Poet Amal Kassir.

(Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

The U.S. missile strikes in Syria last week gave some hope to Denver poet and activist Amal Kassir. She’s lost dozens of family members in the war, including many who were killed April 4 by Syrian bombs on the outskirts of Damascus. Kassir talked about what happened at a performance of her poetry last week in Washington D.C.  

“First we lost one cousin. Then another," Kassir said. "And then they pulled my father’s sister from the rubble and she was alive, and we said [a Muslim prayer]. Only to find out moments later that my father’s sister had been killed. We lost 10 members of our family yesterday. We lost 10 people yesterday, all in just one bombing!”

After her performance, Kassir learned her cousin was pregnant. She now counts 11 deaths from that single attack.    

Kassir's father woke her and her brother up early morning last Tuesday with updates from Syria. Her father had received a voice recording from one sister, saying that another sister's house had been bombed. Those who were hiding inside were pulled out one by one. 

"The building literally collapsed into itself, into the basement," Kassir said. "So the majority of people that were pulled out were already dead by the time, because of the weight of the rubble."

Kassir says a lot of her family has left Syria, but some have decided to stay with family who are fighting as rebels in the Syrian civil war.  

"They all had the choice to try, but they were not going to leave their children no matter what," Kassir said. "They were going to die in their country. Their sons were there, and their sons weren't going anywhere. There's not a lot of young men there, and that's who they kill first. Because once you get rid of the young men, all that's left is just women and children."

Kassir was born in the U.S., and her family owns Damascus Grill in Denver. She has also lived in Syria, but hasn't been able to return since 2007 because her family are revolutionaries, and her father is wanted. She says she's gotten used to loss, and the news of the bombing wasn't much of a surprise -- before the latest attacks, her family had already lost more than 30 members.

"What did they leave behind? These people were starving," Kassir said. "They had to eat leaves because there was no food. They had to break apart their kitchen table so that they could have firewood."

Kassir has protested against President Donald Trump's refugee order and other policies. She says she doesn't see his military action against Syrian President Assad as a victory. 

"But honestly, I hope Assad is horrified. I hope the dictator is scared."

She's writing a book of poetry about Syria and her life. She says that after last week’s attacks, she now knows how it'll end.   

"Last time I was ready [to finish my book], that child had washed up on the shores of Turkey from the refugee crisis," Kassir said. "So I couldn't put my book out, I could not -- there was so much more. This book isn't for me. This book is for Syria. This all has to be in the book. It has to be remembered."

Amal Kassir spoke with Colorado Matters host Nathan Heffel.