Syrian basketball player finds 2nd home at Pierce

Running late for class is never a good thing for college students, but for one it was a life-saving event.

Gasia Sarkis, 21, who was attending the University of Aleppo in Syria in 2012, was not at school at the time a bomb exploded on campus as a result of an ongoing civil war.

“Before the fighting started, Syria was a very peaceful and free country,” said Ara Sarkis, Gasia’s father. “It was a free economy where employment was high and it was a safe and fun place to visit for tourists. That was before March 15, 2011, when everything changed.”

On that day, there was a revolt in the city of Damascus when a group of mostly-young protesters demanded reform and the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad.

This is when the war first started.

“It is a massacre in Syria now,” Ara said. “Over 100,000 men women and children have died there.”

Gasia, who played on the National Syrian basketball team, remembers having to practice amid the turmoil that was surrounding the country.

“I remember that going to practice was scary,” said Gasia. “We were afraid that bombs were going to go off. We risked our lives every single time we went to play. After the bombing, I decided once and for all to leave Syria and come to play basketball in America.”

Her family followed in September of 2012 after violence spread to the city of Aleppo.

Gasia, who describes herself as being Armenian-Syrian, has now been playing for the Pierce College women’s basketball team for two years.

The sport is in her blood, as her father—who started playing basketball from the age of 13—was part of the National Syrian team and the Homenetmen basketball club. Before the civil war started, he was a successful businessman who sold spare car parts.

Since the Sarkis family has reunited, they have made the transition from living in Syria to starting a new life in Encino. Gasia is now pursuing her dreams of being a Division I prospect and maybe even turning pro.

“One of the toughest parts about coming to America was communication, learning how to speak English,” Gasia said. “Also, I didn’t know the system about how to get classes and getting used to the culture.”

With the help of former Pierce player Mare Chirishyan, Gasia was able to talk to head coach Jim Couch and from there, Ken Stanley Court became her new home.

“I am truly blessed to be here, not stuck in war,” Gasia said. “I want to prove to myself that I can play in America.”

Gasia’s troubles back in Syria are now far away, and she can focus on family, school and playing basketball.

Even though Ara no longer coaches actively, he still consults his daughter on her game.

“I think Gasia is the best basketball player from Syria. However, [she] needs to improve her free throw shooting,” Ara said with a slight grin. “My wife and I are going to support our daughter and come to as many games as possible.”