Zaina Erhaim: How many people have to die in Syria for the world to react?

Written by: Cristina Mas

Originally published in Catalan @


Photo: Marc Rovira

When was the last time you were in Aleppo?

Last year. Even if I don’t want to, I can’t help following the news every minute. There’s no way to resist when the attacks come from the sky. The rebels in the frontlines have stopped the ground offensive (they took back the Palestinian refugee camp of Handarat) but, how can you resist in the face of missiles, especially those that are able to destroy the basements and underground shelters? There is almost no working hospital left, and they will run out of basic supplies soon if the siege continues, and then what=


I think someone is trying to finish it all off. It looks like Russia is trying to end the resistance in Aleppo before the US elections. Only that could explain the intensity of the bombardment of the last weeks.

And the international response?

I don’t see it! How many deaths it takes for the world to react? We have experienced chemical massacres, daily massacres… We don’t believe that any government will help us. Five years ago, Aleppo was a very lively city, full of people, the industrial area was taken by the rebels but the factories continued running. The city now has nothing to do with what it was. In the beginning we had hope. Now I’m pessimistic, I see everything falling down and everybody is fine with it. No one cares about the civilians.

The different interests are more important, the corruption. The civilians are paying the higher price: in every side. Even in the areas of Aleppo under regime control the majority of the people do not support Al Assad, they like there to be safer, and they also suffer the attacks from the rebels. And when they try to run away they are accused of being pro-regime.

You are one of the founders of the Local Coordination Committees. What is left of the grassroots structures that were the base of the popular movement?

I helped in organizing the press office. I remember that in 2011 we have confidence, we thought that some demonstrations could change our lives. We were happy and proud of what we were doing. The first demonstration I participated in was in Douma (Damascus countryside): I went with a group of Christian women. It was Ramadan and we went together: the men quickly came around us to protect us. They began to give us gifts: flowers, souvenirs… it didn’t fit in out hands. And when the security forces attacked the protests, everyone’s priority was to bring us out safe, before their own wives. Now Douma is besieged. Faten Rajab, the organizer of that protests, has been in prison for the last five years and when don’t know if she’s still alive. We know she was brutally tortured. It seems like we went from one world to another: from revolution to war. But when there is a bit of security, the revolutionaries still go on. And now they have many more demands: on top of freedom and the fall of the regime, they ask for the end of the war, the reconstruction of a new country, to force the armed forces to leave the cities… We see it: there are still protests in the liberated areas to keep this civic movement alive. But, unfortunately, especially since the beginning of the Russian bombardment, people can barely move. A friend told me the other day and going from one neighborhood of Aleppo to another is an impossible mission.

You went back to Syria to help teach the people in the street how to document what was going on with photography, video and text

There were not many professional journalists in Syria. In my graduation at the faculty of Damascus we were a hundred. And more than 70, we ended up working in teaching rather than journalism. The few who worked in the filed did in the media connected to the regime, because they offered more stability. When the revolution started I quickly joined: I was living in London and I started to receive questions from friends that asked me how could they explain what was happening to the world. We started doing small trainings via Skype. We organized editing or journalistic writing courses inside the Local Coordination Committees. I supervised their work until they could continue on their own pretty well. When I returned to Syria, in 2013, we started doing more formal classes. We did a very practical training: with real stories during the course that later were published in our website ( and they got paid. Most of them continue working now.

How do you evaluate the media coverage of Syria in the international press?

There are some international outlets that start to work with local journalists, to get human stories about what’s going on inside of Syria. Some months ago, the staff from Panorama, BBC, asked me if I knew any journalist inside the besieged Aleppo that could film, and they took very powerful stories. There are citizen journalists, but their work is very professional: there is no need to spend thousands of euros to send a team. Channel 4 also works this way: five years later they realized they can count on the people in Syria. But it’s the exception: most outlets continue doing the easiest thing, talk about the Islamic State or the refugees. Easy to do, easy to pay, easy to sell.


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