Tawasol Youth Group: Bridging the Syrian Divide

For over three years, groups working on nonviolent grassroots initiatives in Syria have made an effort to keep their identities hidden. Fear from reprisal by the regime, and the nature of the work itself, require that a large part of these initiatives that continue to be developed on the ground remain unpublicized. Such is the case of Tawasol Youth Group, a network that attempts to bridge the gap between Syrians who have fallen into different sides of the divide created by the regime.

In late 2011, a group of intellectuals, artists, business people, and political dissidents came together to try to find a channel to bridge the increasing divide between opposers of the Syrian regime and those content with the status quo. The nature of the reunion posed such a  threat for those involved that it remained unpublicized, to the extent that the group has no presence in online platforms such as Facebook, which is used by a large number of Syrian activists.

Tawasol Youth Group activists soon found themselves overwhelmed by the complexity of the challenges. Early in the uprising, they were largely focused on arrests and abductions, which contributed to igniting rivalry between neighborhoods linked to the regime and those opposed to it. “We tried to raise awareness about the dangers of abductions and arrests, and encouraged people to detach themselves from them to avoid fueling the cycles of violence, which was actually one of the regime’s aims”, activist Innana Barakat explained to SyriaUntold.

Dealing with the issues of abductions and kidnappings was much easier in the early stages of the uprising, according to the activists. “The situation is very different today, as the channels we created to bridge the Syrian divide do not work with armed groups that are foreign to the Syrian scenario and social fabric.”

Even though the core group was mainly made of opposition activists, Youth Contact managed to attract others who define themselves as non-politicized or neutral, and some who remained loyal to the regime as well, engaging them in aiding displaced Syrians and welcoming them in their homes. These activities increasingly put the activists on the regime’s radar. Some of its members were forced to leave the country, and the survival of the group itself was threatened for a period of time.

The group’s work includes media reports on the situation on the ground in different areas of the country, and the production of three films. The one entitled “Syria is a country, not a prison” is part of the campaign by the same name launched by the Network of Syrian Women. “Picking up Tulips” focuses on the refugee camps, putting the spotlight on issues such as early marriages and forced divorce, while “Levant” addresses the situation faced by women under siege inside the country.

The group also provides people in besieged areas with tools to produce their own films and tell their own stories from within, hoping that their voices can be heard, and contribute to bridging the increasing Syrian divide.

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Illustation by Dima Nechawi Graphic Design by Hesham Asaad