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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Tragedy Strikes: Syrian Citizen Journalists and Poets Among Earthquake Victims

Monday , 13 March 2023
Photo credit: AP

On February 6, 2023, a 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck southern Türkiye and western Syria, claiming the lives of a filmmaker, six citizen journalists, and three poets.

One of the first casualties to be mourned was citizen journalist Ghayath Rajab, who died in Sarmad, Idlib countryside. Rajab had covered the Syrian revolution from its inception in 2011 and was displaced from his city, Daraya, in 2016. The Coordination Committee for the Displaced People of Daraya paid tribute to Rajab on its official Facebook page, noting that he was buried under the rubble of his own house.

Another citizen journalist, Ammar Al-Aswad, lost his life near the city of Salqin. Al-Aswad had recently married and had predicted the earthquake on his Twitter account. He was a member of the Hama Media Office and had served as the director of the Al-Rahma Al-Insaniya association in 2019, according to a report by Arknews.

In Türkiye’s southern region, Ahmad Hajj Moussa was mourned by the Aleppo Today channel on its Twitter page on February 8. Moussa was described as "one of the oldest managers of Aleppo Today in Syria" who had been visiting his family in Marash, the epicentre of the earthquake when he passed away.

Also on the same day, citizen journalist Mohammad Nazir Damlakhi died with his family after being trapped under rubble for two days in the southern Turkish city of Antakya, according to a report by Daraj. Known as the "Antakya Guardian," Damlakhi had documented battles and shelling in Aleppo from early 2016 until the regime regained control of the city. After relocating to Antakya with his family in 2016, he assisted citizen journalists and revolutionaries in recovering their social media accounts.

In Marash, Syrian poet Kamal Freih, his wife, and their five children died on February 9 when their house collapsed, according to a report by NoonPost. Freih, 41, was from Deir Ezzor's city of Al-Mayadeen and had worked as a teacher in Deir Ezzor until he left Syria in 2015 and settled in Marash.

Citizen journalist Tarek Kashtan, cofounder of the Ariha Today media office, was mourned on the office's Facebook page on February 11, along with his wife and baby, after their house collapsed in Antakya.

Journalist Yaman Khatib, who worked for the Aleppo Media Centre, and his family, including his parents and brothers, were among the twelve people who lost their lives in Hatay. Khatib's brother, Fadi Al-Halabi, shared his grief on Facebook, writing, "Here, I buried a part of my life, soul, heart, and hope. Here, I buried my life. Here is the grave of my beloved brother Yaman. It’s a pity if you never got to meet him but you’re also lucky not to feel the pain of losing him. His eldest son, Ahmad, died in his arms because Ahmad could never sleep before his father hugged him and told him a bedtime story. Next to him, his wife, Samah, and in her arms, her son Jad." Yaman Khatib worked for the Aleppo Media Centre. He had fled Aleppo in 2016 after the regime forces entered the city and had settled in Türkiye after living in Idlib for some time.

On February 13, Syrian poet Mohannad Halema, 43, was found dead under the rubble of his house in Antakya, according to a report published by the NoonPost website. Originally from Al-Haffah in Latakia countryside, Halema was the founder of the Arab Poet Forum, which included a large number of Arab poets, and served as the editor-in-chief of the Al-Shaer Al-Arabi (The Arab Poet) electronic magazine.

In the same city, Syrian director Aqaba Al-Sayid Ali died on Tuesday, February 14, after spending several days in intensive care following his rescue from the rubble where his parents had died days before, according to a report published by the NoonPost website.

Additionally, Syrian writer and dentist Mostafa Abdul-Fattah died on Tuesday, February 21, days after being rescued from the rubble of his own house in Antakya, as per a report published by the NoonPost website. M. Abdul-Fattah, 51, was transferred to a hospital in Gaziantep after being saved because he had kidney and breathing problems. Though his condition initially stabilised, he experienced constant pain and was eventually transferred to another hospital in Ankara, where his foot was amputated. Despite efforts to save him, his heart eventually stopped beating and he passed away.

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