Syrian-American Activist Murdered - Why Isn't it Bigger News?

Published September 24th, 2017 - 11:46 GMT
Halla and Orouba Barakat were both well-known activists against the Assad regime, with Orouba having been exiled from Syria since the 1980s for her opposition activities (Facebook)
Halla and Orouba Barakat were both well-known activists against the Assad regime, with Orouba having been exiled from Syria since the 1980s for her opposition activities (Facebook)
  • Mother and daughter Halla and Orouba Barakat were murdered last week in Istanbul
  • They were both prominent Syrian opposition activists
  • Halla was a U.S. citizen, but this was not mentioned by the State Department statement on her killing
  • The murder has both shocked and saddened many


A Syrian-American journalist and her mother were found murdered last week in their Istanbul flat.

Halla and Orouba Barakat were both well-known activists against the Assad regime, with Orouba having been exiled from Syria since the 1980s for her opposition activities.

Her daughter, who graduated just a few months ago, was a journalist with opposition site Orient News.

The pair were stabbed and strangled to death before their bodies were covered in a chemical to delay decomposition, local media reported.

Their case is one that has shocked and saddened many, but has it received an adequate international response?

On Saturday, Washington Post reporter Louisa Loveluck tweeted the following statement from the U.S. State Department on the killings.

Halla, who was only 23, was born in the US, making her an American citizen. Some suggested, however, that her Syrian origins had watered-down the State Department’s response.


This silence about Halla’s U.S. citizenship contrasts, for instance, to the Obama administration’s response to the detention of Tariq Khdeir by Israel in 2014.

Tariq, the then 15-year-old cousin of murdered Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was reportedly beaten by Israeli undercover agents in an incident that was captured on camera.

At that time, the U.S. State Department issued a statement recognizing Tariq as an “American citizen” and condemning “any excessive use of force” against him by Israeli authorities.

The FBI, which can investigate the killing or kidnapping of any American abroad declined to comment on whether it would investigate Halla's murder, when asked by ABC.

US President Trump, as everyone would expect, has made no mention of Halla and Orouba's deaths.

While the killings have gained some international media coverage, the response has been somewhat muted. Among the major Western outlets that did not cover the murders was Britain’s The Independent.

Why are the deaths particularly shocking?

For those Syrian dissidents seeking refuge abroad, it was yet another reminder that their safety from the Assad regime is not guaranteed even outside Syria. This was the fifth killing of a Syrian journalist on Turkish soil in four years.

The women were involved in charity work with some of the more than 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. This included an initiative they were launching to assist Syrian women in Turkey's refugee camps to earn a living.

They had also fought tirelessly for the release of their friend, the kidnapped American humanitarian worker Kayla Mueller, who was murdered by ISIS in 2013.

Mueller’s parents issued this heartfelt statement to U.S. channel ABC, where Halla had also worked.

Adding to the tragedy, on social media relatives of the 2015 Chapel Hill shooting victims said that Halla and Orouba were their cousins.

Who murdered Halla and Orouba, and why?

Orouba was a member of the Syrian National Coalition, an expatriate opposition group which had brokered peace talks with Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Both she and her daughter had previously received death threats from Assad supporters online, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported.

Many media reports and social media posts have suggested that the regime is likely responsible.

Still, what is striking about Halla and Orouba is that, while they were outspoken critics of the Assad regime, they also criticized elements of the opposition. 

In an August Facebook post, Orouba expressed a sense of hopelessness and resignation over the fate of Syria.

She called on members of the National Coalition, and those involved in negotiations with the Assad regime to resign to avoid “legitimizing the occupation and foreign guardianship of Syria”.

“Everyone has used up their opportunities proving that they are unable to do anything real to save the Syrian people…” she writes, “Everyone without exception has failed to represent the revolution and stay true to its principles.”

“Enough of your games with the fate of the hero people… Hold up your hands and leave us to our fate.”

Many online have also remembered Halla's fight not only against the regime, but against discrimination within the Syrian opposition.

Some pro-Assad accounts on social media have used the women's critical stances as evidence to suggest that it was the opposition who arranged their murder.

These accusations, however, can largely be dismissed as Assad supporters speculating in an attempt to deflect blame, given the absence of any evidence.

Turkish police are yet to attribute responsibility for the killings.

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