This article was originally published in Paroles Syriennes (Syrian Stories) on the 7th of February 2014.
This article is the second in a short series on Hawa SMART, an entirely new Syrian radio which emerged with the new year on the 1st of January 2014, and which is based in Gaziantep, in southern Turkey, 50 km from the Syrian border.
Hawa Smart is the only opposition-driven Syrian radio that successfully broadcasts on FM across the entire country. Syrians can listen in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Idleb, and Deir Ez Zor.
This radio is the result of collaboration between SMART and the French organisation ASML (Association de Soutien aux Médias Libres, medialibre.fr). The launch has gone very well – you can hear about it on France Inter’s 40-minute report (listen here), the National Dutch Television (here, also aired in Belgium), as well as on RFI (listen here)
You can listen to the radio itself by following this link: http://tunein.com/radio/Hawa-SMART-1032-s204859/
A NATIONAL AUDIENCE
Hawa SMART stands out from other Syrian radio stations born after 2011, as it is the only station broadcast over FM to a large majority of Syrian territory. The majority of new radios do not have the logistical capacities to broadcast on FM into a country at war. Thus, the majority of these are “web radio,” shared via the Internet. Though in Europe we might take Internet access for granted, it is not so in Syria. The majority of people do not have electricity, and even fewer have internet access. The audience of these web radios is thus unfortunately very small.
Thus, Syrians today are rediscovering the virtues of older technologies - such as FM radio.
Ali, the director of Hawa SMART, explains:
“FM is key. Damascus and Homs are inaccessible, besieged by the regime. Many people are isolated from the world and are without access to any information from the outside world. It is primarily these people that we want to address. To tell them, they have not been forgotten. Then, to help them survive.”
Herein is the magic of the radio. The waves can pass the roadblocks and cross the frontlines, making radio the best way to reach those isolated by the war.
Zoya, the station’s main presenter and director of the news service ads: “When I am live on the radio, I’m always struck by this. It’s very moving to think that people who live in Damascus, the city that I had to leave, can hear me. Even if I have left them, I can now help them.”
The programs have to two main goals. The first is to get crucial information to the population to help save lives. The second is to plant future seeds of peace, tolerance, and democracy.
TRANSMITTING VITAL INFORMATION
Every morning the radio broadcasts an economic program summarizing the availability, shortages, and costs of basic necessities by region. Presented by Linda, this program permits people to know where to get bread, gasoline, and so on – but also to help guide the work of humanitarian relief, to indicate to them where the needs are the most urgent. A second program, “Kif Al-tariqq”, (How Are The Roads), is a daily update on travel possibilities within the country. With reporters spread across the country, the program describes how to get from point A to point B, sharing information about the positions of roadblocks and checkpoints set up by the regime and radical Islamists, the positions of snipers, and in which areas people should absolutely stay home. Finally, a third program, “Hakim SMART”, hosted by Dr. Oussama, gives medical advice and sends out alerts in case of outbreaks of disease, and gives advice about how to avoid contagion.
BUILDING THE FUTURE
However, the goals of the radio are not limited to emergency management. The team also aims to prepare the country for the future, and thus to reduce separation between Syrians.
Zoya explains this goal: “What we want to do is to educate Syrians about the richness and variety of cultures which make up our nation. We want to reduce the misunderstandings between the different religions and ethnicities. We want them to identify with each other, and that the Druze, Christians, Alawites, and Sunnis cease to be strangers with each other.”
This is the goal of the program “Ana Souri” (I am Syrian), which discusses different cultures, highlighting the richness of diversity. It hopes to reduce fear of the unknown, using national identity as a common link.
The program “Hop Hop”, the name of the former bus in Damascus, has a similar goal. The program takes the listener on a tour of villages and cities in Syria. In each installment, the program stops in a particular location to learn about daily life (before and after the beginning of the revolution), local customs, cusisine and arts.
There is also a time reserved every day for the broadcast of songs from Syrian minorities. These many cultures include Kurdish, Aramean, Circassian, Turkemen, and so on, and these songs educate Syrians about the beauty and richness of cultural pluralism.
Ali concludes: “Since 2011, the regime of Bashar al-Assad has tried to set Syrians against each other: the Christians against the Muslims, the Kurds against everyone, and to call those who opposed his repression and dictatorial power a ‘terrorist.’ From our side, we are responding with a message of peace for all Syrians.”
Article written by Armand Hurault.
Translation by Laura Morris