Some campaigns denounce and others try to change the actual situation, both found in the Syrian people’s sufferings an incontestable pretext and context to exert influence upon decision makers and draw the attention of the local and global public opinion to unresolved issues that the Syrian people suffer from inside or outside Syria.
The recurrent events Syria has been witnessing for more than six years paved the way for the civil society’s campaigns to burgeon through the Internet and social media. These campaigns were filled with calls for duty to defend the Syrian Cause and draw the attention of the international community towards the Syrian people’s daily suffering that takes political, social and economic shapes. The question here is about whether the desired effect has been achieved or not.
Organized Campaigns… from Effective to Effectless
As it is a public platform for civil society campaigns, Avaaz website has attracted many Syrian activists to launch campaigns that are related to the Syrian matter and that have reached more than 100 campaigns since 2011, according to Wissam Tarif, Avaaz’s support operations director in the Arab World and North Africa.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, Tarif added that since the outbreak of the popular movement in Syria in 2011, campaigns that he considered as successful and that were related to the Syrian matter started through Avaaz website. He gave the example of the first campaign that called for raising funds for the Syrian activists to train them in the field of journalism and provide them with cameras, means of communication and the techniques of demonstrations coverage at that time. The campaign achieved the desired goal, according to him.
Tarif also referred to campaigns that were aimed at the Syrian refugees, they targeted the European Union and its governments in order to open its doors to them and to receive them. He considered that these campaigns were “somehow effective” until the end of 2015, but they have become less so because of international conventions and considerations that civil society institutions could no longer cope with in 2016.
On a totally different plane, Tarif noted that there were campaigns that were “less effective” than the preceding ones, albeit defending a “right” cause. He mentioned the example of the campaigns that condemned Russia’s policy and its military intervention in Syria. In 2013, activists launched a campaign through Avaaz website, in which they called the European governments to boycott Rosoboronexport, a Russian weapons manufacturer, and prevent it from participating in exhibitions in European countries and selling arms there.
The campaign said “We demand that the British and French governments boycott Rosoboronexport until it stops supplying the Syrian regime with weapons, to prove to Russia that its decision to stand with a war criminal is totally unacceptable.”
However, the campaign could not alter the European countries’ decisions, although nearly three thousand participants signed the petition. Tarif attributed that to what he called “international interests pressures.”
Among the campaigns that did not achieve their goals, Tarif mentioned the campaign that called on the Gulf countries to open their doors to the Syrians, and the campaigns that demanded the Turkish government to cancel the entry visa that is imposed on the Syrian people as well.
He concluded by saying that the institutions and organizations of civil society are all powerless in front of the Syrian people’s suffering amid the domination of international interests. He added: “No one was able to make a change that provides the conditions of decent living for Syrian citizens wherever they are.”
Individual Campaigns Waiting to Reverberate
Apart from the specialized websites and the institutional campaigns, Syrian activists often launch individual campaigns that call for sit-ins in the streets or for gathering popular solidarity through social media with a prominent issue that relates to the Syrian cause.
Enab Baladi talked to the Syrian activist Mohammed Hassan, one of the coordinators of the Syrian revolution sit-ins in Lebanon, who referred to the efforts he is making with the help of 12 Syrian activists and in cooperation with several Lebanese human rights organizations, including Sawt al-Niswa (Women’s Voice), the German Club at the American University, the Socialist Forum and many other organizations.
Hassan pointed to the limited impact of these campaigns in general despite their popularity. This is because they are often limited to mere “expressions of solidarity” that never translate into action. He mentioned the example of last year’s Save Aleppo sit-in, in which the Lebanese MP Walid Jumblatt and his wife and several human rights organizations participated in denouncing the Russian bombing of the city. He also referred to the “game” the dominant countries play above any consideration.
However, he considered that some campaigns, although they did not bring any tangible change, succeeded in directing public opinion to a particular Syrian matter, including the issue of “forced displacement” and the cities’ evacuation agreements. According to him, at the end of the previous year, the campaign waged in this context contributed in raising public opinion, and the campaign’s title became an umbrella slogan for all opposition political groups.
Popular ` Despite Ineffectiveness
Despite the limited impact of some campaigns that are related to the Syrian matter, popular solidarity with them was sufficient to make them effective in uniting people on the one hand and an evidence for the decision makers’ failure to make the required change on the other hand.
Enab Baladi has spotted the most prominent campaigns that are related to the Syrian issue, which gained popular support. These include:
Aleppo is burning
The hashtag “#Aleppo is burning” swept the social media after the Syrian regime announced the start of the Aleppo Reclamation battle on 20 April 2016.
The Syrian regime’s forces, under a Russian cover, launched an intensive bombing campaign on the city, which targeted the infrastructure and vital educational and relief facilities. The medical sector was on top of the sectors that were mostly affected.
Photos of civilians under the rubbles, which were described as bloody, have been shared and posted and have triggered international public opinion. This pushed some activists to launch “Aleppo is Burning campaign” on social media. This campaign got more than half a million tweets. In addition, social media platforms were colored in red, the color that was associated with the campaign, as the activists’ try to report what has been happening in the city.
On the other side, on April 30, 2016, activists launched a campaign through Avaaz in which they called Google to put a mark on the search engine to point out the massacres that were taking place in Aleppo. This, however, was fruitless.
“#Aleppo is Burning” has been reactivated again after the bloody campaign in which the Syrian regime regained control over the city on 22 December. However, despite the great solidarity of the peoples around the world, the campaign didn’t get any response from international community to stop the bloody campaign or decrease its impact on the civilians.
To Guarantee Better Living Conditions for the Syrians in Turkey
As a result of the instability of the Syrians’ legal situation in Turkey, several campaigns were launched through Avaaz website and through social media in order to find a solution to ensure their stability in the country which has hosted nearly three million Syrian refugees since 2011.
The last one of these campaigns was launched by activists on June 18 through which they demanded the Turkish authorities to grant residence permits to the Syrian violators on their territories. The text of the campaign that was launched from Avaaz said: “Hundreds of Syrians live illegally in Turkey without a tourist visa. They can never get their papers unless they leave and re-enter again.”
Activists continued, “But with the imposition of a visa on the Syrians to enter Turkey, it is impossible for them to leave the country. Therefore, we demand the Turkish authorities to work on resolving the violators’ situation by cancelling the leaving and entry condition.” So far, the campaign did not get any response.
From its side, the visa that Turkish authorities imposed on the Syrians’ entry to their territories on January 8, 2016, raised the activists’ attention. Therefore, they launched the hashtag “#Cancel the Visa for the Syrians”. They also launched campaigns in which they called for the cancellation of the visa that “deprived thousands of Syrians from their families” and, till now, that campaign has been in vain.
Khan Shaykhun’s Chemical Massacre
Following the chemical massacre in the town of Khan Shaykhun in the Syrian Idlib governorate, on April 4, the hashtag of Idlib’s name in English “#Idlib” was on top the most trending hashtags on Twitter.
The hashtag Syria in English “#Syria” ranked 15th, while the hashtag “#Khan Shaykhun” ranked 150th, amid numerous tweets by activists from different countries around the world.
The tweets that included the aforementioned hashtags contained photos and recordings showing the chemical massacre’s effects on the injured Syrians. Those who called to penalize the Syrian regime held it responsible for the attacks, which caused the death of 87 civilians and the injury of more than 400 others.
Investigations to identify the responsible for the attack are still going on, amid international and public condemnation accompanied by many campaigns that called to penalize those who are held to be responsible. The possibility of penalization still remains vague.