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Video Activists from Aleppo and Raqqa as ‘Modern-Day Kinoks’?

An Audiovisual Narrative of the Syrian Revolution

In: Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication
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The popular uprising that began in Syria in 2011 generated an unprecedented number of YouTube videos recording events in Syria; this emphasized how the social media platform had become an important alternative space for news and information, a space beyond the control of the government. In this article, I address the role of Syrian video activism in the Syrian revolution, and pay particular attention to why young Syrian anti-regime protesters started recording and uploading their videos on YouTube. As such, I do not focus on technology or the medium per se, but on the peoples’ motivations—what led them to upload digital video content as testimonies of revolutionary events and violence. Based on observation of verified YouTube clips, field visits to Turkey and Syria and semi-structured interviews with Syrian video activists between the years 2014 and 2016, I suggest that Syrian video activists can be seen as revolutionary filmmakers similar to the twentieth-century ‘Kinoks’, or kino-ki, that formed part of Dziga Vertov’s Soviet filmmakers collective whose radical experiment aimed to bridge social revolution and realist cinematic practice (Tomas 1992) and document reality ‘As It Is’.

Abstract

The popular uprising that began in Syria in 2011 generated an unprecedented number of YouTube videos recording events in Syria; this emphasized how the social media platform had become an important alternative space for news and information, a space beyond the control of the government. In this article, I address the role of Syrian video activism in the Syrian revolution, and pay particular attention to why young Syrian anti-regime protesters started recording and uploading their videos on YouTube. As such, I do not focus on technology or the medium per se, but on the peoples’ motivations—what led them to upload digital video content as testimonies of revolutionary events and violence. Based on observation of verified YouTube clips, field visits to Turkey and Syria and semi-structured interviews with Syrian video activists between the years 2014 and 2016, I suggest that Syrian video activists can be seen as revolutionary filmmakers similar to the twentieth-century ‘Kinoks’, or kino-ki, that formed part of Dziga Vertov’s Soviet filmmakers collective whose radical experiment aimed to bridge social revolution and realist cinematic practice (Tomas 1992) and document reality ‘As It Is’.

Neither the term Orient nor the concept of the West has any ontological stability; each is made up of human effort, partly affirmation, partly identification of the Other. That these supreme fictions lend themselves easily to manipulation and organization of collective passion has never been more evident than in our time, when the mobilization of fear, hatred, disgust and resurgent self-pride and arrogance—much of it having to do with Islam and the Arabs on one side and Westerners on the other—are very large-scale enterprises. (Said 1997: xvii)

Introduction

The dominant media narrative about the Syrian uprising-turned-war has broadly simplified the Syrian war into a symmetrical conflict between a long-standing dictatorship and Islamist extremists, and thus denied ordinary Syrians a voice and visibility in this narrative. Since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, a counter-narrative of revolution, humanity, suffering and resistance against oppression by the Assad regime and other extremist groups has emerged. This counter-narrative has become visible in a variety of ways, including the productions of grassroots video activists working in decentralized forms of organization and civil resistance (Yassin-Kassab and al-Shami 2016; Khalaf, Ramadan and Stolleis 2014; Wessels 2014). Several scholars have argued that Syrian video activists have contributed to making a different ‘Other’ visible and audible, one that is opposed to that promoted by the Syrian regime and Islamist groups. At the same time, these activists have also established a new revolutionary media ecology in the conflict-torn country (Della Ratta 2016; Elias and Omareen 2014; Andén-Papadopoulos and Pantti 2013; Boëx 2012). In this article, based on this scholarship, I am more concerned with the motivations of young Syrian anti-regime protesters; what led them to start video-recording and uploading their clips to YouTube (Wessels 2011) and why have they continued, despite mortal danger and what some scholars have called, the apathy of passive armchair spectators, those who watch the misery and suffering of others (Andén-Papadopoulos 2013; Chouliaraki 2013; 2006).

