Behind the scenes with Syria's citizen journalists in Homs
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 30 journalists are currently being held captive and 52 others have lost their lives since the start of the conflict in early 2011. In 2013 alone, 17 journalists were killed while doing their job in Syria, making it the deadliest country in the world for members of the media.
Some reports claim even higher casualty numbers, but the definition of what constitutes a “real” journalist has been blurred due to the large number of amateur reporters and photographers reporting from various cities around the nation.
One of these groups of civilian reporters operates out of the besieged city of Homs and call themselves Lens Young Homsi. Run by four Syrians, all in their 20s, the group has launched a Facebook group where they post pictures documenting the devastation and everyday life in the city that has been under heavy bombardment by the Syrian regime since it came under siege in May 2011.
The group has more than 100,000 members and employs photographers that roam the streets of the city, known as the capital of the revolution, documenting the harsh reality where traditional media fall short and cannot gain access due to the high levels of risk involved.
"From our diverse points of views, we are writing the real history of our people, our struggle, our resistance, and our victories"
One of the founders of Lens Young Homsi is Nabih, a college student whose hobby of photography turned into something more after his city was occupied. Your Middle East got in touch with Nabih through social media to learn a little more about the group's mission.
“In the beginning, most of the images were of destruction, war, shelling, and displacement. But after nearly three years of the revolution, people were trying to find ways to continue some parts of normal life in their efforts to prevail,” he told us.
“Of course, it was necessary to transfer the reality and capture images through a neutral lens, so that those who could not leave were able to find ways through the struggle.”
Nabih described the critical situation in Homs, one of the oldest cities in the world dating back to 2000 BC, with “suffocating sieges, continuous shelling, arbitrary arrests, and home raids.”
“The circumstances have stayed the same, if not worse. There is a continuous exodus from one district to another due to air raids and military intervention has been growing consistently since the first day it began.”
Even though the group always thinks twice before sending one of its members on a mission somewhere in the battered city centre, the risks are well understood and does not get in the way of spreading the message to the surrounding world.
“There are always life-threatening risks for the team, from getting killed, shelled, or detained. But everyone who takes part in this work knows these dangers very well. Individuals are commonly detained for no reason, so we all know what could happen to photographers and journalists who document the revolution. With that said, we have faith in God to protect us.”
In 1982, Bashar Al-Assad’s father Hafez crushed an uprising in the city of Hama, killing at least 10,000 civilians. The massacre was poorly documented and left proof of the events blowing in the wind, showing the people of today the necessity to tell the story of the atrocities to the rest of the world by reporting themselves.
“It's extremely important to document it all. From our diverse points of views, we are writing the real history of our people, our struggle, our resistance, and our victories; whereas the regime depicts and captures the situation from its own perspective only," Nabih said.
"The preservation of details during the revolution is vital, not only for ourselves, but also for the world and the generations after us. Photography is exactly what allows us to do this."