It is extremely difficult to get news from Syria, and to verify the reports which are received. In 2012, the Committee to Protect Journalists labelled the country ‘the most dangerous place in the world for journalists’ , with (at that point) twenty-six journalists dead, and 5 more missing. That was October 2012: by July 2015 84 journalists were reported dead (including Syrian journalists), and many more missing and unaccounted for. Others fled Syria to go into exile. Those few reporters allowed into the country face heavy restrictions, whilst others sneak in across closely-guarded borders to speak to opposition forces. Those who risk the shells, the snipers and kidnappings, which have become a regular feature of Syrian life, tell of catastrophic damage.
As a result, little news is received from mainstream media. In the absence of someone to tell their stories, Syrian activists have begun to tell their own. Significant information is now shared by citizen journalist organisations across the country, formed from local amateurs. Events are recorded by any means possible – cameras, camera phones, and videos, many of which are uploaded onto sites like YouTube. These so called ‘Netizens’ use social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook, to ensure that such reports are instantly shared with thousands of followers. Whilst some are simply dedicated to showing events as they happen, with no interpretation added, many others use the opportunities to promote their cause, making the task of navigating truth and propaganda that much harder. Many are photographers, part of a wider organisation, each calling themselves “Lens of…”. An interview with one group described their mission and purpose:
When demonstrations started in Syria in March 2011, a group of friends from Homs, all under 25, took their cameras to photograph these unprecedented protests in their city. Soon after, they were photographing the destruction of the city´s streets and neighborhoods as a result of the regime crackdown. Through their lenses, they aim to show the world what Homs was like, and what it has become, documenting memorial revolutionary moments from “the city of the revolution”. They receive daily requests from people who had to flee the city and want to know if their houses have been destroyed or not (Global Voices. Syria: “Lens of a Young Homsi”, Photographs of a City under Siege. 24 February 2014)
However, citizen journalists are no safer than the professional journalists: many face even great threats. Reporters Without Borders has estimated that 17 netizens were imprisoned between March 2011 and July 2015, and 134 netizens and citizen journalists have been killed.
As a result, Heritage for Peace cannot guarantee any of the news which is received from Syria, as very little of it is independently verified. Nonetheless, gathering information remains an important task for many reasons. It allows a planned response that is targeted to be of most help to those working to protect their heritage. It also enables better planning for after the conflict, as by keeping abreast of events, priorities for when peace comes can be determined quickly, and implemented. In addition, by looking for patterns in events, it is hoped that one day it may be possible to predict what might happen, and so help to prevent it happening again.
Read the Latest News on the damage to Syria’s cultural heritage here
Read about the latest work by Heritage for Peace to protect Syria’s heritage from our press releases here.