Much of the literature on this type of activism or on political participation by ordinary people in situations of conflict and oppression, refers to such actors as citizen journalists. However, as Omar al-Ghazzi (2014) argues, the term assumes that there is, in the role of digital media, some kind of universal hope and belief in democratization; therefore, this term overlooks the specific sociopolitical and historical contexts of the emergence of these practices and fails to fully explain the complex digital output, particularly in Syria since the uprising began. Others, such as Andén-Papadopoulos (2013), use the term citizen camera-witnesses to describe the ‘camera-wielding political activists and dissidents who put their lives at risk to produce incontrovertible public testimony to unjust and disastrous developments around the world, in a critical bid to mobilize global solidarity through the affective power of the visual’ (Andén-Papadopoulos 2013: 754). To break away from the democratization narrative associated with the term citizen journalist, and explain its dynamics in the evolving Syrian revolutionary process, a more appropriate term for Syrian video activists is needed.

Following Andén-Papadopoulos (2013), who combined social justice, change and testimonial observation by witnesses using a digital video-camera, in this paper I draw on an earlier example of the use of the camera in a revolutionary context, namely, the cinematic work of the Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov’s Kinoks. Vertov formed a radical filmmakers’ collective in revolutionary Russia in the 1920s,1 and called these filmmakers Kinoks, that is, those who who use the camera as a tool, an eye, to record reality and life ‘As It Is’ (Bradshaw 2015) during revolutionary moments. According to their own manifesto, Kinoks are ‘cinema-eye men’ and for them, the central, most essential thing is the sensory exploration of the world through film. As a point of departure, they take the use of the camera as a kino-eye, which is more perfect than the human eye, that lives and moves in time and space; it gathers and records impressions in a manner different from that of the human eye (Michelson 1984; Vertov 1922).

The filmwork produced by the Kinoks signified a radical shift from staged theater and fiction in cinema and had a decisive influence on the development of Cinéma Vérité later in the twentieth century. Vertov called it Kino-Pravda (‘truthful-cinema’), an experiment during the Russian revolution. According to their manifesto, Kinoks vehemently despised the false reality of feature films and revolutionized the newsreels at the time by producing an unscripted blend of facts, observations and expression of feelings (Carynnyk 1972; Vertov 1922). Vertov and his Kinoks were convinced of the tranformative use of film, which could be used as a call for action in a revolutionary framework. As such, Kinoks firmly believed that realistic cinema (as opposed to fictional cinema) had the power to change people’s consciousness, help them see reality in a more profound way and ultimately improve their lives (Warren 1996; Tomas 1992).

Similarly, Syrian anti-regime activists upload their videos on YouTube, with the explicit aim and purpose of calling others to action, social justice and change. Their video cameras are used to document the revolutionary reality as they witness, observe and experience it, or ‘As It Is’. Hence their digital video cameras function as extensions of kino-eyes in much the same way the cameras of Vertov’s Kinoks did; they witness the Syrian revolutionary moment with little to no editing, staying as close to raw footage as possible. Moreover, Syrian video activists, like Kinoks, firmly believe in the transformative power of realistic cinema, in their case as an alternative weapon against oppression and authoritarianism.

Prior to 2011, film and media in Syria was state-controlled and censorship was strict (Ziter 2014; Wedeen 1999). Access to YouTube was forbidden and audiovisual media in Syria, whether television or film, was aimed at constructing fictitious propagandistic narratives about reality in Syria (Ziter 2014). In her book on Syria under the late Hafez al-Assad, the father of current president Bashar al-Assad, Lisa Wedeen argues that Syrian society was shaped around the personality cult of the ruling Assad family. This meant that citizens displayed their obedience and loyalty to the leader by acting as if they believed the narratives spread by the propaganda of the authoritarian regime (Wedeen 1999). According to Wedeen, Syrians accepted the regime’s fictitious view on reality, and rather than express their own experience of reality, they acted as if they believed the regime’s narratives (Wedeen 1999). She writes,

Citizens in Syria are not required to believe the cult’s flagrantly fictitious statements and, as a rule, do not. But they are required to act as if they do. In Syria, it is impossible not to experience the difference between what social scientists … might conceive as a charismatic, loyalty-producing regime and its anxiety-inducing simulacrum.

