Remembering the souls 'flying away'

Organization of Arab Students wants to bring awareness of Syrian War to UB


The Organization of Arab Students (OAS) dangled 2,000 white paper cranes from the bridge in the Student Union on Monday.

Students like Hannah Glossner were struck by the beauty of the meticulously folded pieces of paper, which took on a new meaning after realizing each crane symbolized 100 deaths in the Syrian War.

The cranes were a part of Syrian Awareness Week put on by OAS, who wanted to educate UB about the tragedies of the war, which has raged for over three years. Other activities included a speech by Matthew Van Dyke, a filmmaker and activist who was held captive in the Middle East, a screening of his nationally acclaimed film and a candlelight vigil to be held Friday.

“We want people to understand the magnitude of the issue,” said Lemma Al-Ghanem, a junior architecture major and the events coordinator of OAS. “We wanted a visual representation so people can see how many have died.”

She said the group folded white paper cranes for weeks and it took roughly 36 hours to hang them in the Union. The birds are meant to symbolize the “pure and innocent” souls “flying away."

Some students' initial opinions drastically changed upon learning the meaning of the cranes, Al-Ghanem said.

“I wasn’t really sure what [the cranes] were when I first saw them,” said Glossner, a sophomore media study major. “They took on a whole new meaning after I was told what they were for.”

Al-Ghanem has family in Syria and said the events in Syria have been getting worse and OAS wanted people to be aware of the news as soon as possible.

“I think the beauty of it was we had people from everywhere coming,” Al-Ghanem said of the crane memorial. “Even if we had introduced it to one person, it would have been a success.”

Glossner said she believes the ongoing conflicts in Syria should be a more widely publicized issue.

In 2000, Bashar Al-Assad succeeded his dictator father, Hafez Al-Assad, as president of Syria.

After successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, pro-democracy protests also occurred in Daraa in 2011.

In spring of 2011, protests broke out after a group of teenagers and children were arrested and killed for writing political graffiti, according to CNN. Out of this, more protests arose and Assad responded by abolishing political parties and implementing a violent crackdown.

The Syrian War is ongoing and its death toll is 191,000, according to the United Nations.

Al-Ghanem said she and others in her club believe the recent uprising of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has overshadowed the ongoing issues in Syria and shifted the focus from the Assad regime to ISIL, also known as ISIS.

“I don’t think the international community has responded in the way it should,” Al-Ghanem said. “Our media today brushes it under the bus and we want our cause to be heard.”

OAS also hosted a speech by Matthew Van Dyke, a filmmaker who was held captive in the Middle East for 81 days in solitary confinement, while the Libyan government refused to give information to the United States on his whereabouts.

His film, “Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution,” was screened before his speech and has won national acclaims for aiming to improve world opinion on the Syrian cause.

Joe Jessee, a junior biomedical sciences major and secretary of OAS, became very passionate about the cause, despite not being of Syrian descent. He became interested in the conflict when he met Al-Ghanem.

“I think that there is a massive [amount] of political noise and chaos that surrounds the conflict itself,” Jessee said. “What should really be important to the global community is the humanitarian crisis. It’s not highlighted how many people who have died and we’ve lost sight of humanity.”

OAS hopes its events can inform the UB community about the Syrian cause, even if they are not on a global scale.

“It was truly spectacular the amount of cooperation and charity this week from people where the effort was not obligatory,” Jessee said. “It was an amazing thing to see.”

On Friday, OAS will host a candlelight vigil by Lake LaSalle at 8 p.m. to pay respects to the hundreds of thousands of people killed in Syria.

A previous version of this article wrongly stated there were 100 cranes that each represented 2,000 deaths. The article has also been updated to clairify the start of the conflict began in Daraa.