From the first stone to Putin’s indiscriminate bombings, 25 videos and photos by citizen photo-journalists who themselves suffered from the violence to tell of the horror
Watch the last clip filmed by Syrian photographer Wasim al-Adel in October 2015, near Benin in the Idlib province below. It’s so different from tens of thousands of the videos that have come out of Syria over the last five years. It doesn’t show dead children being taken out of the rubble, carefully stage-managed executions or fighters waving Kalashnikovs. It doesn’t show anyone, only the Syrian soil on which Wasim fell at 00:04, when he was hit by a Russian bomb. The camera continues recording, pointed toward the earth, while in the background you can hear Wasim’s last breaths and people crying for help. At the end of the 61-second clip, the earth shakes twice more from another round Russian bombs.
So different and yet totally representative of this war which is now five years old. Close to the ground, a battle over every home and village, until it’s almost impossible to tell who rules where, and maps that try to delineate areas of control look like a Kandinsky painting. A very local war which at the same time is dominated by regional and global rivalries and foreign powers that often remain invisible. Until the explosions.
The international media can only report on this war from beyond the safety of borders and keyboards. The deaths of Western journalists in bombardments by the Assad regime and in Islamic State beheadings have limited their presence to short visits, at the most, to relatively safe areas like Damascus and the Kurdish enclave.
Despite that, this is the most filmed and documented war in history. A constant stream of images emerges, nearly in real-time, thanks to technology that allows every man and woman on the ground with a smartphone to capture the warfare and bloodshed and upload it to the Web. Thanks to citizen-journalists like Wasim al-Adel, who go every day to the frontline, often just outside their front door, to let the world know.
According to various assessments, over 600 Syrian journalists have been killed in the war, but the real number is much higher: Anyone who was filming and broadcasting can apparently be considered a journalist at the time of death.
These clips and images have filled the vacuum left by the mainstream media. They don’t replace professional journalism; indeed, the these videos often serve the propaganda purposes of one of the sides or factions. A small minority are staged, but the sheer volume of footage and the improved capability – due to the use of visual software – of analyzing the images has made it relatively easy to weed out the forgeries.
This isn’t just documentation: Often the videos have spurred events and turnarounds in the misfortunes of war. The world, or at least the small part of it that is engaged and interested, can stay aware. Million of refugees in exile can continue to follow events closely, on their own smartphone screens – identical to the ones being used to photograph the scenes.
The Greek playwright Aeschylus wrote 2,500 years ago that “in war, truth is the first casualty.” In a war in which all sides are trying to portray their enemies as terrorist war criminals, Syria’s civilian-journalists endanger themselves and get killed trying to breath life back into the truth and to give faces, names and voices to nearly half a million dead and 7 million refugees. Thanks to them we can tell the story of five years of death and war in Syria.
*תודה לאליזבט צורקוב, עמיתת מחקר בפורום לחשיבה אזורית על הסיוע בבחירת הסרטונים