Syria Project: Gaziantep – Final Day

Originally published by Bill Fortier on CTV News Edmonton.

Training group

As I end this adventure, I find it very hard to avoid the use of a cliché in the final blog post.

I guess clichés became clichés because the words and phrases so effectively and accurately conveyed a point, that they became overused.

So I’m going to use one. It’s “life-changing.” I mean it in its original, intended meaning.

As we wrapped up our final day of training Syrian journalists in Gaziantep, Turkey, most of the groups we worked with came back to a meeting room at our hotel. We presented them with certificates for completing our workshops, and chatted one last time.

Then, we visited Nasaem Radio Syria. The staff there were not able to make it to the hotel.

Nasaem Radio

Seeing these groups of journalists come together was a very palpable reminder of what we came to Gaziantep for. Many of them told us that our workshops – a partnership between Toronto-based organization, Journalists for Human Rights and CTV, made a difference for them. They thanked us. They told us about their ideas for human rights stories. We promised them to help them through the process. We ensured them that our commitment to them and to their work doesn’t end when we depart from Gaziantep Airport. I intend to keep that promise.

I want to stress one more time in writing, that these people are doing something important, despite facing great personal risk for doing it. Many sides of this conflict don’t want balanced, accurate journalism and are reportedly willing to torture and kill to stop it. The threats come from the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and from extremist groups like ISIS.

Seeing these groups of journalists come together was a very palpable reminder of what we came to Gaziantep for. Many of them told us that our workshops – a partnership between Toronto-based organization, Journalists for Human Rights and CTV, made a difference for them. They thanked us. They told us about their ideas for human rights stories. We promised them to help them through the process. We ensured them that our commitment to them and to their work doesn’t end when we depart from Gaziantep Airport. I intend to keep that promise.

I want to stress one more time in writing, that these people are doing something important, despite facing great personal risk for doing it. Many sides of this conflict don’t want balanced, accurate journalism and are reportedly willing to torture and kill to stop it. The threats come from the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and from extremist groups like ISIS.

We got a reminder of that danger, when two Syrian journalists were murdered in Istanbul while we were still in Turkey. 60-year-old Orouba Barakat and her daughter, 22-year-old Halla Barakat were both outspoken critics of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. The two women were stabbed and strangled. A young man, believed to be a family member, has now been arrested by Turkish police. Local media reports that investigators are looking into alleged connections between the suspect and the Assad regime.

The danger is very real. The same thing could happen to many Syrian journalists. They have seen so much and experienced so much, they almost seem to have no fear of death. But they also seem to have held on to a remarkable love of life. Despite the fact that powerful groups want them arrested and possibly even killed, they smile, they laugh, and they work hard to become better journalists.

To anyone reading this blog, I beg you – don’t forget about Syria. The war, the slaughtering of civilians, and the humanitarian crisis continue. I realize you don’t see it as much in the news; the headlines, now dominated by a verbal street fight between two men with nuclear weapons at their fingertips and another battle between one of those men and pro athletes, but please, seek out news on Syria. The millions of people still there need our attention and our help.

And to Syrian journalists I offer the following encouragement: don’t stop writing. Be fair and balanced and people will find truth in your reporting. I realize it feels like a losing battle. In the short term, words can seem ineffective weapons against war planes and guns. But you are arming the people of Syria and the world with knowledge and information. Over time, that does have the power to invoke change.

Regimes do end. So do wars. When this one is over, you are going to be an important part of building a beautiful new country, from a beautiful old one.

Thank you for your courage, your dedication and your passion. And thank you for reminding me that news is and always will be about people. Thank you for changing lives.

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