"At that point, there were quite a few Syrian researchers and students in Germany with grants and scholarships from the Syrian government. Once the revolution started, this funding was cut off. Many of us were left with nothing," says Al Masri. The nonprofit association USSA was founded to provide advice and support for young Syrian students and researchers who were already in Germany. At first there were 40 members, but soon after the association was founded, there were 700. Al Masri thinks the interest was so great because the aid organizations were mainly supporting people in Syria.
"We wanted to help each other, here in Germany and in Syria," said Al Masri. The association was founded in 2012 and soon offered German language classes, job placement, and advising and counseling both for Syrian academics who had been in Germany previously as well as those who fled the war. They also organized collections of donations for the population in Syria.
Day Zero of the Syrian Revolution
Salah Al Masri has been working as a researcher at the Institute of Veterinary Medicine at Freie Universität for four years now. In a joint project he is doing research aimed at saving male chicks from mechanical death. Al Masri grew up in Daraa. A city with about 100,000 inhabitants, Daraa is only a few kilometers from the Jordanian border and about 100 kilometers from Damascus. Even though most Germans are not familiar with the city, it plays an important role for the revolution that broke out in 2011 and the resulting Civil War. According to Al Masri, "Day zero of the Syrian revolution took place in Daraa."
In Pursuit of Dignity and Freedom
Al Masri describes what happened: In 2011 half a dozen minors were arrested in Daraa for graffiti. Syrians from all walks of life felt this was wrong – for many of them, it was the final straw causing them to fight against the regime for the first time. "In Daraa everyone knows everyone else. It was as though their own children had been locked away," said Al Masri. His friends and family members also took to the streets, demonstrating against the regime. "It was about dignity and the pursuit of freedom," he said.
Al Masri was in Munich at the time. When the Assad regime responded to the peaceful protests with arbitrary arrests, shooting, and besieging the city, Al Masri decided to do something. In Munich he organized a demonstration against the Assad regime. Actions such as these were not harmless, as Al Masri continues, "There were also spies of the Syrian government there, taking pictures of the demonstrators. I know some people who returned to Syria after that and simply disappeared."
The danger is still so great that Al Masri has not visited his homeland, his family, or friends for the past six years. He says, "I miss everything about Syria. I would like to travel there, partly to bid farewell to the dead."