful protesters


Our community is in mourning over the many peaceful activists imprisoned, tortured, and killed by the Assad regime and its allies. Throughout last week, Syrians have watched with great sorrow as news has poured in of the deaths of detained Free Syria activists. Sunday night, an even larger list of martyrs was released.

Across Syria, news of the deaths of political prisoners has spread at a rate not before seen through government posts, families obtaining documents, or security officers personally informing families. The majority of these cases being young men who simply joined in peaceful protests.


Among the innumerable stories, is that of two brothers, our brothers, Yahya and Muhammad Shurbaji, both arrested in September 2011, just one day apart. Their crime: peacefully affirming their right to live free. They marched the streets of their city of Daraya with flowers, to show undoubtedly that they came in peace. They held town halls to rally their fellow Syrians to be better citizens. All that counted against them. After the war forced the Shurbaji family to flee, they lost track of where the brothers were being held – until this month, when relatives in Damascus requested registration papers for the missing young men and found Yahya died in January 2013 and Muhammad in December of the same year. The family does not know where their bodies are, but they do know their sons were tortured to death.


The city of Daraya has thus far received death notices for 1,000 individuals – 1,000 names of young Syrians destined to be Syria’s future scholars, humanitarians, and shining stars. Yet there will be no funerals; the Assad regime has forbidden families from holding them, a tactic meant to further torture those left behind.


With that pain still fresh, the Assad regime released 8,000 more names Sunday evening of political prisoners who died under torture. Because death is safer than the regime’s torture, many parents had already celebrated the death of their children.


Since the start of the revolution in 2011, tens of thousands who have publicly expressed their opposition to the Assad regime have been detained, tortured, or forced to flee Syria. This latest wave of deaths commands a grief for the youth that would have been Syria’s future – young people who took to the streets to speak out, negotiate and create relationships, only to be killed for necessitating democracy.


This story, and many others like it, reopens the wounds for Syrians. It not only brings the shock of an untimely loss, but it is a message from the Assad regime that it is confident in winning the war, while trying to kill our spirit. Free Syrians hold dearly the truth, however, that seeds of the peaceful uprising will grow and spread through the earth of Syria.


Amongst the anguish of last week, we also mourned the loss of May Skaf; famed Syrian Christian actress, principled activist, intellectual, and an icon of the revolution. May died in exile in Paris last Monday, July 23, of a heart attack. Though given the timing of events, many believe it was a broken heart.


While the Syrian-American community feels deeply the agony of these losses, I ask you to draw strength from one of the last messages of May Skaf.


“I will not lose hope, I will not lose hope. Syria is Great, and not Assad's Syria.” 

- Suzanne Meriden, executive director, Syrian American Council