The tragedies in Syria seem to have a magnetic pull on the worst kind of people, inviting them to live out their dark fantasies under the protection of the chaos that has engulfed all. The world has seen horror as Daesh has continually pushed the boundaries of obscenity in their mission to strike terror in the hearts of all who oppose them. Amnesty International’s report estimates the numbers of those who got tortured to death by the Assad regime to be somewhere between 17,700 to 60,000. multiple sources have confirmed cases of rape, starvation and other forms of inhumanity. As the numbers climb of the murdered, limbless, the homeless, the sightless, the fatherless and the motherless climb Syrians, and the wider world, have found a much needed force for good—the Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets.
The Emergence of Heroes
The White Helmets are group of approximately 3,000 volunteers from throughout Syria whose mission “is to save the greatest number of lives in the shortest possible time and to minimise further injury to people and damage to property”. The movement was born in 2013 in the Hanano district of Syria’s second city—Aleppo. As with many movements that become significant forces for change, the White Helmets were born out of necessity. Towards the end of 2012, Assad withdrew his forces from large areas of Northern and Southern Syria—areas considered to have strong rebel presence. In doing so, these areas became open to Syria’s and later, Russia’s Air Force. Warplanes have been able to fly freely drop incendiaries such as barrel bombs, napalm, white phosphorous and so on.
Seeing this destruction all around them, a group of volunteers responded by banding together and assisting the dying and injured victims of the bombardment. Volunteer centers were quickly established in Al-Bab, another city in the Aleppo province, and Douma—the heavily besieged city that lies just northeast of Damascus. The team’s first formal training started in March 2013 in Turkey. This move then helped spur the growth of the organization in terms of professionalism and size. Today they have close to 120 centers operating throughout the areas that are facing the worst of Assad’s bombing. To the force belong farmers, shopkeepers, police, teachers and taxi drivers. Several months ago they also started to recruit women.
Believe it or not, there are some who aggressively object the White Helmets and their mission. Some detractors from the Left have pointed to some of their funding sources (the governments of the UK, Holland, Denmark, Germany, Japan, and the USA) as evidence that they are an organisation aiming for a regime change in Syria. But given the dire situation in the Syrian country, one has to ask himself if it’s morally acceptable to now reject aid for people in need of any help they can get and instead fight over the sources of funding while continuing to carry out bombings on women and children.
Why have they been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize?
It’s estimated that the WHite Helmets have saved around 60,000 lives to date. They have also assisted with recovering bodies of the dead. All first-responders throughout the world face risks however, it is easy to see why the White Helmets face a substantially higher risk than most other do. The areas in which they operate are among the most dangerous and the most in need of medical assistance in the world. It is now well documented that pro-Assad airmen are using “double-tap” strikes—a technique in which the first bomb is followed by a second bomb targeting those who have rushed to help the injured—intended to kill first-responders. Because of this, 134 White Helmets have been martyred while in duty.
Simply having someone to call when a bomb strikes is an invaluable asset for Syrians living under bombardment and siege . Even more, having someone to talk to in the aftermath of an attack can bring great comfort to those with whom the White Helmets work. Perhaps most importantly, the White Helmets embody the spirit that is needed to attempt to achieve the impossible and try to rebuild a country that is now far beyond repair. They are a much needed reminder that sometimes the worst situations can bring out the best in people.