*In the old city of Homs, June 2014, speaking with Zeinat and Aymen al-Akhras who endured years of hell under the rule of militant factions. In May 2014, an agreement saw the reportedly 1,200 militants bussed out of Homs (as recently happened in Aleppo), bringing peace to the neighbourhoods they’d occupied and terrorized. Excerpt from my article on this visit and interviewing residents of the old city of Homs: “I dropped to 34 kilos. Aymen told me to weigh myself. I got on the scale and said, ‘What’s 34 kilos?’. A ten-year-old weighs more than that! And Aymen was 43 kilos. For a man, 43 kilos…”
“We were twelve siblings with eight houses in the area, and the family house. We all had stores of food.”
“Thirty-eight times they came to steal our food. The first couple of times, they knocked on the door, after that they just entered with guns. The last things they took were our dried peas, our cracked wheat, our olives, finally our za’atar (wild thyme). We started to eat grass and whatever greens we could find in February, 2014, and that’s all we had till Homs was liberated,”–Zeinat al-Akhras. Read: Liberated Homs Residents Challenge Notion of “Revolution”
Since it is a theme that those who report differently than the MSM war propaganda on Syria must therefore work for either & or Syria or Russia, I’ll address that in this brief post, drawing on some interviews and related material, since I continue to be incredibly busy.
Some excerpts from: ‘If I write in line with Russian media, it’s because we both tell the truth’ – Eva Bartlett to RT, 17 Dec, 2016, RT
“Some people have taken issue with the things I said because I was basically criticizing much of the corporate media reporting on Syria, and instead of actually digesting what I said and criticizing the details of what I said, people have gone to the usual tactic of trying to smear who I am and imply that I am an agent of either or both Syria and Russia,”Bartlett said, adding that it’s been openly implied she is on the payroll of the Syrian and Russian governments. The fact that she is an active contributor to RT’s op-edge section has also been jumped all over.
“The fact that I do contribute to the RT op-edge section apparently, in some people’s eyes, makes me compromised. I began contributing to the RT op-edge section when I lived in Gaza, and this was not an issue for people who then appreciated my writing,” she stated.
“What I am writing, and what I’m reporting, and who I am citing are Syrian civilians whom I’ve encountered in Syria.
“If people do not wish to hear the voices of Syrian civilians and if they want to maintain their narrative which is in line with the NATO narrative – which is in line with destabilizing Syria and vilifying the government of Syria and ignoring the overwhelming wishes of the people of Syria – then they do this by accusing me of spreading propaganda,” the journalist stressed.
“The fact that my writing is in line with the Syrian people… in some respect aligns with Russian media reports, does not mean that I’m reporting Russian propaganda, and it does not mean that what Russian media is reporting is propaganda. It happened to be that I report the truth as I see it on the ground, and some Russian media happen to report the truth as they see it on the ground.
“Why do we not see these accusations when a BBC journalist goes to Syria and reports what I often believe to be not the full story? Why are they not accused of working for the State of England? Why are Al Jazeera journalists not accused of working for Qatar?”
My Related Comments:
*Please note, I do not have ‘my own blog’ on RT, as written in the RT overview of an interview I gave to the site (and as also alleged by a factually-challenged ‘fact check’ by Channel 4 News, the debunking of which will be out soon). In fact, the RT disclaimer at the bottom of Op-Edge contributions is clear: “The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.” How did the fact checkers at Channel 4 miss that?
Since April 2013, I have contributed a total of 8 opinion pieces to RT’s Op-Edge section (3 of which were from or on Gaza, Occupied Palestine), an RT section which contains writings from over 70 authors.
8 articles in a period of nearly 4 years, that’s not exactly “active” writing dedicated to RT. Take a look at some of the other authors who are indeed very active. In fact, to the claims that any of my writing is opportunism, wouldn’t one expect me to thus direct most of my articles to RT and get paid something (nothing compared to BBC, NYTimes or other fake news journalists), rather than instead directing my articles to a variety of lesser or not at all paying sources? I have no qualms about my scant contribution of opinion pieces to RT, but to paint me as ‘working’ for RT is a fact-checking error, one which I believe to be intentional.
Further, Dr. Helen Caldicott and William Engdahl also contribute to RT Op-Edge. Will Channel 4 and other smear sites now claim they are working for Russia?
Thus, I am not ’employed by’ RT, I contribute sporadically to RT, as well as more regularly to a host of independent media (21st Century Wire, SOTT.net, MintPressNews, Dissident Voice, and formerly: Al Akhbar English, American Herald Tribune, Zero Anthropology, and others).
