Anniston doctor with Syrian roots worries for his home
by Eddie Burkhalter
eburkhalter@annistonstar.com
Aug 30, 2013 | 4743 views |  0 comments | 54 54 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dr. Mohamed Jasser, an Anniston cardiologist, speaks about the conflict in his native Syria. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
Dr. Mohamed Jasser, an Anniston cardiologist, speaks about the conflict in his native Syria. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
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Syrian by birth and a doctor by profession, Mohamed Jasser is pained by the knowledge that he can’t heal his broken birthplace.

That frustration is clear in the way he speaks about his native country, now in its third year of a conflict between its government and those fighting to overthrow it.

“There’s no happiness in our life anymore,” Jasser said Friday, sitting in the office of his Anniston cardiology practice.

“We feel as if our country is dying and we’re not doing enough for them,” he said.

His worry is compounded as President Barack Obama considers ordering a military response to what U.S. officials say was an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government in a suburb of Damascus that killed hundreds of civilians.

The use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime was a red line, the president said in August 2012, and would change “my equation.”

Jasser was born in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, the site of many of the largest battles in the conflict. He graduated from the University of Aleppo’s medical school in 1982 and moved to the United States two years later.

It’s not uncommon for Syrians to be cautious when talking about the crisis, Jasser explained, and for good reason.

“We don’t have a tradition of a free press,” Jasser said. “We have no tradition of demonstrations. All of this is new.”

But he speaks passionately about the fighting that wounded a cousin – he was hit with shrapnel in a bombing raid – and killed several of his friends.

He’s also passionate about the crisis because his sister still lives in a government-controlled section of Aleppo with her in-laws and her children.

He talks to her when he can, but the telephone systems in Syria are as unreliable as the electricity and water supply, Jasser said.

Her country mired in war, she’s unable to provide for her family and so Jasser sends money to her and to other family members in Syria. It’s not easy, he explained, because he’s also supporting his family in the U.S.

Food is scarce in Syria, and when it can be found it’s very expensive, Jasser said.

His father’s farm in Syria was looted and then bombed. Jasser’s parents escaped to Saudi Arabia, where the aging couple has better access to medical care.

Jasser doesn’t sleep well anymore, and he hasn’t been on his yearly trip back to Syria since the fighting began. He’s considering a trip to treat refugees in the many camps that have sprung up with the conflict. There’s certainly no shortage of refugees to treat, with U.N. aid agencies reporting this week that Syria now has more than 1 million children registered as refugees.

Some estimates show as many as 1.7 million Syrians have fled the country to escape the fighting, but Jasser thinks the actual number is probably higher. His niece escaped to Lebanon and never registered as a refugee. There are many more like her, he said.

“There are lots of innocent people dying, on both sides,” Jasser said.

Jasser’s 19-year-old daughter Maria, born in the United States and now a student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said she’s seen how the crisis has affected her father. There is a lot of anger now, she said.

She speaks to her family in Syria using the Internet, and said they tell her they're safe, but she worries that’s just to put her at ease.

“It’s just really depressing ... I feel really powerless,” she said.

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.
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