Civil activism and alternative media stay active in Syria

After 3 years, the civil protest against the Assad regime is still active and there is not a glimmer of hope for a peaceful solution. The regime intensifies the attacks against civilians using container bombs and hunger as a weapon. Nevertheless civil activists keep pressuring the regime with creative and peaceful resistance. From the southern cities of Dara’a, where the protest started, over Homs, the “capital of the revolution”, to the northerly cities of Aleppo and Saraqib, where the influence of extremist groups is on the rise.  

  • Raed Fares, from Kafranbel: ''This is a revolution, not a civil war"

In the Yarmouk refugee camp in a neighborhood of Damascus Eyhem Ahmed plays the piano. He wants to motivate the people and by his music channel the voice of the people of the camp to the whole world, hoping that food transports can enter the camp. ‘We chose the sound of music to the sound of bullets.’
 
In the city of Darayya a group of young girls started an initiative to give psychological aid to kids of martyrs and detainees. When they, because of the escalating violence, had to leave the city, they created the network of Young Guardians. Supported by the Syrian non-violent movement, the team mostly works in the country-side of Idlib, Aleppo, East and West Ghouta, and Damascus. Hanan, an activist of the group says, ’ we work with children around safety and education, others who are traumatized by war, we give psychological aid or individual treatment.’ The Network collaborates with other activists to organize “learning points” where children can finish their education. They also give workshops about how mothers can threat with their children in emergencies.
 
In Saraqib activists paint debris of houses with slogans in which they express there feeling of empathy. According to Kadouni, this is a national duty. ‘If we are not active then everything collapses, we have to resist. The paintings serve as a psychological support for the people, because the Syrian people love life.’  

Witty slogans are treacherous

The north-western village Kafranbel in the province of Idlib is the creative center of the revolution. The village gained fame with witty slogans during protests. Regarded as blasphemy by certain extremist groups, the people of Kafranbel created English slogans to get international attention for the war against the civilians and their struggle for freedom and equality. The activists also protest against the indifference of the West. Islamic radicals already tried to capture the protest movement, but they didn’t succeed.

The leader of these protests is Raed Fares (41). He became active in a rather accidental way, but is now the icon of the movement. When the civil strive started in Kafranbel, Fares began sending English messages to convey to the international community the need for action. ‘Everybody started talking about a civil war. We want the remind the international community that it’s a revolution and not a civil war’, says Fares. On Friday the activists gather. They have their own photographer and show cartoons with witty slogans that are send through different channels on social media. Newspapers pick them up and they are shared broadly on twitter and facebook.

From the beginning of the protest the activists where threat by the regime. Along with these risks, there are also the Muslim extremists. By the end of December 2013 Muslim extremist destroyed the improvised media center of kafranbel. Also Raed received death threats. On the 28 of January 2014 Raed Fares was shot down when a masked man aimed a gun at his chest.

I started the revolution with one goal: freedom and dignity

Raed Survived the attack, although 2 bullets penetrated his body. After the attack he was still seen on the next Friday protest. After that he crossed the border to Turkey for treatment, last week he was in Washington to demand active protection of the Syrian people. If everything goes well he will go back to Syria next week. Fares says that he doesn’t fear returning to Syria.
 
In an interview I had with him at the end of January, Raed says that the spirit of the revolution is non-violent. ’ The regime says it fights against terrorism.  But It’s a revolution of the people against the terrorism of the Assad-regime and the terrorism of all the extremist parties in the country. I started the revolution with one goal: freedom and dignity. I had a taste of what it means and now I keep fighting to obtain this for all the Syrians. Because I started the revolution as one of the first ones, I think I need to realize it with other civilians. We started this together, so we will finish this together. I will live and die in Kafranbel.’ 

A press agency resists the Jihadists

Rami Jarah, know by the pseudonym Alexandre Page, is a British Syrian who lived until he was 18 in London. In 2004 he went to Syria for the first time. Because of the fact that his parents are fierce opponents of the Baath regime, he was arrested on the spot and couldn’t leave the county for 3 years. When the revolution started in 2011 he had to flee to Egypt where he established ANA News Media Association, the first independent press agency for Syria.

His agency was active in Raqqa in the northern city of Syria. This is the first city where the Muslim extremist of ISIS (the Islamic state of the Levant and Iraq) took power. On the 13 of November ISIS raised her black flag above the church of Raqqa. According to Jarah: ‘Our broadcast was taken off air due to a crackdown performed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on the 1st of October 2013, Rami Al Razzouk our broadcaster there was kidnapped by the terrorist group and is still being held with charges of spying for the Saudi Government in addition to working for an organization (ANA) that receives support from International NGO’s. We were taken off the air once all the equipment was confiscated from the office located in central Raqqa city.’

Here is the light of Freedom and you won’t take it from us

According to Rami Jarah, few Syrians support the extremist groups, although they have a lot of power. ’ That’s why they think its necessary to criticize them’, says Jarah. Since the beginning of September 2013 the Radio station of ANA sends critical messages to the world criticizing Islamic Radicals. Through their youtube channels they bring news in English to reach the international public.
 
Also in Raqqa Asyad Al-mousa, a 34 year old lawyer, maps the human rights violations of the regime and extremists. When in August a new execution was proclaimed by ISIS, Al-mousa mobilized his fellow activists and they organized a sit-in on the square where they do the executions, they stood around a banner that said: ’ Here is the light of Freedom and you won’t take it from us ‘. Their sit-in couldn’t save the victims, but at least for more than 3 months there were no executions in Raqqa. Although on October 17 more people where executed. Sometimes Al-mousa’s struggle was really confrontational. For example when a member of the secret police that had tortured him was executed, Al-mouse thought he deserved it. Al-mousa says that he is more afraid of the Islamists then the regime. He is a Muslim, but he separates himself from the Muslim extremists. He didn’t become an extremist because he firmly stands his ground and he believes in justice. 

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