Syrian writer Razan Zaitouneh was the winner of the 2011 RAW in WAR Anna Politkovskaya Award, an annual prize given to a woman human rights defender from a conflict zone in the world. Here she addresses the Russian journalist in whose name the prize is awarded – who was killed in Moscow in 2006 by unknown forces – about the winner of this year’s award, Marie Colvin, the Sunday Times correspondent who was killed in Syria earlier this year.
I feel the irony of fate. Firstly, because I am writing to you again, Anna Politkovskaya, following a year, which passed like a century while we still run between dream and death. Secondly, because I have been commissioned to present the award in your name to another woman who left us while trying to convey the truth that cost her life.
Marie Colvin, the courageous reporter, never feared searching for truth in the face of death. Marie went to many countries wracked by wars and conflict to bear witness. She lost her eye while covering the civil war in Sri Lanka.
In Syria, Marie chose the capital of the revolution, Homs, to report, both in sound and through images, an aspect of the revolution that the regime turned into an all-out war against the Syrians. Marie was not wrong in her choice. At that time, Homs was the whole event, the focus of most journalists, the symbol of the revolution, and the symbol of survival despite voracious death.
Right up to the last, Marie Colvin was sending reports that show the ugly crimes committed against the city and its people. Within a few seconds, she became the headline and content of the news.
About seventy foreign reporters and local citizen-journalists died during the months of the revolution. The regime’s shells and tanks do not differentiate between one who holds the camera and the pen, the demonstrator who holds banners, or the child who holds his future in his small hands. Everyone, without exception, is a target of a destructive, insatiable machine.
It does not distinguish between Syrians and non-Syrians, as long as they have the vocabulary of freedom and truth in their dictionary: Marie Colvin, Rémi Ochlik, Mazhar Tayyara, Basil Shehadeh, Rami al-Sayed, Anas Tersheh, Mika Yamamoto, Hassan Azhari and dozens of others.
We often followed their reports and videos and spread their news, without paying attention to those behind the camera, handset or computer screen. It was only later that we realized they were always in the grip of death.
It is said that the shoes of Marie Colvin led to her death. She removed them upon entering the hall of the building that was used as a revolutionary media centre in the area. When the shelling began, Marie rushed to retrieve her shoes in order to flee with the others, but the shell did not wait. She and her colleague, Rémi, and others were killed.
It seems a shameful, humiliating fact, yet also demonstrates, Anna, the reality of a country where practicing any form of life, with the daily, trivial minutiae that make us ordinary human beings, has become impossible.
The number of martyrs is over thirty thousand, including about 2,650 children and more than 1,700 women. We are working hard to collect their photos and curiously intervene in the details of their lost lives, desperately trying to keep mementos of their existence. This is a fraction of our duty toward them, but is also an important part of resisting death carried out by us, the living.
There is not a stone left unturned in my country – the government army’s relentless destruction has made sure of that. Normally, we hear the roar of a plane, and after a few seconds, we hear the sound of shelling. We wait a little bit to start counting the martyrs and watch a video showing that what was once a building with floors, apartments, furniture, child beds, family pictures and toys has become a pile of dust and stones.
Ancient neighbourhoods and markets, that store our memories and are part of our history, and lanes, a womb of our memories, were burned to the ground and our hearts burned with them.
Maybe I do not have the right to complain, Anna. You paid with your life for what you believed in. Marie, who we honour today in your name, paid the same price. As did your friend and the first recipient of the award, Natalia Estemirova, in Chechnya. However, I just cannot fathom the dull stupidity of the world, of governments and regimes east and west! I feel there is no difference between your government, which was responsible for your death, Anna, through shameful standing with a criminal and murderous regime, and the governments that condemned your killing, as they have condemned the killing of thousands of my people. They do not find an “incentive”, a sufficient interest, to defend human lives by more than a few trite words.
Words are yours alone, Anna, you and Marie Colvin, Rami al-Sayed, Jel Jakiye, Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, Mohammed Badie al-Kasem, and all the others who gave a new meaning to words and images, with a lot of love and determination.
Finally, let me, in your name, Anna Politkovskaya, honour your courageous colleague, Marie Colvin. I would like also to honour everyone carrying the obsession of freedom and truth in their heart; in Syria, which is tired and sad but determined to realize freedom; in occupied Palestine; in Chechnya; in Darfur; in Afghanistan; in the countries of the Arab Spring; in states where people do not have a chance of resurrection; in Iran, where the people aspire to be liberated from tyranny; and in every corner of this world, where people are still suffering to live in freedom and dignity.
RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in WAR) is an international human rights NGO supporting women human rights defenders and women and girl victims of war and conflict around the world www.rawinwar.org