If not already glaringly clear, the intention of such ‘fact-check’ pieces is solely to discredit myself and others like me. And even though I strongly disagree with the lexicon of ‘civil war’ and ‘rebels’ frequently used in RT reports and commentaries, RT has been one of the few English-language media outlets to consistently have journalists on the ground, risking their lives to report the realities MSM would not report. I would encourage people to follow RT’s reports on Syria.
*From June 2014, old city of Homs, interviewing Nazim Kanawati, who knew and was a friend of Father Frans van der Lugt and who arrived moments after the 75-year-old priest had been shot in the back of the head. From my article on this visit: “Father Frans was a peace-maker and played an important role in arranging the evacuation of civilians from the Old City during the siege. He was trusted by both sides, and didn’t distinguish between Christians and Muslims. He was concerned with humanity.” Like Father Frans, Kanawati refused to leave Homs while others fled. “I didn’t want to leave, I’m a Syrian, I had the right to be there.”
*Entering Damascus neighbourhood by shared taxi from Beirut, Oct 2016.
Addressing the smear-tactic accusations that I’m funded by either or both the Syrian and/or Russian governments, for the sake of time I’ll share excerpts from a social media post I wrote not long ago:
Writing truth doesn’t pay. Independent sites which are courageous enough to host the truth usually cannot afford to pay more than $50/article, or often nothing at all. But for those who have principles and are not writing about Syria and related issues for profit, this is irrelevant.
So the obvious question that hacks have assumed they know the answer to: how do people like myself and colleagues manage to exist, if not being paid ridiculously-well per article as some in corporate media, often writing lies, are.
In order to go to Syria many times, I have either saved money slowly and when able traveled to the country, or I have publicly fundraised. I travel the cheapest means, always with long layovers and inconvenient routes, but ensuring airfare that is far cheaper than those in corporate media traveling to Syria. Then again, that’s me making an assumption: perhaps they also flew economy from North America to Dubai (much further east than destination Beirut), slept on the airport floor, traveled back west to Beirut, stayed in the cheapest closet-sized rooms in the city or outside where it is cheaper, and took a shared taxi to Damascus.
I’m aware of many colleagues like myself who live on the edge, sometimes down to the last dollars in their pockets until a meagre payment comes in for an article many hours/days worked on. Many I know have had to borrow money, as have I, in order to travel to Syria, or fundraise, or wait until we accumulate enough through writings and also the kind donations to our work by people who value it.
*Castello road, shelled on Nov 4, 2016 by militants 7 times on humanitarian corridor day, twice while I was there.
Independents Only Go To Safe Areas of Syria?
This is another charge levied at independent journalists and others who go in solidarity to Syria to speak directly with Syrian people, instead of getting the story from the one man UK-based ‘observatory’, the SOHR, or from lying corporate media whose propaganda has been debunked and whose use of a photo from Iraq was highlighted by the photographer himself, disputing BBC’s allegations that the photo was in Ghouta, Syria.
Government-secured areas of Syria are not free of danger: many have been or continue to be subject to terrorism, whether in the form of car bombings (as with the many times terror-attacked district of al-Zahra’a, Homs, which I visited some days after a major series of car and suicide bombings in December 2015 or as with the Akrama school in Homs, Oct 2014, killing at least 41 children, to cite 2 of endless examples. Some more examples here), rocket and mortar attacks, and snipings.
On 6 visits to Syria, when back in Damascus I’ve stayed in the Old City and was in the midst of mortar attacks which in 2014 and 2015 were near-daily and quite heavy. In 2016, there were still mortar attacks but less than prior. That said, a dear friend lost her sister and that woman’s infant son to such a mortar attack in July 2016. The ‘moderate’ ‘rebels’ idea of ‘revolution’ is the indiscriminately shell civilian areas. These maimed children were a sampling of the injured (some critically so) when I visited Damascus’ University Hospital in February 2015. These children were injured in April 2014, when militants mortared their school in Old Damascus.
Prior to its liberation, to enter Aleppo the sole route (with the exception of the August securing of Castello road) was via Ramouseh road, known for snipings and shelling from militant factions. I traveled that road 6 times (3 visits), in times when snipings had recently occurred. Traveling the Castello road even posed a danger, as I and colleague Vanessa Beeley learned in August 2016 when leaving Aleppo. The road was being mortared by militant factions and our simple taxi, while trying to speed along, was boxed in by other trucks also leaving.
While in Taaouna this summer, taking the testimonies of survivors of the Aqrab massacre–perpetrated by the ‘moderates’ of the Free Syrian Army–there was great risk of shelling or sniping by the terrorists still occupying Aqrab. Of that visit, I wrote:
“Yesterday, via a winding road through the Masyaf region hills, descending to the village of Ta’aouna, I met with residents of neighbouring Aqrab, which in December 2012 was attacked by the so-called “Free Syrian Army” who massacred between 120-150 Aqrab residents (more on their testimonies soon).
