Syria’s Rebel Press Is Fighting Back Against Jihadists
Rami Al Razzouk was traveling between Raqqa and Tabaqa in northeastern Syria when he was kidnapped at a checkpoint by ISIS. The al Qaeda offshoot seized him as he was on his way to conduct an interview as part of his work as a journalist on ANA Radio. After he was taken, ISIS used his key to raid the premises of the Raqqa-based radio station later that same day. Two weeks after that, they broke in again and confiscated all of the station’s equipment and data. Apparently there isn’t much space for a free press in the Islamic caliphate that ISIS are trying to create.
Outraged, the ANA New Media Association—the network behind the station—has decided to go head to head with the extremist group’s “deliberate strategy to crush press freedom and impose censorship upon the Syrian people.” As ISIS continues to oppress the fledgling media landscape in the north and east of Syria, ANA has pledged to whip up a storm of protest every time a journalist or activist is targeted by the jihadis. This is a pretty brave step considering ISIS has beheaded so many of their enemies that they recently got confused and beheaded one of their allies.
On Monday, the network launched a campaign backed by 21 Syrian media organizations and 50 international organizations, encouraging the continued growth of Syria’s burgeoning free press. Astatement from the campaign read, “We demand the immediate release of all detained journalists and citizen journalists held by the regime, ISIS or any other group. Additionally, we call on international media and those organizations in support of press freedom to join this initiative and to take relevant action for the safety of journalists and freedom of speech in Syria.”
Last spring, the remains of 10 missing Afghan villagers were dug up outside a U.S. Special Forces base – was it a war crime or just another episode in a very dirty war?
The Invisible Scars of Syrian Teens
When Asalah, her daughter, and her son fled the war and left their home, Damascus for Iraq, they found themselves on the Syrian side of a closed border. Two months later, when the border opened on August 19, Asalah, her children, and 55,000 other refugeeshopped onto buses and trucks and entered Iraq’s Kurdistan region. They and another 30,000 refugees camped out wherever they could: parks, mosques, and even schools. By the time UNHCR arrived a week later, they hadn’t eaten in 36 hours and disease had spread among the refugees.
Asalah didn’t have a say in where she and her family could go in Iraq but technically lucked out when they were randomly assigned to Arbat camp by the Kurdistan government. Arbat camp is a transit refugee camp established by UNHCR located in the Sulaymaniyahprovince about six hours from the border Syrian-Iraq border. Arbat houses a small number of the refugees currently in Iraq—with only a 1000 refugees living in 500 tents compared to the Za’atari mega camp in Jordan that houses 130,000 refugees. The refugees were told they would temporarily stay in the transit camp for a few days while another, more accommodating camp was built. They’ve been there for almost two months.
Al Qaeda’s Teenage Fan Club
I can pinpoint the exact moment when I realized Syria had turned into Mad Max. We were driving through Manbij, a small tumbleweed kind of town in the dusty northern outskirts of Aleppo province on a Friday afternoon during Ramadan, about a month before the August 21 chemical-weapons attacks that finally forced the international spotlight onto Syria’s two-year civil war.
Manbij’s deserted streets radiated in the midday heat of the holy month. Shopkeepers had pulled the crinkled metal shutters down over their doorways. When you’re fasting in Syria in the summertime, the daytime is for sleeping.
Our driver stopped the car on a side road near the yellow-gray town square. “Look,” he said.
We peered through a scrim of dust at a set of vague shapes in front of us. The figures quickly sharpened into an oncoming pack of men on motorbikes, roaring up the road with horns beeping. As they approached, the drivers’ passengers stood up on their seats with their arms outstretched, brandishing the black flags of al Qaeda as they yelped into the sky.
I fumbled for my camera.
“Be careful,” said the driver. “They won’t be offended because you’re a journalist taking pictures. They’ll be offended because you’re a woman taking pictures.”
The gang circled the square on the shiny little two-strokes that the Syrians call “smurfs.”
From the passenger seat, my friend—a Syrian with a sharp sense of irony—looked back at me. “Well,” he said, “that’s freedom. You never could have had a motorbike gang under Bashar.”
Tim Page’s Vietnam War
Tim Page is a photojournalist of the old school. He arrived in Saigon, South Vietnam, in 1965, when he was 20 years old. Over the next few years, Tim saw enough Agent Orange and Viet Cong to last anyone a lifetime, but he didn’t stop going to dangerous places and taking incredible photos.
After Vietnam, Tim freelanced for Rolling Stone while travelling the world, with stopovers in Laos, Cambodia, Bosnia, and elsewhere. In 2009 he was a UN Photographic Peace Ambassador in Afghanistan. He has set up charity organizations like the Indochina Media Memorial Foundation, which honors the legacy of journalists who died covering wars in that region through workshops and tutoring programs, and mentored young photographers throughout Southeast Asia. Oh, and he’s the author of nine books, including the widely acclaimed Requiem, a collection of pictures from photographers who died in the Vietnam War.
I recently got the chance to share a joint with Tim and talk about his time in the Vietnam War, his time in the world since then, and the impending doom of photojournalism.
VICE: Did you always know you wanted to be a photographer?
Tim Page: No, I had no idea. When I finally left Europe I was planning to be in Australia for Christmas, 1962. I got as far as Lahore in West Pakistan. After I left England for Europe, I worked at the Heineken brewery and a chewing gum factory. I worked as a chambermaid, sous-chef, and also smuggled hash from the Khyber region in Pakistan. I had 15 pounds to get to Australia when I left Europe.
Fifteen pounds of hash?!
No, 15 pounds cash. We sold blood in Greece; I was also an extra in a film in Bombay. I gradually sold off all my possessions—I was down to like two sets of clothes. I’d sold everything else: the cameras, my clothes, even our entire plastic cutlery set… I sold my Kombi van to a bunch of crooked Sikhs—that enabled me to fly to Thailand via Burma. I had a really freaky month in Burma. When I ended up getting to Thailand I sold cod liver oil pills, flashlight bulbs, cheap watches, and encyclopedias and taught English. We used to go up to Laos and buy ten cartons of French-style black tobacco cigarettes, which were about one dollar a carton, and we’d come back to Bangkok and sell them for a dollar a pack. During the second day in Laos I bumped into a few Americans that told me US Aid was hiring third-party nationals to run Lao crews.
Continue + More photos
Above: Drug addicts gather by the hundreds under the Pul-i-sokhta Bridge in west Kabul to shoot up, smoke, buy, and sell.
Below: This former Afghan soldier who calls himself Shir Shaw lives under the Pul-i-sokhta Bridge in Kabul, shooting up during the day and hustling for money at night.
From Swimming with Warlords