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Syrian activist and journalist Rami Jarrah appeared on a live stream on Friday to answer questions about daily life and the political situation in Aleppo, Syria.
The Syrian Campaign live-streamed Jarrah, who lives outside Syria but traveled to Aleppo five weeks ago, answering questions that people submitted via Twitter at the hashtag #AleppoLive. He also translated answers from people he said were Aleppo residents standing beside him.
First, Jarrah addressed present conditions in Aleppo, where both the Syrian government and Russian forces have recently carried out airstrikes. Syrian President Bashar Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin have said the strikes are aimed at weakening the Islamic State, but Jarrah said the strikes only serve to weaken Syrian opposition forces and their civilian families who live in Aleppo.
When one person asked what a normal day is like in Aleppo, he translated several men’s answers. One said: “A normal day is, we see massacres and a lot of airstrikes. This is a normal day in Aleppo … If you don’t hear any attacks, if you don’t hear bullets being fired, if you don’t see signs of war, this is something we’re not used to.”
Jarrah grew up in London and was visiting family in Syria in 2004 when he was detained over a legal complication with his passport, The New York Times reported. He decided to stay in Syria after the case was concluded, and after the revolution began in 2011, he began corresponding with Western media outlets, including the PBS NewsHour, under the name Alexander Page. In Oct. 2011, a friend told Jarrah that the government had learned his real name, and within a couple of hours he had fled the country with his wife and child.
Several children joined Jarrah on the stream to answer questions about their daily lives and whether they were attending school. Jarrah translated for one child who said that he had to work to help his family, and another child who said that he used to attend a school that was hit by airstrikes so regularly that he stopped going.
“Every time we want to go to school, we’re attacked,” the child said.
Jarrah also addressed the use of the pejorative term “Daesh,” which is credited to Syrian activist Khaled al-Haj Salih, for the Islamic State. The group will kill anyone who uses the term in their presence, since using it is act of resistance against the notion that they are a state, he said.
He highlighted the work of the White Helmets, a Syrian aid and rescue organization that works to save people trapped after a strike. “They’re usually at the scene of an attack very soon after an attack,” he said. “Sometimes they’re working for days taking people out from the rubble of one attack.”
But the White Helmets have suffered an equipment shortage recently, particularly fuel, which the group depends on to transport injured people and remove rubble, Jarrah said. He then translated a statement from a man next to him, who said, “Without them, there’s no life in our city.”
Recording information, or taking video and photos, from inside Syria is extremely difficult. Jarrah recounted how he recently tried to film at a hospital, but hospital workers barred him from filming, saying that other institutions had been “punished” after videos of them appeared online. Jarrah said when he asked why, they answered: “Assad doesn’t want us to show the world that we have a civil society.”
When asked how people outside of Syria could help the situation, he said the best thing they could do was try to understand what is happening inside the country. He summed it up in one sentence: “The people here are terrorized by both ISIS and the Syrian regime, and it’s important to understand that.”
In fact, many Aleppo residents are afraid to discuss the Islamic State for fear the group could track them down, he said. “There is a constant worry in talking about ISIS … They know that ISIS will kill them if they ever came back to these areas and they knew that they had been talking,” he said.
Corinne is the Senior Multimedia Web Editor for NewsHour Weekend. She serves on the advisory board for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.
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