Is the media ignoring Qamishli’s role in the Syrian revolution?

Demonstrators in Qamishli, northern Syria- 6 January 2012 (KurdWatch)

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Al-Hasakeh – Majd al-Salem

Syria has marked ten years since the revolution erupted against Bashar al-Assad, the head of the Syrian regime, with pro-democracy demonstrations. Nonetheless, no demonstrations or festivities have taken place in the northeastern province of al-Hasakeh, except in Ras al-Ain city. People of Ras al-Ain, which is under the control of the Syrian opposition backed by Turkey since October 2019, staged demonstrations, waved green revolutionary flags, and chanted anti-government slogans. Furthermore, sports events and competitions were held on this occasion.

Al-Hasakeh went through numerous events during the years of the revolution, which made it different from the remaining Syrian provinces, despite its opposition to the Syrian regime. Al-Hasakeh has parted from the revolutionary manifestations that appeared in its streets early in 2011.

On 25 March 2011, the first demonstrations took place in the city of Qamishli, when its residents showed solidarity with people protesting against poor living conditions and demanding democratic reforms in other parts of  Syria. However, its name has not stayed among the revolutionary cities for a long time. 

Closure of Qasimo Mosque, a rallying point for protesters 

The people of Qamishli took the Qasimo Mosque in the neighborhood of the Hilaliyah as a rallying point for demonstrating against the al-Assad regime. Then, the mosque became a point for gatherings and leaflets distribution, the journalist Samer al-Ahmad, who was one of the first participants in the revolutionary movement in the city, told Enab Baladi

The protestors, led by a group of young activists, maintained “an active presence.” They held anti-regime demonstrations and wrote slogans and graffiti on walls that characterized the city of Amuda. 

From the earliest days of the Syrian revolution, the Syrian regime used the national issue in the city, which is characterized by its ethnic diversity, between Arabs, Kurds, and Assyrians. Al-Ahmad indicated that the Syrian regime’s media outlets tried to give a particular national character to the demonstrations “so that the components of the region hit each other.”

 Opposition activists were alerted to what the regime wanted to do. Therefore, they raised slogans expressing the participation of all components of the region in the demonstrations against it. However, the revolution in al-Hasakeh suffered a “setback” following the assassination of the Kurdish dissident Mashaal Tammo by unknown persons on 7 October 2011. His death led to a lapse in the coordination of the Syrian revolt in al-Hasakeh.

After Tammo was killed, demonstrators roamed the main streets of Qamishli and toppled the statue of the former president of the regime, Hafez al-Assad. The Kurdish National Council (KNC), which was established in October 2011, began to organize independent demonstrations. They would set different names of Friday demonstrations than those agreed upon in the rest of the Syrian regions.

 The Democratic Union Party (PYD), founded in 2003, is the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), refused to join the KNC, along with the bulk of the Kurdish opposition parties.

Al-Ahmad described the PYD as “far from the Syrian revolution,”  the PYD closed the Qasimo Mosque and prevented launching demonstrations from it, which “significantly weakened the revolution in the city.”

 Obstacles to revolutionary activities in Qamishli

 The time difference between Qamishli and the rest of the Syrian cities played a “positive role” in terms of media coverage, according to the assessment of the journalist Samer al-Ahmad.

 Friday prayers in Qamishli take place and end earlier than other Syrian regions. Therefore, after Friday prayers, the demonstrations that emerged in Qamishli were first to be covered by the media outlets. However, these demonstrations were “suppressed by the PYD, especially after the regime imposed control on parts of the region.”

The Kurdish parties controlled the city and demanded the restoration of their long-suppressed and denied fundamental rights by the Syrian regime. Some Kurdish parties raised slogans and ideas, calling for the administrative secession of the region. Then, these Kurdish parties found support from international and local parties. 

Al-Ahmad added that the Autonomous Administration, which has been running north and east Syria since 2014, refuses to grant a permit for holding demonstrations and festivities commemorating the Syrian revolution. This prompted several opposition activists to leave the region.

A revolutionary activist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for security considerations, recalled the political slogans that activists used to chant during the demonstrations, describing them as “the best” of revolutionary activities, in addition to chants expressing Qamishli’s solidarity with other Syrian cities.

The activist, who resides in Qamishli, said that the control of the Syrian regime and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) over the region adversely affected the region’s revolutionary activities. The opposition activists reduced their rebellious actions, especially in the media field, for fear of arrest and murder. Therefore, most revolutionary, Arab, and even international media outlets depend mainly on correspondents of a specific component to deliver the news. Thus, events in the region are reported “from the point of view of the SDF only,” describing the revolution and the revolutionaries as “mercenaries.”

 Distort and default

“We started to hear on the media terms specific to the region, and names of towns and cities promoted by the SDF, which do not exist on the ground,” the revolutionary activist told Enab Baladi, citing “Rojava” as an example. Rojava refers to a de facto autonomous region in northeastern Syria.

Researcher in the Syrian social and political history and a resident of Qamishli city, Muhanad al-Katea, pointed out that the “good intentions” of some “revolutionary” coordination committees and media outlets contributed to the transmission of false images about the region, such as using the term “Kurdish regions, and Kurdish-majority areas.”

The use of Kurdish terms was aimed at highlighting the size and diversity of popular participation in the revolution. However, this led to “distortion and failure” to convey reality and the use of such terms in the Arab and international media outlets. 

“This distorts the demographic reality from which some separatist forces benefit,” al-Katea told Enab Baladi.

The revolution or the opposition is prohibited in more than 90 percent of the Jazira and Euphrates regions because they are under the control of the Syrian regime, Iran, and the SDF. Even in the border areas controlled by the opposition factions, “the one who carries a gun has the first and final words.” Raising the revolution’s flags and banners, and any media criticism of the behavior and violations of these factions, “are met with extreme aggression. All this complicates matters further and harms the revolution and its media,” the political and social researcher believes.

  In fact, the opposition  “failed” to create actual representation commensurate with the region’s size, both geographically and demographically, that takes into account the geopolitical and strategic importance, al-Katea said. 

He pointed out that this has weakened the media representation of this region compared with other media outlets, in reference to the SDF and the Islamic State, which could get their media message across faster. 

All the reasons mentioned above “do not justify the inadequacy of the revolutionary media” in focusing on reporting the Syrian uprising in the region, which the international powers such as America, Russia, Iran, Turkey, the Syrian regime, Israel, and their affiliated militias are interested in, according to al-Katea. 

The people of the region bear “a very large part of the responsibility” in conveying the region’s reality to the Syrian revolutionary media.

“We cannot blame a journalist from Idlib for writing a report, which has false information about al-Hasakeh if a journalist from al-Hasakeh does not provide sufficient information on the region through his mobile lens.”

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