Wedeen 1999: 506

Much like Vertov’s Kinoks, Syrian video activists indicate that they despise the falseness and fiction of Syrian state news and media channels, as well as the fictitious media propaganda of the Islamic State and other jihadi news outlets. The video activists described in this article use their cameras to share their direct unmediated observations and experiences of reality. Following Andén-Papadopoulos (2013) and Ghazzi (2014), I approach YouTube videos from a broad perspective, drawing on a phenomenological approach that concedes that all audiovisual representation is subjective. The language of video and film is suggestive, engaged and emotional (Prosser 1998). Subjectivity, emotions and performance allow the videographer to take a political space and construct his or her vision directed at an intended audience. This audiovisual concert is continuously performed online, or in the space considered the ‘public realm’ in the sense of Hannah Arendt’s phenomenological theory (Arendt 1969; BenHabib 1993).

Methods

In this paper, I draw on 23 semi-structured interviews conducted in Sweden, Turkey and Syria, of which six interviews were conducted through Skype/social media with members of three grassroots media centers based in Aleppo. I also rely on participant observation in the province of Aleppo conducted in August 2014 and observation of video-content from three media activist groups: Nour Media Centre, Aleppo Media Centre (AMC) and ‘Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently’ (RBSS). All interviews were carried out in Arabic. For the sake of their safety and personal security, the names of the interviewees are not disclosed in this article. I also conducted face-to-face interviews in Gaziantep, Turkey, and in Azzaz and Daret Ezza in the western part of Aleppo. Since 2012, Gaziantep has become a hub of international organizations and NGOs that support of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), whose main organizational body is based in this Turkish city. It has also become the site for the development of several initiatives supporting free media in Syria, such as an EU-supported media incubator, a project established in 2014 and aimed to support the development of a free Syrian media. The research was carried out before Aleppo fell to the Syrian regime forces at the end of 2016.

Video Activist Collectives from Aleppo and Raqqa

The two groups of video-activists considered in this article were active in the urban areas of east Aleppo, the rural areas of western Aleppo province and Raqqa city. In the liberated urban areas of the eastern side of Aleppo, a total of at least seven different media centers have emerged since 2012. This study focuses on video uploads and activists from two specific media centers in Aleppo: Aleppo Media Center (AMC)2 and Nour Media Center.3 Both centers operate in opposition-held areas of Aleppo (Bustan al-Qasr and Sukkary) and the wider province of Aleppo; they also have a presence in Gaziantep, Turkey. Each has its own YouTube channel, their content is also uploaded and compiled through a daily Arabic language news channel on YouTube and NileSat called Halab Today TV (Halab al-Yawm). The Aleppo-based media centers upload their content on YouTube and also use social media such as Twitter and Facebook. The exponential growth and popularity of these outputs is indicated by the number of followers on social media outlets—in 2014, their Facebook page and Twitter account had 881,295 and 54,800 followers respectively and in 2015, this number almost doubled, with 1,844,674 followers on Facebook and 85,500 followers (see fig. 1).

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Figure 1

Increase of number of followers for the Facebook page of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently between 2014 and 2015

Citation: Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 10, 2-3 (2017) ; 10.1163/18739865-01002005

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Figure 2

Increase of number of followers for the Facebook page of Halab Today TV between 2014 and 2015

Citation: Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 10, 2-3 (2017) ; 10.1163/18739865-01002005

