Syria citizen journalists wonder whether guns trump cameras

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Citizen journalists in Syria do much to give the world a picture of the death and destruction in their country, but some wonder whether guns might not trump cameras in the end.

“We are the eyes of the world,” says Kinda, the only woman among 10 people working round the clock in a media center in the eastern oil hub of Deir Ezzor, laid waste by months of intense combat between opposition fighters and troops of President Bashar al-Assad.

“Without us, the world would not know what is happening... because no Western news media has dared come here,” she said.

Colleague Abu Hussein, speaking of the horrors that he has witnessed, said he still finds “strength to keep doing this work every day, and I will continue to do it until we liberate Syria or I die.”

He echoes a remark made repeatedly by others across Syria, who have turned to citizen journalism as a way to get the story out.

“Our weapons are our cameras, and those weapons are more powerful that any AK-47 (assault rifle) carried by an opposition fighter. Our weapons raise awareness, they don’t kill.”

But Saad Sulibi is not so sure, despondent that after nearly two years of conflict the war goes on, and “nobody helps us.”

Every time he goes to the front with his camera, he takes a rifle along.

“I record the fighting with my camera, but if they shoot at me I shoot back... because my life is much more important than any image I might film.”

Sulibi said he joined the pro-democracy movement when it first erupted in March 2011, but when he saw so many people being killed in a crackdown by Assad’s regime “I decided to take up arms.”

“And many times I wonder whether it wouldn’t be better to stop filming and to fight with the (opposition groups) Free Syrian Army.”

Akram Asaf has already done that, and now takes his rifle and camera along with him.

“I fought for seven months... until I joined the (citizen journalists) after realizing that there were enough men to fight and that they needed someone filming on the front line.”

But that could change, said Asaf, who spends much of his time trying to show newcomers how to cover the story and not get killed in the process.

“I go where I’m needed. Today I’m with the activists, but it’s possible that tomorrow I’ll go back to the front line to fight.”

One man who didn’t make it was Abu Omar, whose helmet and flak jacket lie on the chair that he used to occupy in the media center.

A colleague, Abu Hussein, said he died during a bombardment, “paying with his life to tell of the atrocities the regime commits against civilians every day.”

“To look at his things keeps him here with us and reminds us of why we do what we do,” Abu Hussein adds, expressing nothing but certainty that the work of citizen journalists is important.

He says the team sends images every day to what is called Channel Deir Ezzor, based in Egypt.

“We send the material and they run it,” Asaf explained. “It can be seen in Syria and around the world, because it’s on satellite.”

Ironically, amid the talk of putting down the cameras and taking up arms, Asaf said the activists have recently been having problems with the Free Syrian Army because of misunderstandings.

“Some soldiers are forcing us to erase our videos, claiming that we are to blame for the regime shelling their positions,” he said. “The problem is that they get bombed whether we film or not.”

“We always ask permission to accompany them on an offensive, and they are generally agreeable to that. But when the fighting starts, they blame us and try to erase our footage.”

Abu Hussein said: “It’s absurd, because they think that we are uploading to the Internet at the same time we film.”

Yet some opposition units are making their own films, “sending them to us to edit and upload on our channel or on YouTube. That’s good, because we can’t be everywhere, and they get to places we can’t reach.”

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