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The Syrian Youth Congress’ “Word of Truth” Campaign

In September and October 2014, members of the Syrian Youth Congress (SYC) defied great odds to conduct a public awareness campaign in three provinces in the country’s north. These youth leaders ignored the Assad regime’s barrel bombs, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) suicide attacks and a deteriorating humanitarian situation to raise knowledge about the many Syrians who have been illegally detained, tortured or killed by either side in the conflict. One of the group’s founding members was detained by ISIS and is believed to have died in captivity.  As many Syrians know someone who has been wrongfully detained, the SYC sought to unite people from across the country, regardless of ethnicity, sect or geographic dispersion.

After several months of preparation, the SYC began implementing their campaign, “The Word of Truth,” in September.  Braving ISIS and regime attacks and coalition airstrikes against extremists, youth leaders chose the provinces of Idlib, Aleppo and Hasakah for the campaign; while concentrated in Syria’s north, this area represented the SYC’s membership, as well as their determination to work in both regime- and ISIS-controlled areas along with liberated ones.  SYC members began by distributing posters, raising banners and painting murals to spread awareness on illegal imprisonments.  Across the three provinces, the SYC distributed over 13,000 flyers and painted over 25 murals on busy roads and main squares.  Free Syrian Army members even passed out hundreds of flyers to vehicles that passed through their checkpoints.  Despite the different campaign mediums employed across the three provinces, each poster or banner contained the SYC’s unifying logo and a common slogan, such as “Where’s my son?”, “Try me in court, don’t take me away,” and, “No to arbitrary arrests.”

Active in nearly 40 communities, the SYC also engaged local citizens to increase the campaign’s legitimacy on the ground.  Large banners bearing SYC slogans were used in Friday protests in two Aleppo city districts.  Also in Aleppo, activists discussed “The Word of Truth” with a prominent local judge, who proudly hung an SYC poster in his office.  The judge spoke to the importance of the campaign, stating, “The goal of this revolution is, and has always been justice, and all armed groups should respect this.”  An Aleppo Free Police officer also allowed SYC members to paint their logo and the slogan “Release me from my shackles” across the hood of his car.  In Hasakah, youth leaders organized a public seminar with representatives from the Arab, Kurdish and Assyrian communities to discuss the importance of inalienable human rights.  Days later, a local lawyer affiliated with the SYC led a discussion with colleagues and youth on cases of illegal detention in their community.

Youth leaders employed non-confrontational language that supported the values held by security forces, legal institutions and religious leadership to navigate the precarious security situation.  The campaign also generated considerable media attention in both Arabic and Kurdish, with several SYC spokespeople conducting interviews to promote the campaign. The television station Al Arabiyya ran a video segment on the campaign and is expected to broadcast an in-depth report on the “Word of Truth” soon.  Public awareness campaigns such as “The Word of Truth” represent an important opportunity to build the capacity and confidence of Syrian youth who will serve as the catalysts to a democratic transition. Developing such youth activists will empower them to restore the original ideals behind the 2011 Syrian revolution.  IRI is honored to work with Youth Congress members who risked their lives to raise awareness and unite people around the important issue human rights and illegal detentions.

Posted by

Sam Minifie

Program Assistant, Syria