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Syrians In Kansas City Worry, Wait For U.S. Response

Laura Ziegler

Syria has been the big story everywhere this week, but for hundreds of Syrians living in the Kansas City area, reaction to Syria’s chemical weapons attack isn’t something that goes away when they turn off the news. They live with constant concern and anxiety, wondering about the safety of their friends and family back home.

Successful business abroad

Fariz Turkmani, the president of Tess Limo and Airport Service streams Al-Jazeera all day in his 2nd floor at the Marriot Hotel in Overland Park, Kan.Turkmani  says he trusts the Arab news sources because they are close to the story.

“You get more fresh news from there. Over here, we’re too far from the Middle East,” he says.

Turkmani says he knows news stories can be edited to reflect a bias in favor of the Syrian army … or the rebels. But he gets first-hand accounts from relatives back home.

One of his two sisters called recently from Alleppo, one of the most war-ravaged areas in the country. 

"If you remember when the University of Alleppo was bombed... And she says she was making pita bread on top of condominium buildings because there is no pita bread, no food," says Turkmani.

It is from there he says his sister saw two military jets lower and release missiles on the University of Alleppo, which is very close to where both his sisters live.

Turkmani came to Kansas City 20 years ago, and has established a thriving business which enables him to send some money home. But it is frustrating to be so far away — so out of control.

“It’s very tense feelings in your stomach … until they pick up the phone … and you hear them," says Turkmani. "You are watching the news and you end up crying watching something so bad.”

There is probably more support for the military in bigger cities, Turkmani says, -where there are likely to be Syrians who have benefited from the Assad regimes. But here in the Midwest, he says most are backing the Free Syria rebels.

“I don’t think you will see anybody in here that tells you anything different, in Kansas City," he says. "But you got to New York, there is more concentration of Syrian people in there, I'm sure you will find more people supporting the government. In D.C., same way.”

Official Action

Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR
Fadi Benyalmarjeh (left), his son Sami (middle), and his nephew Mahmoud watch President Obama address the nation Tuesday night.

The family of Fadi Beniyalmarjeh gathered in his east Kansas City, Mo. home Tuesday night to watch the President Obama's speech.

They were all hoping to hear the President announce a military strike against Syria. Their sister and her family are homeless in Syria, running from city to city to find safety. Fadi asks his father if he knows where she is today.

"Today he talked to her," Fadi translates. "It is not just her, she has three kids."

Fadi’s father, Dr. Mouaffaq Beniyalmarjeh, was an academic and newspaper editor in Syria, he wasjailed three times under the Assad regimes.

After the speech, he says he thought President Obama mostly got it right, but he was disappointed the military attack was put on hold.

Dr. Beniyalmarjeh's grandson, Sami helps translate.

"No strike it will be, eh..," says Dr. Beniyalmarjeh and then finishes in Arabic.

"It will be very sad and he will lose a lot of hope," Sami translates.

But the well-educated and worldy 74-year-old understands political reality. His eyes wide with passion, Dr. Beniyalmarjeh leans in and says he would like to talk to those in Congress who are opposing President Obama's plan. The people of Syria, he says, want to make them a deal.

“TakeBashir as new president for you, “ he says loudly and clearly, “and give us Obama, the democratic one.”

But as the Syrian community here knows better than most, “the democratic one” has a complicated international crisis on his hands. And Syrians will be watching closely to see if President Obama makes good on his promise to protect their loved ones back home.

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions.
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