The other collective of Syrian video activists that were interviewed and considered for this study, is from Raqqa. It is a small ‘non-violent’ media collective called ‘Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently’ (RBSS)4 and operating from Raqqa. Some of their founding members were based in Turkey after they fled Raqqa in 2014. The Raqqa video activists interviewed for this study were based in Gaziantep and Urfa, Turkey, some still had family in Raqqa and others were living with their families in Turkey. These activists coordinate activities of their colleagues inside Raqqa, smuggle USB sticks to Turkey and then upload the content on their YouTube channel, Twitter account and Facebook page. RBSS began as a loosely formed collective of young video activists who filmed anti-regime protests in Raqqa since the uprisings in 2011. By April 2014, the collective had become firmly established. At that point, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took over Raqqa entirely, the ISIS stronghold had taken shape, followed by the declaration of the Islamic State in June 2014. From then onward, RBSS worked underground with direct actions, like spraying graffiti on walls and distributing anti-ISIS leaflets in Raqqa. Like Halab Today TV, RBSS also uses social media and witnessed a dramatic increase in followers between 2014 and 2015 when the numbers of followers on Facebook increased tenfold (see fig. 2).5 One of RBSS’s major media activities was uploading video clips on YouTube that showed daily life ‘As It Is’ in Raqqa. For example, the bakery videos are uploaded on their YouTube channel without commentary or editing; these are raw footage that show the daily struggle of citizens of Raqqa to get food and join the lines in front of a bakery and popular food kitchen.

The rise in popularity of RBSS is related to the worldwide media attention the group received when ISIS militants assassinated two of their founders, Ibrahim Abdulkader and Fares Hamadi, inside Turkey in 2015 (Albayrak and Abdulrahim 2015). One of their main founders then fled to Germany and started to engage with the western press under his real name, Abdel Aziz al-Hamza.6 At the time of my fieldwork in 2014, the RBSS collective had been active for four months in the self-declared Islamic State; they consisted of around twenty members, of whom the majority was active (in hiding) inside Raqqa, which was under the control of ISIS. During the course of this research, fieldwork and writing this article, at least six of the members of RBSS were assassinated or executed by ISIS; at least ten activists were still reporting from inside Raqqa.

The video activists in Raqqa started to film in March 2011, as anti-regime protests emerged in Raqqa, much earlier than those in Aleppo. In Aleppo, video activists started to film in July 2012, when the Free Syrian Army (FSA) entered the city and anti-regime protests started. Our question is why the activists from Aleppo and Raqqa started filming. Many indicated they regard themselves as part of the Syrian revolution and wanted to record what was happening in front of their eyes, and they saw a need for outreach toward publics both inside and outside Syria, for assistance, solidarity and support for their revolution and struggle against authoritarian regimes.

As one Aleppo-based activist said,

In 2012, when the FSA entered Aleppo city during Ramadan, I bought a small digital camera and I started filming with a number of young men … I wanted the news to reach other people in order to come [help] or donate blood. Just to help us … I pulled my mobile out and all reporters there were from the regime and no one would have helped us if we hadn’t uploaded the videos. For this reason, I was forced to film, upload it on the internet and call for help. We had the opportunity and needed alternative media to counter the narrative of the regime who denied that something was going on.7

Another activist said,

It is essential to be credible. When the footage is credible and we film it without cutting or editing, we try to reach Reuters and international news agencies. In order for them to make sure the video was taken in Aleppo on—for instance—22/8, a particular date. The title of the video should be clear, what it contains, in which neighborhood, is there an idea behind it, we try in general to communicate through those social media tools; Facebook and Twitter, but with credibility. We want to create credibility for the center we are now working for. No exaggeration with numbers of casualties, and not to make up something that did not happen in reality.8

The remarks above indicate a realist position toward the use of video-cameras to document events, in the sense that they prefer minimal editorial intervention and stress the importance of representing reality as is. To represent reality, the video-activists experiment with applying new video technology, such as the use of aerial drones and 360-degree video cameras.9 They also use their cameras and their bodies on the frontline (Andén-Papadopoulos 2013), thus emphasizing that video activism in Syria comes at a high price—there is danger of kidnapping by extremist groups or being killed by bombings. The video activists confront trauma every day, and upload some of their worst experiences. Filming the aftermaths of aerial bombardments have particularly deep impacts on the activists. Some scholars have argued that the death of a Syrian video activist during filming is the ultimate act of witnessing violence and repression (Andén-Papadopoulos 2013; Askanius 2012).

