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It Was the (Arab) Spring of Hope, It Was the (Syrian) Winter of Despair

03/13/2014 11:02 am ET | Updated May 13, 2014

This Saturday marks the third anniversary of the Syrian revolution, a day that, no matter where you stand, forever altered the course of the country's future. As I reflect on all that my homeland has endured over the past few years, I cannot help but think of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.

For many Syrians who took to the streets three years ago, it was the best of times. After more than forty years of calculating every move they made and allowing the adage "the walls have ears" to dictate their lives, they found within themselves a unified voice and the courage, for the first time in decades, to ask for reforms and to eventually demand regime change.

As they organized themselves into local committees to organize protests and administer first aid to those injured by the government's bullets, Syrians entered into the age of wisdom. Their potential for self-governance became evident in the early days of the revolution, and though the anti-regime movement has not been void of internal conflict, the strides made by Syrians of all walks of life have been inspirational since the very beginning, especially in light of past decades of repression.

Whether they clung to their faith in God, their conviction in building a democratic, pluralistic society, or both, it most certainly was the epoch of belief. At first, rounds of live ammunition proved ineffective in silencing the Syrian anti-regime movement; as the months and years passed, so did tank shells, rounds of artillery and mortar shells, SCUD missiles, barrel bombs and sarin gas. Why? Because every move made was founded in the belief that "death over humility" was more than just a protest chant, it was a conviction: the Assad regime must relinquish its iron-clad grip on Syria.

The season of Light allowed Syrians to simultaneously mourn their fallen comrades while finding solace in the fact that those who lost their lives did so in pursuit of a future in which their children could have freedoms they never dreamed of, including the right to vote, and the ability to speak out against the government when it inevitably messed up, without fear of reprisal.

And how could it not be the spring of hope? It was only natural that, just as Tunisia's Ben Ali and Egypt's Mubarak had fallen, Assad would inevitably come crashing down, and the people who had spoken loud enough to remove him from power would work endlessly to reap the benefits of their actions and create a new, effective government.

On this third anniversary, countless people -- including many of those who emerged in the first protests during March 2011 -- will argue that Syria is now living the worst of times; the belief that the people could succeed marked the start of the age of foolishness; the international community's willingness to passively bear witness to the genocide of the Syrian people brought with it the epoch of incredulity; the season of Darkness has overwhelmed every flicker of light that once shined; and Syria's winter of despair often seems to be eternal.

It is, after all, indisputable that Syria is experiencing unfathomably horrid times. Over the span of three years, the Assad regime has utilized every weapon in its arsenal to kill no less than 140,000 people, one third of the country's people have been displaced and a quarter of a million are living under siege, 9.3 million Syrians are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, 60 percent of the country's hospitals have been destroyed, extremists have gone rampant and sectarianism is prevalent in groups on both sides of the war; and tens of thousands of people are being tortured in Assad's prisons. At the rate we're going, an entire generation of children will be lost before the conflict is over, and there is no end in sight.

But maybe Dickens was right; perhaps polar extremes cannot exist in isolation of each other. So let us, on March 15, remember more than the grueling hardships faced by the Syrian people. Let us remember the determination and persistence of activists like Raed Fares, Razan Ghazzawi, Heba Sawan and Ameenah Sawan, who, on their recent tours of the United States, told us that they would not stop actively working against the Assad regime until they accomplished the goals that inspired them to act three years ago. Let us have faith that, somewhere at the end of the tunnel, there exists a light reilluminating the best of times.