Dr. Jeannine Srourian, 40, a visiting eye surgeon from Syria, recently spent three days in Lexington, conferring with Dr. Woodford Van Meter and other staff at the University of Kentucky Department of Ophthalmology.
In a few days, however, she is scheduled to return to her home in the sprawling city of Aleppo (population 3 million), located on the northern border of Syria near Lebanon.
Her home is in flames. Two years into the civil war, she now knows the difference between the sound of a suicide bomb and a Stinger missile. All airports are closed, so she will have to catch the bus from Beirut, a brutal 15-hour journey though patches of rebel territory. Kidnapping is rampant, and she is a Christian. Despite the considerable risk, she is determined to go back.
Question: We have an expression in Kentucky: it's called being between a rock and a hard place. Your country is in the midst of a brutal civil war with over 70,000 causalities, and 2 million forced out of their homes by the war. And yet, you are anxious to return. Why?
Answer: Because my country is not the same as it was before. Before two years ago, it was a very safe country and now there is all this conflict and chaos. It makes me worried. But, I will go back home, it's my country, which I love so much, it's my home. My family is there, my friends, my memories ... everything.
Q: But now your hospital has been bombed and leveled. How will you practice when you return?
A: There are still some private hospitals which I can use to help the Syrian citizens and to give them the best treatment that I can.
Q: As a Christian, you must be concerned about being captured by the fundamentalists attacking the secular government?
A: You know, even though I am a Christian in a Muslim country, I have never felt the difference until now. Because Syria is a very beautiful mosaic; we have all the sectors — all the religions — living together. We never felt the difference between the citizens. We have lived together for long, long years as brothers and sisters, and I have been very happy living there.
Q: The rebels are instituting the infamous Sharia code of conduct. Do you feel your nation is going backward?
A: Syria is a free country and they respect women. In Syria, women have equal rights with men. If a woman wants to drive a car, there is not a problem. If she wants to cover her head, there is no problem. If she doesn't want to cover her head, there is no problem, too. It's a free society; in the past nobody forced them to change their way of dressing, living or lifestyle. I don't want the Syrian women to lose this freedom.
Q: The Shia and Sunni religious sects really despise each other and both also hate Israel and launch rocket attacks from Palestine. Do you ever feel, as John Lennon once wrote in his song, Imagine, that the world would be better off with no religions?
A: Until the Iraq war in 2003, we never talked about religious sectors like Sunni and Shiite within the Muslim faith. ... In Syria, it is strange to us that people talk about their religion. We feel that religion is something personal between you and your God. We said that religion is for God, but the country is for everybody.
Q: And the second question is about hate?
A: I don't like the word hate. ... If you follow the history of Syria, and you will find that Syrians share everything they have with other foreigners, visitors or people that live in Syria. They share their bread without any problem. We want peace, because love is much easier than hate. And if Syria and surrounding countries will make peace with each other, they can preserve this way of life for the next generation. I think we have had enough bloodshed and killing.
What would be best for the Syrian people would be for politicians to think more about making peace than escalating conflict. John Lennon made a good point about the role of religion in conflicts in the world in the past. Yet religion is a personal source of strength for many people.
Q: What is it that America gets wrong about Syria? What do we think we know about your country but we don't know?
A: America is a powerful country, one of the most powerful countries in the world. I feel like they know everything. But the direction of American policy toward Syria now is hurting the people and the social institutions in the country.
A powerful country like America can make war or peace. I wish that your country and my country would work toward peace. There is a way, there must be a way. The war is destroying my country and putting the Syrian people under extreme hardship.
For now, if people continue to hate each other, all the negative words coming from both sides have both sides thinking, worrying and buying weapons. In peace, everything would change for the better.