In 2015 and 2016, images of bombardments and their aftermath, dead bodies, injured bodies and rescue workers dominated the graphic content uploaded by video activists from Aleppo. Some of these activists continued filming, even as they faced graphic realities such as bodies, children and bloody human body parts. In one instance, a videoclip10 uploaded by the Nour Media Center in Aleppo showed the moment a desperate man and his daughter held up a hand and a foot of one of the victims of the regime barrel bombs. The video is a graphic recording of their experiences during war, of the gruesomeness of bombings and their aftermath. The girl’s gesture is an expression of both desperation and anger, triggered by extreme grief over the death and injuries around her. The camera silently records the suffering, reality and human experience of war. We hear shouting, frantic cries, the chaotic and desperate exclamations of the people and the phrase ‘Allahu akbar’—a cry for help from God, a cry of despair and disbelief. The cacophony is immense, impressive and leaves anyone who watches this video clip numb, at least for a while.

The video activist who filmed this clip recounted, in short sentences, his experience of filming:

A young man shouted, ‘he dropped, he dropped!’ meaning that the barrel bomb had dropped. We hid in a falafel shop. The barrel bomb landed. We went out and the scene was terrible and horrifying. I will search for the video and get it for you. This is not 18+, this video is 1000+. It is something big. Therefore, when I told you I am scared of death, because it is something scary to be here. At any moment … for three days, I did not feel normal. I did not like to go to work but later bit by bit … in the beginning it was so difficult … but I went back, I have to …11

He continued with video activism because he wanted to document reality, express his moral outrage and share his testimony of the events for the outside public, and to do this, he risked himself, his own body (Andén-Papadopoulos 2013).

Indeed, based on the interviews for this paper and other research, it was evident that video activists in Aleppo and Raqqa continued filming because they saw themselves as revolutionaries whose role was to record reality and share their experiences with Syrians and the outside world. In many ways, the video activists in Raqqa also used the video camera as a tool to record life ‘As It Is’, and thus provide a counter-narrative to that of the regime and the self-proclaimed Islamic State. They also continued filming despite the dangers of doing it. As one of them said,

During the short period of freedom in Raqqa before ISIS took over, coffee shops were open until 4 in the morning, people were out on the streets, celebrating the removal of the Assad regime. We felt free, we were free people, I smelled the freedom and it was great! So we will stay, our dream is to free Syria from ISIS and the Assad regime.12

Cameras and Consciousness Change as a Revolutionary Process

In Syria, feelings of moral outrage and astonishment propelled video activists to film realities on the ground, using the social media platform YouTube to tell stories of real life and suffering in order to solicit solidarity and initiate social change (Wessels 2015; Andén-Papadopoulos 2013; Chouliaraki 2006, 2013; Naim 2009). In other work, I identified Syrian grassroots activists use of digital media to humanize and ‘de-enemize’ themselves (Wessels 2017; 2015). Here, I focus on the role of video activism in provoking a change in consciousness during a revolutionary process, focusing on overcoming fear. Under authoritarian rule, Syria was ruled by fear, the fear of being tortured, of losing family, of losing your life or your dignity; these fears caused many to remain quiet and submissive in the face of the regime authorities, in any situation in Syria prior to 2011 (Heydemann and Leenders 2013; George 2003; Wedeen 1999, 1998). Fear, and overcoming it, was a common theme that ran through every interview I conducted with video activists from Aleppo and Raqqa. The challenge to demonstrate in a protest involved ‘breaking through the wall of fear’ collectively, the imaginary metaphorical wall that kept Syrians suppressed by the Assad regime (George 2003). ‘Breaking through the wall of fear’ together was experienced as a revolutionary process in which peoples’ consciousness changed, at both the individual and the collective level.

