Syria Activists Say Cameras As Powerful As Kalashnikovs
QUSAYR, Syria, July 15, 2012 (AFP) -« I wouldn’t trade my camera for a Kalashnikov, » says Trab Zahor, who works night and day to get the story out about the horrors of life in the besieged, rebel-held Syrian city of Qusayr.
If anyone can say that with pride, it is Zahor, one of six activists who man a media centre, filming the daily shellings and deaths in the city, while also helping foreign journalists by acting as interpreters and translators.
« I recall how a lot of wounded people began arriving at the hospital, and I was there with my camera, filming it all, » says Zahor.
« Several men came running in carrying a wounded man. I closed in to film his face and realised it was my own brother. I was shocked, but I kept filming. »
Zahor’s brother died a few days later.
« That day I could have signed up with the (rebel) Free Syrian Army, picked up a rifle and sought revenge, but my weapon is my camera, and with it I do much more harm to the regime » of President Bashar al-Assad, says Zahor.
A man who gives his name only as Hussein accuses Assad of « doing the same as his father did 30 years ago in Hama, » a reference to the president’s late father and predecessor Hafez, who brutally crushed an Islamist rebellion in the city in the 1980s, slaughtering tens of thousands.
« The difference is that we now have cameras to film the massacres and the atrocities, and we can upload them to the Internet so the whole world can see. The Internet is our most powerful weapon, » says Hussein.
While some international news organisations have had a presence in Syria since even before the popular uprising to oust Assad erupted in March 2011, the regime severely restricts the entry of journalists into the country and their movement.
Much of the news that makes its way beyond the country’s borders comes from so-called citizen journalists, ordinary people who have picked up cameras, hooked up to Skype and shared their version of events with the outside world.
Their stories may often contain factual errors, not to mention biased opinions, but what they make available helps to fill in the blanks of a story that is not easily covered.
Abu Shamsu, one of the people who set up the media centre in this city, not far from the Lebanese border, says « if Assad has prevented the international press from entering the country, it must be for a reason, no? »
« But he can’t prevent us from entering, because we are already here and, camera in hand, we film everything that happens and send it to the Arab and Western televisions. »
Hussein explains that, at the beginning of the uprising, « we started filming the demonstrations … and uploading them to YouTube. Now we not only film, we also edit and do voice-overs. We do the same job that foreign journalists do. »
But Hussein doesn’t pretend that he is a journalist. He stresses that he is an activist.
« We must never forget that we are not journalists, but that we work for the revolution. Our sole objective is to achieve victory and to overthrow Bashar. »
« We cannot be objective they way the international press is, because it is our neighbours who are dying from the regime’s bombs, but that does not mean that we manipulate the facts.
« Our mission is to show the world the way things really are and to unmask the lies of Assad, » whose regime consistently lumps together as « terrorists » all those struggling to unseat him.
Fady Sony, who got his nickname from the camera he always carries, says that, « if we left Qusayr, no one would know what is going on, and Assad could massacre with impunity. We are the bothersome witnesses to what is happening here. »
And because of that, they know they are prime targets for elimination, with many of their comrades having already been arrested, even killed, for their work.
Zahor, who dug his own brother’s grave, said « it would be an honour to die doing my work, because I know I have helped a lot of people. »