January 26, 2015
Syria is bleeding. That’s how journalist Massoud Akko describes the situation in the war-torn country. Poverty, hunger, and a lack of basic human rights are what the citizens of Syria are facing day in and day out as the country continues to slip deeper into violence and civil war.
Akko, a former participant of Equitas’ International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP),is a permanent resident in Norway after seeking political asylum in the country. Because of his background as human rights activist, he is not allowed back in Syria. He follows the situation closely from afar, with his family still located in Qamishli, a city in north eastern Syria.
As Vice President of the Syrian Journalists Association, Akko helped bring together the group’s first General Assembly in 2014, in Gaziantep, Turkey. It was held in cooperation with the European Union and CFI, a French media development agency. Some 80 members attended from different countries, including from inside Syria.
When Akko was last in Montreal to train with Equitas two years ago, he had hopes that the international community would get involved in Syria, in order to help put an end to the conflict and to avoid the spread of weapons. But two years later, the rival factions are heavily armed, and that, he says, made the situation worse.
“The everyday price that Syrian people are paying is heavier today, the country is bleeding,” he said.
Akko believes the major issue is that the country has been split into several different war zones. Different groups are struggling for power, leaving very little room for refuge.
This includes the areas controlled by the Syrian National Army, Kurdish Forces, ISIS, Free Syrian Army, and other Islamic radical groups.
“Life is very difficult in all of Syria. They have less electricity, less fuel, water, medicine,” he said. “People are suffering of poverty, there is no food. Some people kill dogs to eat. They said they are eating grass, any kind of trees, anything just to stay alive.”
Syria is also the deadliest country for journalists. Akko believes that it is a good thing that the world is watching. He says that people are taking photos, filming, and broadcasting live to the rest of the world. However, he doesn’t think it is having the impact it should.
“I can say that 90 per cent of the international media has reporters inside Syria, so all the world knows exactly what is happening today inside Syria, but nobody cares.”
Akko’s organization is made up of over 200 journalists, and is based out of Gaziantep, Turkey. The organization holds training sessions in order to teach journalists, media workers and media activists how to report the news. They believe in the fight for free press.
They also train workers to operate the The Syrian Center for Journalistic Freedoms, which investigates violations against journalists in Syria, and provides monthly reports, acting as a communication between other media and human rights organizations. According to Massoud and work compiled by The Syrian Center for Journalistic Freedom, exactly 266 journalists and media activists have been killed since 2011. They don’t want this to go unnoticed.
“I used what I learned with Equitas with my colleagues in my association,” he said.
Akko took part in Equitas’ IHRTP in 2013, where he joined over 30 other human rights leaders from around the globe as they descended on Montreal to build human rights knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours to implement in their own community.
In addition to his work in journalism, he uses the knowledge he obtained at Equitas in his work as an independent human rights activist. Akko works with field and human rights activists to spread human rights culture through the media. He also trains opposition fighters to respect international and humanitarian law.
The program offered by the Syrian Journalists Association allows participants to gain a deeper understanding of the role human rights education has in effecting positive social change. The content of the program borrows heavily on their own experiences with human rights and human rights education. They identify concrete ways in which human rights education can help improve their own individual causes and projects in their communities.
Akko says the training offered at Equitas, and the training he’s also offering with his association, are not common for Syrians.
“For us Syrian activists we never had these courses, in Syria it was banned. It was dangerous if you had any contact with human rights organizations. But now any kind of information about human rights is very beneficial for us.”
Akko believes that amidst the chaos of civil war, people are starting to become more aware and educated about their rights.
“Syria is changing everything, it’s a revolution really, it’s not only about changing the regime in Syria, it is about changing the minds of people as well,” he said.
He says people are opening their minds to women’s rights, children’s rights, and ethnic rights.
“When the Syrian people started the revolution, they were asking for their dignity and for freedom…one of the important rights of humanity.”
As for the future of Syria, Akko is not sure where the solution lies, but believes that the international community needs to come together and intervene.
“I really feel that’s a pin in my heart about what happens every day in Syria, not only because people are being killed, the history in Syria is being killed, the historical places in Syria are being attacked,” he said.
“So in my opinion as a human, not only as a Syrian, I want this war to stop today before tomorrow.”
By Casandra De Masi, web editor and intern at Equitas