Traveling through the FSA (Free Syrian Army)-controlled areas in the summer of 2014, in many conversations I observed that Syrians living in these areas were no longer anxious about the regime. They talked about politics and opinions freely. As more people overcame and shed their fear, the authority of the regime lost its power to suppress them, and free Syrian video activists felt freer to film reality ‘As It Is’, without fear of being arrested. Whereas previously state controlled media displayed life and politics ‘As If’ in fictitious propagandistic cinema, the grassroot media in the rebel-controlled areas in Syria documented life and politics ‘As It Is’, in a realistic cinema of facts (see fig. 3). Overcoming fear strengthened grassroots video activists’ resolve to continue filming. As one video activist explained,

… I began filming the street protests in April 2011. The demonstrators were people from all walks of life and it was peaceful. When we heard about the two children in Deraʾa on 15 March 2011, everybody got out on the streets. It was enough for us. We could see the army was afraid of the people, of the growing crowds. So we felt the crowd and our camera protected us somehow.13

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Figure 3

The revolutionary process in Syria and the role of video activism

Citation: Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 10, 2-3 (2017) ; 10.1163/18739865-01002005

In other words, the activists used their cameras as tools to bring about change and document life and politics ‘As It Is’ in a liberated Syria where people can talk freely and video activism is not censored. In that sense, the video activists are similar to Vertov’s Kinoks who saw the camera as a tool to bring about consciousness change and show the reality of life ‘As It Is’ (a realistic view) in the new social reality in the rebel-controlled areas, as opposed to life ‘As If’ (according to fictitious authoritarian propaganda) in the regime-controlled areas, or in the IS-controlled areas.

Throughout the interviews, Syrian video activists in Aleppo and Raqqa self-identified with the camera in the service of the revolution in much the same way as Vertov’s Kinoks self-identified as cameramen in the service of the Russian revolution. The output they produced was experimental and unprecedented; they used new technology, such as drones and 360-degree video, to produce material intended to provoke revolutionary change, in the process creating a relationship between social revolution and cinematic practice (Tomas 1992). Much like the Kinoks who despised fictitious cinema, Syrian video activists, too, talked of the material produced by the regime and IS media as fiction. As such, like the Kinoks who produced a documentary of the making of a new society (Tomas 1992), Syrian video-activists showed a new reality in the fledgling civil society experiment (Khalaf, Ramadan and Stolleis 2014). In this sense, I suggest the term Kinok is better suited to describe the Syrian video activists than the much-used term ‘citizen journalist’, which has connotations of democratization processes. In the case of Syria, video activism has not necessarily led to a more peaceful and democratic society or enhanced outside solidarity and action. Kinoks are more related to a process of social revolution and consciousness change, as described above. Whereas Kinoks operated in the framework of the twentieth-century Russian revolution, the Syrian video activists play an important role in the context of twenty-first century revolutionary Syria, in establishing an emerging realistic, factual Syrian cinema through the use of digital video cameras as kino-eyes, using YouTube as a broadcasting platform, shedding their previous fear and showing reality ‘As It Is’.

This said, Syrian video activists from both Raqqa and Aleppo were frustrated that their enormous body of raw, realistic video footage uploaded on YouTube had not led to concerted international solidarity with their revolution and genuine support for their demand for freedom, dignity and social justice and indeed a more democratic Syria. IS remains in power in Raqqa, despite repeated aerial bombardments by international coalition forces. Assad has consolidated his power with the support of Russia. Eastern Aleppo, where Nour Media and AMC were located, has been subject to massive aerial bombardments throughout the year 2016, eventually leading to the forced evacuation of the majority of its population by the end of the year, including all video activists.

