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In Syrian Conflict, Both Sides Vie To Control Message

Filed by KOSU News in World News.
July 27, 2012

Last of five parts

The most striking thing you see when you drive into the Syrian town of Derat Azza is that it’s devoid of ordinary people. Shops are closed, shuttered.

The only people you see seem to be rebels.

It seems like the only difference between this town and others in the area is that the regime made up its mind to target it. And once the regime did, there was nothing the people could do.

The shelling started about a month ago. Rebel fighters say the Syrian army was trying to force the rebels to give up control of a strategic hill that rebels took last month.

People say the shelling usually starts at night and can strike anywhere.

The rebels take us on a tour of civilian houses that have been hit. One room has a big hole in the wall. The stuffing from exploded pillows is scattered about.

A husband and wife were sleeping in the room when the attack happened. They survived and are now receiving treatment in Turkey.

At another house, a pile of rubble sits out front. A store looks as if it’s just been torched.

Rebels’ Heavily Managed Message

As we walk around town, we try to talk to the few people we see in the streets but it’s clear the rebels want us to stick to the tour.

In some ways, it feels like the same kind of tours the government gives.

In the 17 months since the Syrian uprising started, the message has always been heavily managed. Because it’s so difficult for Western journalists to get into Syria, we rely on amateur videos shot by activists and rebels and interviews conducted over Skype. Any news from the regime comes through state-controlled media.

Both sides are notorious for leaving out key details.

But in Derat Azza, it’s not just about how the world perceives the rebel movement. It’s about how its own people perceive it. The more the people in these towns think the rebels are their only hope, the more they are likely to support the rebels.

The next stop on the tour is to see women cooking over a fire because gas is too scarce and expensive these days. It’s 100 degrees outside, but they’re bent over hot coals, simmering eggplant, tomatoes and peppers in a kind of stew.

We try to shoo the rebels away so I can ask the women a question. I have to come in close and whisper my question: Do you ever blame the rebels for this? Do you feel that the regime is shelling your town because the rebels are here?

Maybe, the elder one says. I don’t know.

The Dilemma Of The Uprising

We convince the rebels to let us speak to one of the few families that has come back to Derat Azza. By now, though, we’re being followed by a whole posse of rebel fighters.

We ask the family the same question we asked the women cooking over the fire: When the shelling first started, who did you blame?

As one woman tries to answer, a rebel in the background tells her not to blame the fighters.

It’s message control — even at the village level.

Then another woman chimes in. We protested against the regime, she says. The regime detained us, tortured us and shot us. So then the rebels came to protect us.

It’s a summary of the Syrian uprising in a nutshell. And it explains the Catch-22 these towns are in now: Who would protect people if the rebels weren’t here?

But, another line of inquiry goes, if the rebels weren’t here, would the government even shell the people at all? [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

One Response to “In Syrian Conflict, Both Sides Vie To Control Message”

  1. Amer Nouh says:

    Good morning,__I listened with pain to your report from Syria, and as you stated, your correspondence there spent one week and wanted to project that week over the whole Syrian dilemma. The report is clearly full of false assumptions and conclusions, and help to spread the dictator basher alasad’s regime narration and hereafter some of the wrongly presented ideas which lead to wrong conclusions:__* if the rebels weren’t here, would the government even shell the people at all?__This is true if you take one week of the revolution history, but completely wrong when you consider the facts. The regime shells the cities because it is unable to control the ground, but the opposite is not correct, as since the beginning of the revolution in March 2011 untill at least August 2011, there were not a single fighter against the regime, and during that time, the city of Deraa was destroyed, and several neighborhoods of my own city, Homs, such as Bab Elseba, Karm Elzaytoun, Karm Ellouz and others were vandalized, men there were either executed guns, women raped and killed, children and elderly slaughtered with knives and axes, and their belongings were stolen and then the houses were burnt.  Since that time these neighborhoods and many others thereafter became empty and the surviving people are divided into three sections, some fled and are living in refugee camps, some arrested and we do not know where they are at this time and whether they are alive or not, and the third part became the rebels and formed with the free soldiers the nucleus of the free Syrian army. __Then yes, if there were no rebels the assad’s militias will not use planes to bomb cities, but without them, the cities would became empty and destroyed, vandalized homes and people will be killed.__* Rebeles__Your correspondent represents rebels as if they are extraterrestrials, or some foreign people, which is not true. Most of the rebels in Derat Ezza, per example, are the young men of that village or the surrounding villages, and the same nearly in all Syria. People who are not from a specific location where they are stationed, means they are from an area which is still under the assad’s militias control or from destroyed district, such as Baba Amrou in Homs__

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