Three years after emigrating from northern Syria, Shler Ali looks at her two young daughters and feels lucky to know her children have a safe home in Winnipeg.
But she also thinks about the country she left behind, which on Wednesday became the subject of a Turkish military assault spurred by U.S. President Donald Trump announcing American troops would withdraw from near the border alongside their Kurdish allies.
Now, Ali said, when she looks at nine-year-old Naz and two-year-old Pella, she doesn’t just think of them — she thinks of her six-year-old Kurdish niece back in Syria, holding her mother’s hand to get her through the night.
“My children, they know they have a roof and they have a safe place. But [my niece] was under bombing and she felt very scared,” Ali said, standing in front of about 50 people on the steps of the Manitoba Legislative Building early Thursday evening.
“She couldn’t sleep in the night,” said Ali. “She didn’t know, if she sleeps, [if] she will wake up or not.”
As Kurdish forces in northern Syria are attacked with air strikes and bombarded with artillery, Winnipeg’s Kurdish community gathered with signs on the steps of the legislature.
They’re hoping to draw attention to the situation, and convince the Canadian government to pressure Turkish forces into withdrawing from Syria, Ali said.
“Where are the human rights?” she asked. “There is horrible things happening there. There is a genocide happening there. Our kids are being killed, our people, civilian people, they have been killed.”
Wednesday afternoon, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland made Canada’s position on the issue clear in a series of tweets, saying Turkey risks rolling back progress made against ISIS-affiliated militants in the region.
Ali said she wants to see Canada do more than just condemn Turkey’s military invasion.
“I’m really upset that I didn’t hear anything from the government of Canada. I’m really upset that our leaders here are busy with the election and getting votes,” she said. “I know we are fortunate in Canada, but we need to think and feel about other people in other parts of the world.”
Omran Zahrab, a Kurdish Syrian immigrant who helped organize Thursday’s rally, said Winnipeg’s Kurdish community is grateful that Canada condemned Turkey’s actions in Syria, but they want to urge the government to do more to stop them.
“We highly appreciate Canada that they condemn that attack,” he said. “[We need to see] if there is any way to stop that attack, because the victims are children, the victims are civilians.”
Zahrab said he came to Canada three years ago — and there’s not a moment he doesn’t think about the people he left behind, like his parents.
“I cannot describe my feelings,” he said. “Our friends are there. They suffer from the attack. Maybe in any moment, they will be victims.”