September 06, 2015 - 6:00 AM
COQUITLAM, B.C. - An emotional memorial was held in Vancouver Saturday to remember two little Syrian boys who drowned in Turkey in a tragedy that has attracted worldwide attention.
Family, friends and strangers packed a small theatre filled with white balloons, roses and photos of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, his five-year-old brother Ghalib and their mother, Rehanna.
The theatre seats 200 people and mourners were standing in the aisles. Sounds of sobbing could be heard as poems and prayers were read.
The boys' aunt, Tima Kurdi of Coquitlam, B.C., embraced family as they entered, while a slideshow of her lost relatives played on a projector at the front of the room.
A picture of the Alan's body on a Turkish beach this week received prominent worldwide attention and has sparked debate about the plight of refugees from the region.
Tima told the service that when she saw the photo of the drowned boy on the beach, she had a strong feeling it was Alan. She got the call hours later that confirmed her deepest fear.
When she called her brother, the boys' father, she remembered saying, "I'm sorry. It's my fault."
She has said she feels responsible because she sent Abdullah $5,000 to pay smugglers to take them on a boat from Turkey to Greece.
But he told her not to blame herself, saying to her, "My kids, they drowned, they sacrificed themselves to wake up the world."
She said she worries about her brother being alone in Kobani, Syria, where he has been sleeping on the ground next to the graves of his sons and wife.
Tima broke down in tears as she spoke about how the boys never had a good life in Syria because of the war. Finally, she left the stage with the words, "I don't know what to say anymore."
Her son, Alan Kerim -- who was the namesake for his little cousin -- told the crowd the refugee crisis is nothing new, but the boys were the "chosen ones" to finally open the eyes of the world.
He said he never met the younger Alan, but he had heard he was a happy little boy despite growing up surrounded by war.
After the service, the family was planning to release balloons in the boys' memory on the waterfront.
Two federal politicians seeking reelection attended the service -- New Democrat Fin Donnelly and Conservative Kerry-Lynne Findlay, as did a Vancouver woman who went to fight in Syria, Hannah Bohman.
Tima has said the family was fleeing Syria, where Islamic State militants had beheaded one of her sister-in-law's relatives.
She said the trip was the "only option" left for the family to have a better life in a European country, possibly Germany or Sweden.
Family friends have set up an online fundraising campaign to help the Kurdi family.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015