War without rules: Syria’s White Helmets between recognition and bitter reality

By Monika Griefahn

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As a way of sending out a message against the war in Syria the Right Livelihood Award Foundation this year gave one of its four Right Livelihood Awards – also often referred to as the Alternative Nobel Prizes – to the Syrian White Helmets. What courageous people! In this war, which has been raging for several years and in which all rules seem to have been thrown overboard, the White Helmets rescue those who have been injured or buried alive from destroyed buildings and from the debris of their lives. Watching footage of their work gives me goose bumps. And then, only one day after the awards were announced, a large portion of their equipment was destroyed in the relentless bombing in Aleppo. I am helpless with rage.

The White Helmets, also known as the Syrian Civil Defence, are a group of around 3,000 volunteers who have been risking their lives since 2013 in order to save others. They’ve been able to save tens of thousands of people from the rubble of war, regardless of their religion or their political views. They also attempt to reconstruct damaged infrastructure and to educate people about safety measures so that they learn how to better protect themselves. The war turned tailors, teachers and merchants alike into fire fighters and emergency relief workers. Many of them have been killed in the most recent fighting. We mourn for them all!

It is good to know that even in times of such dramatic circumstances as we currently witness them in Syria humanity can persevere. It’s good that the barbarism of others won’t rub off on those who believe in the good. I hope that being honoured with an Alternative Nobel Prize will help the White Helmets in Syria to not lose their courage.

Ahmad al-Youssef is a member of the Syrian Civil Defence. He travelled to Stockholm for the awards ceremony and, at the end of November, also spoke before the newly founded parliamentary group „Alternative Nobel Prize“ in the German Bundestag. Afterwards, the MP Michael Brand read al-Youssef’s speech before the parliament. Many thanks for that.

Ahmad al-Youssef’s speech:

„My name is Ahmad al-Youssef. I am from Syria and I am here to represent the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as White Helmets, the only organisation dedicated to rescuing civilians who are victims of the daily bombings in Syria. We have approximately 3,000 volunteers spread across 120 bases who have decided to put their lives on the line in order to save human lives in one of the most dangerous places on earth where the morals of the world have disappeared in the face of barbarism and the organised crime that is being perpetrated against not only the Syrian people but against all of mankind. To be completely frank, I am at a complete loss – I am standing helplessly before you as well as before my relatives in Syria – and especially before those in the eastern region of Ghuta near Damascus as well as in Aleppo. Aleppo, where the world is watching today how people are being slaughtered, and where the world is watching how entire cities are being destroyed.

To be honest I hesitated before agreeing to come here. I remember my comrades, my 150 comrades of the Civil Defence, who, when performing their work attempting to save human lives, were killed themselves. I have spoken to many of them and I have left them behind. They are looking death in the eye and I don’t know what message I should take back to them.

We appreciate greatly the fact that you have decided to bestow this award upon us. We are thankful for all awards because they are messages of solidarity that give us hope. We are also thankful for the ambulances and fire engines that you send us and that help us rescue civilians before they’re bombed by Syrian and Russian planes. At the same time I feel embarrassed to accept these awards while our relatives in Syria are being killed on a daily basis.

At this very moment while I am speaking to you civilians in eastern Aleppo are being made homeless. They escape from catastrophe. They walk through rubble looking for shelter. Meanwhile the injured are bleeding to death in the face of the doctors‘ inability to offer them medications or treatment after Syrian and Russian planes have destroyed all hospitals and clinics. Image for once how dramatic this situation is. What’s happening in Syria is an indescribable and unbelievable horror, and the incapability of the world to initiate steps in order to end all this is just as unbelievable! What will come of all this, the tragedies, the pain and the hatred is also unbelievable.

We carry the message of life to our people and into the world. Where are our partners? Who is prepared to aid us in Syria in the face of death and to accompany us on the path of life? Stand by us, ladies and gentlemen! Stand by us! Stand by humanity!“

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Speech of Michael Brand in the German parliament.

More about the Syrian White Helmets.

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