ShareThis Page

Syrian journalist pleads for help via Skype feed

| Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, 11:54 p.m.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
Carl Keifer of the South Side asks Syrian journalist Yassin al-Haj Saleh a question via Skype about the conflict in Syria on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, during an event organized by Shoutside Media in Schenley Plaza.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
Micah Rosa, organizer of the Skype session with Syrian journalist, Yassin al-Haj Saleh, asks a question to Saleh at Schenley Plaza on Sept. 4, 2013. Rosa set up the Skype session to encourage anyone who attended or passed by the session to ask a question regarding Syria and the current conflict.

A small group crowded around a laptop in Oakland's Schenley Plaza on Wednesday to listen to a Syrian journalist plead for the United States to help topple President Bashar Assad's regime and end a bloody civil war.

“You cannot ignore what is happening to us and say it is not your concern,” Yassin al-Haj Saleh, 52, said via Skype from what he described as a Syrian hideout.

Yet elsewhere in the Pittsburgh plaza, including neighboring tables in the pavilion next to Conflict Kitchen, hundreds of people did just that.

“It's just a very American scene,” Leah Friedman, 20, of Lawrenceville said, scanning the plaza as people sat on the sun-drenched lawn or in the shaded pavilion, poring over books, lunches, electronic tablets and smartphones. One person threw a Frisbee to a dog.

Friedman, an urban studies major at the University of Pittsburgh who listened in on the Skype call for about five minutes, described the situation in Syria as “terrifying” but said she wasn't informed enough to say whether she supports U.S. military action.

Two national polls released this week show weak support from Americans. Almost six in 10 oppose missile strikes against Assad's forces, and 36 percent are in favor, according an ABC News/Washington Post survey. A Pew Research Center poll found 48 percent oppose a strike, and 29 percent are in favor.

“I think the general public is tired, and you're getting a lot of fatigue. Americans have been in armed conflict for longer than a decade. It's a tough thing to deal with,” said Dan Law of the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh.

Talk of intervening has ramped up since Aug. 21, when President Obama said Syria used chemical weapons in an attack against its people, killing more than 1,400. More than 100,000 people have died in clashes in 2 12 years.

“It's very frustrating,” said Syrian-American Dr. Basel Termanini, 53, of Moon. “Syrians have been asking for help for more than two years. This is the unknown war.”

The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based conservative policy group, said support is lagging because the United States hasn't gained broad support from allies, and the administration hasn't clearly articulated the national security interest that was threatened by the Aug. 21 attack.

South Side-based Shoutside Media organized the event at Schenley Plaza, broadcasting the Skype call over speakers and a projector screen. A Syrian-American who acted as translator during the call asked not to be identified because he feared retribution against relatives in Syria, including a brother.

About a half-dozen people asked questions over an hour.

Tom Fontaine is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.