Living in Spain and fighting for Syria

Spain’s Syrian community, influenced by the 15-M Movement and the Arab Spring, have begun a movement of their own.

Spanish-Syrian girl
As the 15-M Movement has protested against corruption in Spain, so the Spanish-Syrian community has begun agitating for political change in Syria [Mara Stacca]

More than 2,000 demonstrators have been killed in popular uprisings in Syria, and thousands more have been arrested and wounded. Now, communities of Syrians living abroad have started to mobilize in support for peaceful demonstrations and the right to freedom of speech in their native country.

The Spanish-Syrian community, which, like most Syrians, has been afraid to speak for decades, has become particularly active following the pattern of the 15-M Movement that took Spaniards to the streets and to the internet to demand social and political change.

The Spanish-Syrian community has recently started to engage in different forms of support for Syrian demonstrators. Voices emerge from the Spanish-Syrian Association in solidarity with the Syrian people and their right to freedom, such as Khalil Chnaiker’s, General Secretary of the Association. Chnaiker contacted Al Jazeera to express the community’s concern about the use of violence against peaceful demonstrators. “Our Association stands in solidarity with the Syrian people and their right to freedom of speech. We also condemn all forms of repression against Syrian citizens.”

Independent voices also keep growing among younger members of the Spanish-Syrian community, who have created the “Association in Support of the Syrian People”, which aims to defend Syrian human rights.

Spanish-Syrian demonstrations and the 15-M Movement

The organisation of the Spanish-Syrian community seems to have evolved as the Spanish 15-M citizen movement gained momentum. Since the beginning of campouts protesting against corruption and a political structure that favors a two-party system, Spanish-Syrian stands were set up inside the camps in cities such as Madrid and Granada. Members of the community informed passers-by about the situation in Syria, played videos explaining the situation, gathered signatures and asked other Spaniards to join their cause.

Amid a wave of solidarity and political and social awareness that favored a global stand against injustice, Syrians participated in the general assemblies and committees to share news and updates on the situation in Syria.

According to Sirin Adlib, researcher at Autonoma University, “The 15-M Movement has offered a privileged space in order to gather support for our cause. There was a very special moment one night, when Spanish demonstrators surprised us by leaving Sol (Madrid’s main square) to join us at the Syrian embassy and sit next to us there, chanting ‘We are all Syria'”.

The information stands at Spain’s main squares created a spot for organising demonstrations, marches and sit-ins all over the country. Since the beginning of the crackdown, daily sit-ins have been organised in front of the Syrian embassy and demonstrations take place every Sunday. The demonstration that took place on June 30 has been the largest so far, in which more than a thousand people travelled to the capital from different cities. Information about these marches is widely shared on Twitter through tags like #spainwithsyria.

Two large demonstrations are planned for July 24 and July 30, marking “Syrian Children’s Day”. Demonstrations call for the end of repression against Syrians, and for the resignation of the Syrian ambassador in Madrid. They also ask the Spanish government to take a stand in support of the Syrian people. According to journalist Mazen Yaghi:

“The Spanish government is always late in condemning international abuses, it always waits for France and England to condemn first.  We ask the government to remove the Spanish ambassador in Syria and have the Syrian ambassador in Spain resign. We also ask them to take a stand on the drama of the Syrian refugees and to demand the free access of Spanish journalists into Syria.”

Just as the Spanish 15-M Movement has recently moved into the neighbourhoods where citizens organise into committees to discuss different issues, so have the members of the Syrian community: its committees coordinate different aspects of the mobilisations, occupation of public spaces and a combination of online and offline strategies.

Online organisation

Younger members of the community are using internet tools quite effectively, just as citizens from the Spanish 15-M Movement and people in the Middle East and North Africa have done. They organise in private groups that only invited members can access, using tools such as Facebook, where they plan demonstrations and strategies and engage in discussions and votes. They produce content that raise awareness of the abuses, upload them to platforms like YouTube and share them online. They translate videos and subtitle them in Spanish, such as the widely shared “What are you afraid of?”

The community uses public Facebook groups, pages and other media like Twitter to create events in different cities, share posts, videos and photos of demonstrations that are selected and translated to reach a Spanish audience. The “Revolución Siria 2011” page is one of the most active ones so far, with over 600 members and hundreds of posts. The most active, though, are the closed groups that require access from an administrator.

Since the 15-M Movement took inspiration from the Arab Spring and its challenges to governments that did not meet the people’s needs and demands, the Syrian community’s mobilisation in Spain is just another sign that the movement that started in Tunisia has become global and affects citizens as a whole. Citizens continue to lose their fear and question official discourses, both within their own countries and abroad.

Leila Nachawati is a Spanish-Syrian activist and social media manager who writes on human rights and new forms of communication. She is a board member of AERCO (Spanish Association for Social Media Managers) and a contributor for projects including Global Voices Online and Periodismo Humano.

You can follow her on Twitter: @leila_na

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.