This week’s blog comes from Samir Salamah. Salim is a Syrian Palestinian blogger and activist who has lived in Sweden as a political refugee since 2013 following the Syrian revolution. He studied Law at Damascus University and is currently studying International Migration and Ethnic Relations at Malmö University. Since March 2015, Salim has headed the Palestinian League for Human Rights – Syria, a grassroots group. His research interests lie in issues of youth, displacement, migration and human rights. This blog was originally published in “From Rhetoric to Action” (www.fromrhetorictoaction.org)
The image of Syria today is usually associated with war, ISIS and the crisis of refugees. But this is not the only narrative that young activists inside and outside the country choose to tell and identify themselves with.
Serdar Ahmad, born in 1988, is a Syrian youth activist from Kurdish origins. He struggled for his linguistic and cultural rights as a member of the Kurdish minority at his early years of activism. Later, he joined the collective Syrian struggle in 2011 for an inclusive and democratic Syria.
Serdar demonstrated, organised and mobilised people, made films, vaccinated children, debated in political councils and was named a member of Aleppo City Transitional Council.
This is Serdar, a Syrian young man who hails from the north of Syria. When the Syrian popular movement started in 2011, Serdar, like tens of thousands of Syrian youth, called for freedom, dignity and equal rights for everyone. (Photo via Serdar Ahmad)
In the first months of 2011 and the popular uprising in Syria, Serdar, like the other youth activists across the country, responded to the needs of local communities. With the intensification of violence and confrontation between the government and those against it, many people had to leave their homes.
Although the first months of the movement were peaceful, still many were displaced and ended up taking shelter in schools where Serdar and other youth helped to provide for their needs. (Photo via Serdar Ahmad)
The emerging needs of the Syrian communities during the popular movement stimulated Serdar and other youth activists to learn new skills, including media and communication skills. At his group’s media office in Ashrafiyah, Aleppo, Serdar is spreading the word about what is really happening in his city.
He films peaceful demonstrations, sit-ins and other civic activities. Such skills remain critical for the future of Syria, when human capital will be employed in the reconstruction of the country, although at the moment Serdar and his fellow activists are marginalised after the full militarisation of the conflict. (Photo via Serdar Ahmad)
At the end of 2012, Serdar and his friends participated in peaceful demonstrations, carrying both the Kurdish and Syrian popular movement flags. This has been a part of civil society activism in Syria since the early days of the movement. His banner calls for unity among all Kurdish political and civil groups in north of Syria, a unity that could help in alleviating the sufferings of civilians if political differences were bridged. (Photo via Serdar Ahmad)
Here it is 2013 and yet another demonstration in Aleppo, north of Syria, but this time, to express the Arab Kurdish and Muslim Christian solidarity. During a time of rising divisions between religions and/or national groups, Syrian civil activists attempted to play a crucial role in creating channels of dialogue. Serdar is one of the co-founders of Arab Kurdish Coordination Committee. (Photo via Serdar Ahmad)
The Arab Kurdish Coordination Committee is one of hundreds of local coordination committees that emerged following March 2011, in order to organise, mobilise and coordinate peaceful activities. However, the uniqueness of The Arab Kurdish Coordination Committee comes from its message about the need to overcome differences and establish a common national vision, where difference is celebrated and national unity is seen as the way forward.
In Syria, such questions remain important, as the country is composed of a rich spectrum of ethnicities, religions, and sects with various linguistic backgrounds. (Photo via Serdar Ahmad)
Surviving many tragic events, Serdar witnessed the collapse and destruction of the infrastructures of his country and city. The building behind Serdar is marked with a warning that barrel bombs, an indiscriminate homemade bombs used by the government, are used in this part of the city of Aleppo. (Photo via Serdar Ahmad)
As a result of the destruction of medical facilities and large scale displacement, the immunisation coverage against polio and other diseases could not stop a critical outbreak. Indeed, World Health Organizations declared a possible outbreak of polio in Syria by October 2013.
This outbreak comes after 14 years of eliminating the plague in the country. Serdar, the sixth from the left, was one of hundreds of volunteers who formed The Polio Control Task Force. The task force was able to achieve what the international community and organisations failed to do. In April 2014, Syrian volunteers had vaccinated some 1,280,000 children all over Syria, and the work is still going on. (Photo via Serdar Ahmad)
Before initiating the polio vaccination campaign all over Syria, Serdar and many other civil society organisations had to campaign, urging the World Health Organization and other leading UN agencies to provide the vaccinations. Using similar tactics and skills they developed throughout the years, The Kurdish Arab Coordination Committee (along with others) mobilised and lobbied for polio vaccinations to be handed out in opposition-held areas. (Photo via Serdar Ahmad)
Serdar did not stop there. He was immersed in the political world as well. He was nominated, and then selected as a member in the Aleppo City Council for Sheikh Maqsood, a district north of Aleppo. Serdar has chosen to fight for his space in the political landscape of his country.
Syria is a youthful nation, where 20.7 % of the population is between the ages of 15 and 24. Unfortunately, youth representation in the official regime and opposition structures is low. If youth are not at the negotiation tables now, how will the future develop for them? (Photo via Serdar Ahmad)