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Op-Ed: Syrian Ex-Pats Connect With Citizen Journalists To Shine A Light On Suffering

December 26, 2016

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There’s plenty to be concerned about when it comes to human rights abuses around the world. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has pretty much admitted that he suspended any semblance of due process when he murdered drug offenders as mayor, and Turkey is apparently using the assassination of a Russian ambassador to censor its citizens. But, it’s the holidays and everyone tells me 2016 has been a real drag, so I figured I’d take a look at something a bit more uplifting this week.

Syrian ex-pats (those who have fled the country) living in Turkey are doing something really cool to bring to light the suffering going on in Aleppo.

Much of the broadcast team at Radio Alwan – which operates out of Istanbul – has family and friends living in Syria. They used to run a station in Aleppo but — according to the BBC — it was attacked and destroyed. 

Early this year, their local studio in Aleppo was smashed by masked men and their staff attacked. All their equipment was destroyed.

Sami, the station’s head of special projects and human resources, sighs.

“It was a difficult decision to take,” he admits, “but we had to think of the safety of our staff and we closed the office. Now we just have one correspondent on the outskirts of Aleppo and we just pray he is OK.”

The station now relies on citizen journalists to feed stories back to Turkey. They focus on bombings, air strikes, and human rights abuses. They are unquestionably risking life and limb to tell the world about Syria’s suffering.

It’s reminiscent of a team of citizen journalists that BBC reported on earlier. This in a multi part series ‘Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently their page and the YouTube series are well worth checking out.

It’s important not to underestimate the risks that these people are taking to spread this information. The threat to those working for the station in Syria is very real, and journalists have even been targeted within Turkey for broadcasting reports fed from inside Syria. In taking this risk, they are exposing that which the government of Syria — and other countries involved in the bloodshed – likely don’t want getting out. By doing so, they are embracing one of our most important Western traditions: a free and dangerous press.

It’s often said in the West that for the Middle East to break free from its myriad problems, people will need to embrace liberal, democratic values – this is a massive step in the right direction.

The station has been functioning in one form or another since 2013, and is currently expanding into feminist programming, comedies, dramas, and a news magazine show that has – among other things – offered Syrians tips on surviving in refugee camps.

The situation in Syria and around much of the Middle East is grim indeed, but here’s hoping this encouraging embrace of free speech will continue to spread.

This contributor is a Marine veteran that has served in the Middle East. Due to the sensitive nature of his current job, he has requested to remain anonymous.