This article is part of Looking inside the uprising; a joint project between SyriaUntold and openDemocracy.
Poster courtesy of The Syrian People Know Their Way collective.
Razan Ghazzawi is a blogger from Syria who started blogging using an alias, Golaniya, when Israel launched a war against Lebanon in 2006. She blogged against racism towards Syrian workers in Lebanon, where she completed her master’s degree. Ghazzawi started blogging under her real name two years later advocating along many Syrian bloggers for freedom of speech in her country. When the Syrian revolution broke out in March 2011,Ghazzawi was among those who disseminated updates on demonstrations taking place across Syria using her real name. She was detained twice during the revolution due to her work with the Syrian Center for Media Freedom. Her colleagues, bloggers Hussein Ghrer and Hani Zetani and her boss Mazen Darwich, are still in prison ever since regime security forces raided SCM office in Damascus 16th February 2012. Ghazzawi lived in Kafranbel for almost a year in 2013 where she founded Karama Bus for psychosocial support that targets internally displaced children in Idleb suburbs. She received a Front Line Defenders' award in 2012.
It started some time ago, round about 2008, when you're being trained by some hot-shot lawyer through emails and small chit-chats online, on how to write a statement calling for the release of a detained blogger. A few years later, there is an uprising in your country and you find yourself collaborating closely with the same lawyer whose contribution to the uprising is, like many others who remain unknown, heroic.
Uprisings go through ups and downs – and now you find yourself campaigning for her own release; reading drafts of statements with her name on, writing articles about her - like this one – in which you attempt to ‘humanise’ this hot-shot lawyer on the world stage, where she has now mostly become a 'cause' to advocate for.
I have written so many times before, Razan is my role model and my mentor. But that's not the whole story. Of course, campaigning for Razan is showing solidarity. But mostly, it's a defence mechanism. When you are caged and scared of what the next minutes, hours, and weeks might bring, you would want someone to make this kind of noise and effort for you.
I am not sure if I’m right, but I have noticed over the past three years that people who are still living inside Syria seem keener to “do something” than those who “left” Syria recently. Inside Syria, campaigning and calling for or against any thing is no longer solidarity, it’s a way of staying alive.
I was in Syria when I heard news of Razan's kidnapping. I remember I was standing, having just entered the room, and Raed who was seated on the ground looked up and said, “They kidnapped Razan.” I sat down, checked my Facebook page and I remember not being able to read. I went to the other room and cried. Razan had asked me to leave the North if ISIS was approaching Kafranbel. She urged me not to take ISIS lightly. Then she got abducted.
I was working non-stop on a project at the time, and could not find time for friends, family or any other potential collaboration. I was working flat out, and without electricity most of the time too. Those who are outside will advocate for Razan, I said to myself. I can't. A few months later I left the North and Syria. I went to Lebanon for my “recovery phase,” and there I was became a hermit. I went nowhere - not even to a pro-revolution meeting. Nor did I take part in anything except taking care of myself. I was my only priority. Nevertheless, I couldn't keep myself away from one thing in these five months; Razan. We, my friends and family members, started organizing a campaign for the #Douma4. We worked hard, and the outcomes, I think, were fair.
Why did I get involved in the campaign? Because my recovery from war would be permanently on pause, certainly delayed, if I didn't do something for Razan. There were times, of course, when I thought, I can’t do this any more. I am psychologically and physically tired and my love life is in decline. I thought about quitting the campaign. But only two minutes later I am sending follow-up emails. It's personal, what I feel about Razan. She is not a 'public figure' for me, nor even the 'human rights advocate.' She is my personal mentor.
Actually, the story of me and Razan has several phases. And this text is one that must be read as a sort of bearing witness on the part of one revolutionary woman on behalf of another.
Very early in the revolution, when I started tweeting on the ground in Syria, on February 16, 2011, at the Families of the Detainees sit-in, the security forces and Shabiha had launched a fierce attack, hitting out at families, activists and human rights lawyers. I arrived after the three-minute sit-in had finished under attack. Razan had managed to escape. Then she stood up in court to defend all of those who were detained on that day. She even published some of the quotes she had recorded from her defendants. I remember Maimouna Ammar at the time was pregnant and Razan published her comment in court. Never take forgranted the lawyer who chooses to defend political defendants in days like these. At the time, the regime and its Shabiha were wondering: is revolution in the air? If it is, it must not happen.
During these days, I was tweeting in English under @Razaniyyat. Several journalists and followers started mixing me up with Zeitounah. Razan is a common name in Syria. They thought, she's the one tweeting under @Razaniyyat. She would forward all these emails to me. One Dutch magazine introduced me by mistake as her. In my first detention by the security forces, the investigator asked me: are you related to Razan Zeitounah? Ever since, I have asked myself the question: Was he stupid, or am I really missing something here? How could Ghazzawi and Zeitounah ever be related? I wonder. I actually had to answer for this “crime": no, my name is Razan Ghazzawi, not Zeitounah. I had to spell out the words for him to get the logic, I guess.
In my second period of detention, ironically enough, the investigator did not ask me one thing about the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression. In fact he was not asking me anything. Instead he was talking - talking about Razan, Ghiath Matar and Yahia Shurbaji. Only one conversation ever took place between me and Yahia, only one. He thought I was involved in Razan's circle, and I was not. I just happened to carry the same name, “Razan.”
It was only upon my release from my second imprisonment that I started working for her. It only lasted a short while because I wanted to be active on the ground. I don't want online work – regardless of how important it might be. On a side note, Razan thought my documentation was good and she was all for training me to be better at it. But I wanted to work in the grassroots, and I picked other responsibilities in the same revolution.
Between me and Razan there are those tiny stories that do not belong to and cannot be classified as one of those typical close relationships between friends. We weren't friends. To me, she was the woman whose path is always crossing mine, a hard working woman who values human life more than any other values favored by other humans. She believes everyone is equal and everyone deserves the same treatment from law. Razan is a true human rights activist who doesn’t just write statements, but actually commits to advocating human rights and equality in her daily life.
Razan cannot be racist, sexist, Islamophobic, homophobic or carry a prejudice, she only targets abusers. An abuser is he who commits a form of injustice against another. Period. Razan's idea of human life is this simple, and it's quite admirable to see it remain the same during the world's most recent crisis. That's Razan, that's my mentor; despite knowing her name neither the world, nor many Syrians, even know her.
US, Qatar, Iran and Russia can bring her back. Those states can bring our people in detention, or kidnapped by armed groups, back if they want to.They just don't.
Razan's family, and the families of all detainees and captives, are the ones who will carry this fight. There is no "end" to this fight.
And we, people in solidarity, will stand behind them.
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