Zaina Erhaim is a coordinator of the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) in Syria, and co-founder of the Local Coordination Committee in this country. In just a few months has received three prominent awards, the latest coming from the Reporters Without Borders for its defense of freedom of the press from one of the most dangerous cities in the world to be a journalist: Aleppo. Over the past two years, has trained more than 100 journalists in Syria, about one-third of these were women, in terms of the written media and television. It has helped also to establish many new newspapers and emerging magazines in this country at war.
When the revolution began in Syria Zaina lived in London, and then returned. She had never wanted to be a war correspondent, but she ended up being a reference figure of information that has left Syria in recent years. She has also trained others in citizen journalism and has been a coordinator of projects in Syria for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting In her work, she has endeavored to make visible the everyday stories of the war, as she explained last year in an interview with CNN. “People are still struggling to live; this is what I’m trying to highlight”, she said.
When the war broke out in Syria, you were living in the UK. What prompted you to return?
I never thought of living outside Syria. When I left in 2010 to study for a master’s degree in London, I told all my friends that I would come back, that I would never live anywhere else. When the revolution began, I had almost finished my studies. As soon as I finished them, I returned to Damascus. I first worked at the BBC, and although I had to travel a lot for work and personal reasons, I was never away for more than six months. In early 2013 I was moving between Turkey and the liberated areas of Latakia and Deir Ezzor. A year later, I moved to Aleppo. I came back because I am part of Syria. I felt that my responsibility was to help my country and my people, and I knew that I would not be able to do that if I was away from it. In addition, the death and detention of many friends made me feel intensely that I had to do something.
En tu discurso en la Cumbre Humanitaria Mundial, en mayo, dijiste que estás siendo castigada por distintas autoridades por ser mujer, periodista y siriana.
As I am a Syrian journalist, I am forbidden to travel in most of the territory and in my country. I cannot go to areas controlled by the government, which has included me on the wanted lists of three different security forces. Being a journalist is a crime by the Al Assad regime, which would have me killed under torture. Obviously, I can’t go to Islamic State-controlled areas either. I am left with two options. On the one hand, I can live in fear under Al Assad’s barrel bombs and Russian bombing. On the other hand, I could choose what scares many of your governments the most: migrating to the EU; but this I do not want to do. Because I am Syrian, and even though I am a journalist, I am treated as a potential terrorist at every airport where I land. I know of no better definition of discrimination. Finally, because I am a woman I am subject to many restrictions in relation to everything I do, my movements, what I write, etcetera, especially in the conservative societies where I work. At the same time, as I am a Syrian woman,
I am used by some international NGOs that promote initiatives and groups, with a modern and pro-Western style, that do not represent me.
In Syria, you have conducted training to promote citizen journalism. What are the main difficulties you have encountered?
They have been basic training in journalism, writing and audiovisual and elaboration of audiovisual pieces. Above all, we have worked on how to explain stories of human interest. As it happens to all civilians civilians, in my case the main difficulties have been related to bombings and air raids, and at a general level to security problems, specially general level with security problems, especially when the trainings especially when I was training in an area controlled by extremists. extremists.
Last year you presented the documentary “Syria’s Rebellious Women”. What was your objective when you filmed it? What impact has it had?
The main objective was to document the great and magnificent work that women are doing in Syria, so that it is not forgotten and so that we have it recorded when we write our history. For now it is difficult to talk about the impact of the film. Most of the screenings have been private in order to protect the
the safety of the women featured in the documentary.