Portland Mid East Fest can’t stop fears

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Father Alban West with the St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in east Portland speaks out at the Sept. 8, 2013, Middle Eastern Festival. (KOIN 6 News) "Once a year we like to open our doors,"

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The threat of war with Syria hits very close to home for many at Portland’s Middle East Fest Sunday.

Many of those at the east Portland festival have family and friends still living in Syria. The thought of U.S. airstrikes on the country, they say, is a scary one.

Still, there was music,  food on the grill and dancing Sunday “to show our culture to the outside community,” said Suzy Hadeed, who has family in Syria. The festival is at the St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in east Portland.

“Once a year we like to open our doors,” Father Alban West told KOIN 6 News.

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A participant cooks kabobs at the Middle East Fest held in east Portland Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013. (KOIN 6 News)

Throwing a party is a far cry from the worry many are feeling.

“Of course it’s very heavy on our minds since we have a lot of relatives back there,” said Khalil Azar.

As U.S. officials debate air strikes and whether to get involved in the Syrian conflict, there are serious concerns for friends and family.

“If Bashar goes away, then who is going to take his place?” Azar said. “We feel there is going to be a lot more chaos without Bashar.”

St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church was founded by immigrants from Syria and Lebanon.

“Most of the people here have family back home,” Hadeed said.

Many at the church are now focused on praying.

“It’s heartbreaking to watch what’s going on with our country,” Hadeed said.

A prayer service is scheduled for this week, with the congregation praying name by name for family and friends in Syria. They don’t feel like there is much else they can do.

“We are very worried for them right now,” Father West said.

People at the church said they think the festival this year is especially important, because it allows people to see a personal side to what’s in the news every day.

U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to address America Tuesday. CBS’s Charlie Rose landed an exclusive interview with the president of Syria. That interview airs Monday on KOIN 6 Morning News and CBS This Morning.

— KOIN Reporter Chris Woodard contributed to this KOIN.com report.

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