Conclusion

In this article, I argue that Syrian video activists could be regarded as twenty-first century Kinoks of our time because they shared the same motivation to record, document and share reality as a collective and transformative revolutionary experience. As modern-day Kinoks, Syrian video activists use digital video cameras to observe, witness and record reality ‘As It Is’ in revolutionary areas, as opposed to life ‘As If’ (Wedeen 1999) in regime- controlled or IS-controlled areas; their intention is to create awareness, consciousness change and revolution. I also argue that YouTube videos by Syrian activists are part of a new type of factual cinema that disrupts dichotomies and simplified media narratives about the Syrian war as a binary conflict between the Syrian regime on one side, and IS with its foreign jihadis on the other, all of whom ignore Syrian opposition voices. In fieldwork and by observing the output of these video activists, I show that these videos play a role in changing revolutionary consciousness in the same sense as the early day twentieth-century Marxist Soviet Kinoks did.

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Wessels, J.I. (2016). Syrian Media Activist: ‘It Is Terrible and Scary, Aleppo Has Become a Horror City’. Global Voices, 13 December 2016. Available online: https://globalvoices.org/2016/12/13/syrian-media-activist-it-is-terrible-and-scary-aleppo-has-become-a-horror-city/. Accessed 15 December 2016.

Wessels, J.I. (2017). Syria: The Role of Grassroot Videos in Conflict Escalation. In O. Waever and I. Bramsen (eds.), New Theories and Approaches in Peace and Conflict. Copenhagen, Centre for Resolution of International Conflicts (CRIC), Forthcoming.

Yassin-Kassab, R. and Y. al-Shami (2016). Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War. London: Pluto Press.

Ziter, E. (2014). Political Performance in Syria: From the Six-Day War to the Syrian Uprising. London: Palgrave MacMillan.

*

This study has been made possible through funding by the Danish Research Council, within the framework of the postdoctoral study “The role of new and innovative Digital Media for Healing and Reconciliation in post-conflict Syria” for the Centre for Resolution of International Conflicts (CRIC) at the University of Copenhagen. I would like to thank all my colleagues at CRIC and beyond who provided crucial feedback.

1

Dziga Vertov, the pseudonym of Denis Kaufman, was a convinced communist who believed Marxism was the only objective and scientific tool of analysis.

2

Online: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJ-McNhSFcL9_9pbhNSL75Q.

3

Online: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZxVhTlFMK-MhGJeOJBbbTA.

4

Online: http://www.raqqa-sl.com/en/.

5

Under pseudonyms, activists of RBSS have been publishing their stories in several English-language outlets; the story of RBSS received the most attention when two of the founders of the activist group were assassinated in October 2015 by ISIS militants in Sanliurfa, Turkey. Another founder then fled to Germany and sought media attention to publicize this crime. Another anti-ISIS journalist linked to RBSS was assassinated in broad daylight in Gaziantep in December 2015. In January 2016, three of their members inside Raqqa were executed on a published ISIS video. This series of assassinations sent shockwaves through the RBSS group in 2016 and many looked for ways to get out of Turkey. Currently, some have found safe havens in European countries. The assassinations continued to threaten the lives of RBSS activists in Turkey. See http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=47470.

6

The story was covered most recently by the BBC in their 2016 news documentary ‘ISIS most wanted’ available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRqaEENFYWI.

7

Interview A.H. 25 August 2014, Gaziantep.

8

Interview G.M., 28 August 2014, Aleppo.

9

For 360-degree video content, see the YouTube upload ‘Welcome to Aleppo’, the worlds’ first 360-degree video footage from a warzone. It was uploaded in 2015. Online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nxxb_7wzvJI.

10

Online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4a_LU_4vJo.

11

Interview G.M., 28 August 2014, Aleppo.

12

Interview Z.F. 6 September 2014, Gaziantep.

13

Interview Z.F., 3 September 2014, Gaziantep.

  • 7

    Interview A.H. 25 August 2014, Gaziantep.

  • 8

    Interview G.M., 28 August 2014, Aleppo.

  • 11

    Interview G.M., 28 August 2014, Aleppo.

  • 12

    Interview Z.F. 6 September 2014, Gaziantep.

  • 13

    Interview Z.F., 3 September 2014, Gaziantep.

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