Celine Kassem is Syrian-Canadian by nationality, Circassian-Armenian by blood, with a BA in Political Science and a passion to serve Syrians in their struggle to achieve justice and freedom. Celine is currently working as the Director of Media for the Syrian Emergency Task Force.
Syriawise was able to connect with Celine at her home in Canada and ask her about her connection to Syria, her activism, and her personal goals for the future.
“Seeing footage, pictures and videos of how the Assad regime, Iran and Russia have repeatedly made the lives of everyday civilians, who simply just want to live, an actual hell, never fully paints the picture until you are there actually seeing it with your own eyes”Celine Kassem
Syriawise: Was your recent visit to Syria what you imagined it would be, and can you share with Syriawise your impressions and insights about the people you met there?
Celine Kassem: Through my work with the Syrian Emergency Task Force, I have thankfully been able to visit North West Syria a couple of times now. My first visit was last summer, and after the devastating earthquake in February, I was able to visit as well. I think my visits were way more than what I had imagined. Seeing footage, pictures and videos of how the Assad regime, Iran and Russia have repeatedly made the lives of everyday civilians, who simply just want to live, an actual hell, never fully paints the picture until you are there actually seeing it with your own eyes.
The camps do not end; there are more than 5-6 million internally displaced people from all over Syria who are basically besieged in this very small geographical area, and every six months they have to beg for an open cross border aid resolution from the UN, the same people, who have repeatedly watched them get bombed by chemical weapons and did nothing. However, with all that these people have been through, I think that they are beyond human. They have the most amount of resilience any human can possibly have.
When I visited only seven days after the earthquake, we had already spent some time in the south of Turkey witnessing the devastating destruction and fear it had left behind there. In Turkey, it was a complete ghost town; there were no human beings on the streets, everything was closed, people were terrified of everything and anything, which makes perfect sense.
But what makes absolutely no sense was that when we crossed the border into Syria, the market in Jinderes was open; they were selling fruits and vegetables, and the market was in a hustle, people picking up their groceries and going about their days.
My people had come to a complete normalization of catastrophe as a result of the endless years of bombardment; they had already lived it all. This earthquake took a lot from them, but it wasn’t anything new; it was destruction, displacement, and the losing of a home and everything they owned, once again. After that I had learned that there are no humans to walk this world as resilient and strong as they are.
Syriawise: Your profile says that you are Syrian Canadian. What is the source of your Syrian roots and had you visited Syria before the revolution?
Celine Kassem: I am Circassian and part Armenian by blood or ethnicity. A genocide was perpetrated against my ancestors and forced to migrate from their homeland, the Caucasus Mountains, by Russia. They had come to the Golan Heights, Syria. When Hafez Assad sold the Golan to Israel in 1967, they were forced to get up and leave once again, this time to Damascus. I am Syrian Canadian by nationality, but I grew up all around the world, from Saudi Arabia to the United States, then Canada. We were thankfully granted refugee asylum in Canada and obtained citizenship. I would visit Syria every summer for the full three months of summer up until 2011.
“I was only 11 when the revolution in Syria started. My dad was very involved from the beginning. I would sit and watch the news with him everyday, and then slowly started to go with him to protests and became a part of the volunteering work all Syrians took upon themselves to do post 2011”Celine Kassem
Syriawise: What is the nature of your connection to the Syrian Emergency Task Force and how did it come to be?
Celine Kassem: I started volunteering at the Syrian Emergency Task force in Feb 2022 through following the organization and their amazing inspirational work for years. I was able to prove myself through my work and am now so grateful to be the Director of Media at the organization. Through this position, I am able to work on shedding light about what is happening in Syria every single day, through media, social media, press, interviews, public speaking, and more. I have been able to gain so much experience and opportunities through my position with SETF and our amazing team. On a personal level, I am ever so grateful for them and how much I learn from them every day, as well as in general for the important work that we are able to achieve.
Syriawise: You appear to be very passionate about the issues that Syrians are facing. Was there a defining moment that sparked that passion, and if so, can you tell us about it?
Celine Kassem: I was only 11 when the revolution in Syria started. My dad was very involved from the beginning. I would sit and watch the news with him everyday, and then slowly started to go with him to protests and became a part of the volunteering work all Syrians took upon themselves to do post 2011. As a 12 year old child, a lot of what was happening made no sense to me. Why were there children just like me being killed? Who would do such evil? Why are people watching this happen and not stopping it? How can I stop it? Then through moving to the US and Canada, and being an immigrant, I was also a part of a lot of activism and volunteering for the revolution as a teenager.
“someday, hopefully, when a democratic Syria free from tyrants, war criminals, dictators, and gangs is a reality, I will have a hand in building a brighter, better future for my country”Celine Kassem
When I was in my last year of high school, I chose to go ahead with Political Science as my major, because I knew that this was my passion; speaking for my people, advocating for justice for the war crimes they have endured and lived as the world looked past them, and being the voice for the voiceless; I am so grateful to be able to have this opportunity to practice my passion no matter how tiring and exhausting things can get sometimes with everything that keeps happening and sometimes feeling like I’m screaming into a void. Whether that’s through my activism, political, legal, or advocacy work, it is all so worth it. Especially when you are able to go on the ground and see the faces of the people that we are working to bring justice for, after their long years of endurance.
SYRIAWISE: Hopefully the crisis in Syria will be resolved in the not-too-distant future and many current activists will be free to move on to other issues. We know that you currently have a bachelor’s degree in political science. What are your long-term career goals?
Celine Kassem: I am about to start working on my Master’s degree in Intercultural Communications in Doha this coming fall, and am very excited about this new journey I will be taking on. I want to expand my skills and passion into bringing all the attention and right ears to the Syrian crisis and achieving justice for my people. I think that this degree will allow me to broaden my knowledge and skills so that someday, hopefully, when a democratic Syria free from tyrants, war criminals, dictators, and gangs is a reality, I will have a hand in building a brighter, better future for my country.