Young, Exiled Syrians Still Believe In Revolution

This week marks two years since the uprising in Syria when thousands took to the streets to protest against the government. Back then they called it a revolution. But now, Syria looks a lot more like a civil war — with tens of thousands of people killed.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We're also marking a milestone today. Two years ago this week, the Arab Spring spread to Syria. Thousands of people took to the streets to protest against their government. Back then, they called it a revolution. Some still do. But Syria's uprising has become a civil war with tens of thousands killed. Many more Syrians are now living in exile, including the young Syrians NPR's Rima Marrouch found in Beirut.

RIMA MARROUCH, BYLINE: Obeida graduated from business school. He managed factory in Syria before the uprising. He comes from the city of Homs, the capital of the revolution, as many people call it. He remembers the early days of the protests.

OBEIDA: (Through translator) In the beginning, we were not demanding the fall of the regime. The demands were for reform.

MARROUCH: We met Obeida and four other Syrians in our office. Obeida said they felt more comfortable meeting in a private place where no one could hear them.

OBEIDA: (Through translator) When the uprising started in Egypt and Tunisia, we were all hoping it would happen in Syria, too. But, honestly, we didn't believe it. But slowly, the wall of fear fell down.

MARROUCH: The guys are all in their 20s and 30s, all secular liberals. They all have friends who have been detained, beaten and killed, and they know they are the lucky ones. They've managed to escape. Here in Beirut, they are trying to piece together a life, some of them working, all of them coping with the guilt of having left Syria.

NOUR EL DIN GHALIOUN: (Through translator) I think we all knew the price we would have to pay.

MARROUCH: Nour El Din Ghalioun was 23 when the uprising started. He studied economics in Aleppo, where there were no protests in the beginning. Early on, he would travel back to his hometown of Homs to take part in protests, usually on weekends. The crowds got bigger and bigger. By April, 2011, thousands of people filled the square in Homs.

GHALIOUN: (Through translator) The peak of the demo was around 5:30 or 6:00 p.m. I think there were around 60,000 people. By midnight, around 600 people were left. There were clerics, and other people came and told us to spread out because the army will start shooting. We didn't believe it.

MARROUCH: But it happened. Security forces opened fire. Activists say dozens of people were killed that night. That was the pattern all over the country, unarmed protestors met with bullets. So people began to take up arms themselves, says George Khoury, a Christian protestor.

GEORGE KHOURY: (Through translator) People were forced to arm themselves to defend their families and their homes.

MARROUCH: Now, it's an all-out war. By conservative estimates, more than 70,000 have been killed, and millions of Syrians have been forced to flee their homes. Still, none of these five young protestors regret what happened. Khoury says he wouldn't change anything. He insists this a revolution, not a civil war, an uprising of people against their government, right or wrong, peaceful or no.

KHOURY: (Through translator) It is not some idyllic thing. It has its positives and negatives. It has its mistakes. It is a revolution of the people.

MARROUCH: Despite their worries, the loss of friends and relatives and being forced out of their country, Ghalioun, the economics student, says he still has hope in the revolution, because he says he believes in the Syrian people. Rima Marrouch, NPR News, Beirut.

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