Syrian protesters discover the new ‘power of their voice’
GUVECCI, TURKEY | It’s a familiar nightmare for Syrians.
In 1982, Syria’s military employed a “scorched-earth” policy to quell protests in the northern town of Hama, killing 25,000 people.
But Syrian refugees now fleeing into Turkey say that although history appears to be repeating itself, the outcome will be different this time.
“We’ve lived through 40 years of dictatorship,” said Mohammad, a young Syrian who fled to Turkey over the weekend. “We have no other choice but to continue [to fight]. We have to do this for the next generation.”
The widespread participation of discontented Syrians in the uprising, which has lasted more than 100 days, is what makes it different.
“Syria has never had this kind of mass movement,” said Radwan Ziadeh, a prominent Syrian exile and executive director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Washington. “Syrians are now discovering the power of their voice and the power of numbers.”
As with the recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, social networking via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Skype is playing a key role in facilitating the daily protests.
Mohammad, who made his way with three other Syrians across the Belengoz Mountains into Guvecci, arrived with a USB flash drive that holds dozens of short videos he recorded of protests in his hometown of Lazkiye.
In one video, he keeps recording while running from a hail of bullets and advancing Syrian troops. In another, the lens focuses on a young Syrian, Mohammad’s friend, who is lying in a pool of blood.
Mohammad has shared the videos with friends and relatives and said he is dedicated to continuing the fight for freedom from across the border.
“We weren’t ready earlier. This couldn’t haven’t happened earlier,” he said. “Now we have cellphones and can ring each other, and we know what has happened in other towns.”
Sympathetic Turks have sneaked Turkish cellphone cards across the border to Syrians hiding in the woods. The Syrians then can use Turkish cellphone providers to send messages without being traced by the regime they are fleeing.
Through social media, “We have seen how modern Muslims live now,” Mohammad said in reference to Turkey. “And that’s how we want to live, too.”
Activists say the use of these networks inside Syria has helped the protesters share information and coordinate on a national level.
“Social media doesn’t just inform people; it gives them the opportunity to organize and to think together,” said Malath Aumran, a representative of the Local Coordination Committee (LCC) of Syria, speaking from Beirut.
The LCC administers a Facebook page that is updated with reports of local demonstrations and casualties from across the country. It represents 15 local chapters within Syria, each of which coordinates local neighborhood committees formed by networks of friends, often young people.
Many of the LCC’s Facebook updates are in the form of YouTube videos, shot by ordinary people on the streets using mobile phones and pocket digital cameras.
Although the authenticity of these clips is hard to verify, activists say they are vital in a country that has no free press and has banned foreign media. They inspire Syrians to join protests in other parts of the country as well as enrage them when they witness the force used against protesters.
“If you say that the Egyptian revolution is the ‘Facebook revolution,’ then the Syrian one is the ‘YouTube revolution,’ “ said Mr. Ziadeh. “YouTube has played an important role in passing information within Syria and spreading it across the globe.”
While the local organization of protests initially might have centered on the young, it is happening in response to grievances