Heart of a revolutionary

Alumna helps tell the story of a Syrian civil war

By Jason Winders, MES'10

Mariam Hamou knows the numbers by heart. It is the names that haunt her.

“It is weird, but in war, all you hear about are the numbers – 200 people died in this, 13 people died in that. You know the numbers; you never know the names. And until you know the names, you cannot connect with the numbers.”

Hamou, BA’96, MLIS’99, serves as the North American Public and Media Relations Director for the National Coalition of Syrian and Revolution and Opposition Forces. Based in Istanbul, Turkey, the organization is a collection of prodemocracy groups from both inside and outside Syria, widely supported by Western and Gulf governments. In her role, the London, Ont.-born Hamou connects with internal councils within Syria and international media outlets to get the message out.

“The important part of my work is getting across the stories of the normal, everyday people – the people facing all of this that the regime is doing, all of this that the regime has been doing throughout the revolution. I try to bring those stories across.” Born the daughter of a Lebanese mother, whose family goes five generations back in Canada, and a Syrian father, whose family still calls the Middle Eastern country home, Hamou and her activistadvocate heart have deep roots. Her father is politically active in Syria – the kind of active that draws attention. He had been imprisoned, even tortured, under former Syrian president Hafez al-Assad, father of current Syrian president Bashar Hafez al-Assad. His visits to the country even today still draw official eyes.

Hamou’s first visit to Syria as an adult did not come until she finished her undergraduate degree at Western. Once there, however, she fell in love with the people, the culture.

When pro-democracy protests erupted in March 2011, after the arrest and torture of teenagers who painted revolutionary slogans on a school wall, she stood ready to help.

“It wasn’t even a protest at first. It was just words. Somebody wrote something on a wall. But you felt something was happening. And then I started getting messages from people in Syria saying ‘It’s started! It’s started!’ I was so excited we were going to do this. We were going to bring democracy to Syria. I was so full of hope and happiness.

“For my dad, this was personal. For me, this was personal.”