Standing on the roof of the home to which three Aqrab survivors had come to give their testimonies, the village of Aqrab, roughly 500 metres away, was distinctly visible—as are any people in Ta’aouna who go rooftop (for laundry, water or other reasons) to terrorist snipers in the hills near Aqrab. The home owner pointed out holes from such snipers’ bullets prior.
Two hundred metres down a lane, some fifteen houses remain inhabited by local Ta’aouna families (including children), in homes 300 metres from where terrorists and their snipers lie.
When terrorists massacred villagers in Aqrab in December 2012, they were then known as “Free Syrian Army” terrorists.
Now, occupied villages in the region comprise terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, and Da’esh (ISIS). As most Syrians I’ve met say, they are the same, with different names and financial backers, but commit the same heinous beheadings, assassinations, kidnappings and other western-sanctioned crimes in Syria.
Rooftop the home closest to the dirt embankment beyond (this particular house uninhabited, although only 5 metres from the next inhabited one), Abu Abdo, a local defense volunteer explains how he and others in the village take night shifts to watch for attempted terrorist infiltrations. The Syrian Arab Army has hilltop posts around Ta’aouna, but nonetheless the village defenders (including many who are family men and formerly served in the SAA) watch to see if/where terrorists are shooting from/at. “We organized ourselves, since 2011. We communicate with the army and give them targets, and they do the same with us,” he says of the watch for terrorist attacks.
We sit behind a wall of tires, some concrete blocks to one side serving as a defensive wall from behind which to watch for and shoot at terrorists. A second local defender appears, greets me with a friendly handshake, explains that in late 2013 terrorists managed to advance to the low hills to our right. But not since.
I ask Abu Abdo what he did prior to the war on Syria. A school principal, and he still is, he does the defense volunteering after hours….
They point to the land between Ta’aouna and the low hills flanking the village, and the start of Aqrab beyond.
“That small cement building on the land, right near there, about one month ago, a university student was shot in his head and killed, by a terrorist sniper. He was an engineering student.”
Earlier they’d told me about this, and about another university student who roughly 2 weeks ago was torn apart by shelling from terrorists in Aqrab. “He had just finished his exams,” they had said.
Descending from the roof, we walk past a nearby house, the children on the porch stoop. The second defense soldier tells me, with a proud smile, they are his kids. He takes me to the side of the house to show three creatively covered holes, “Dushkie” shots from the terrorists about 10 days ago.” READ MORE ABOUT THAT VISIT HERE
At the outskirts of al-Waer, Homs, I was urged not to remain standing at the checkpoint where I’d been watching civilians re-entering their district. I was told that some 2,000 + militants (this estimate may be too low) still remained in al-Waer, under a truce, but that they could violate it at any moment, hence sniping was a risk. READ MORE ABOUT THAT VISIT HERE.
On two occasions I’ve been sniped at by militants. In summer 2014 outside the walls of the Old City of Damascus, a sniper in Jobar fired my way, bullets whizzing past, startling a number of Syrian women and men sitting on the grass. In summer 2016, passing through the Damascus district of Barzeh, the taxi I was in was sniped at by a militant in that district (it is under a truce since early 2014. FSA within still have light arms).
On Nov 4, I was at the Castello road humanitarian crossing, along which in theory civilians (and even militants) who wished to leave militant-occupied areas could do so. While there, the road was shelled 2 times by militant factions. This video captured the 2nd shelling.
These are just some examples to highlight that even when reporting and taking testimonies of Syrians living in government-protected areas, it is not without great risk. The smear tactic of implying otherwise completely negates the hell that Syrian civilians have been living for years under these various types of attacks.
*Gas canister bombs litter the roads between Aleppo and the northern villages of Nubl and Zahra’a, which I visited in July 2016. It is such bombs, and larger water heater bomb variations (as well as Grad missiles, mortars and explosive bullets), which for years militant and terrorist factions were firing near-daily on the 1.5 million people of greater Aleppo, before liberation.
*Aleppo University residences housing well over 10,000 internally displaced Syrians from militant-occupied areas of Aleppo and its countryside for around 4 or more years. One of the residences was hit by a terrorist missile days prior to my 2nd November visit, killing four from one family alone.
Aleppo: How US & Saudi-Backed Rebels Target ‘Every Syrian’, MintPressNews, Nov 29, 2016, Eva Bartlett.
Aleppo and nearby villages ravaged by the U.S.’s “moderate” terrorists (Photo Essay), SOTT.net, Sep 8, 2016, Eva Bartlett
Western corporate media ‘disappears’ over 1.5 million Syrians and 4,000 doctors, SOTT.net, Aug 14, 2016, Eva Bartlett