A friend of mine, Naji Jerf, was assassinated on the 27 of December 2015 in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep. He was a brave Syrian journalist and documentary film maker. During the past 5 years, his life has been an epic journey of escape from death. However, his fate was sealed last Sunday by a coward pistol bullet.
When the peaceful uprising started in Syria in March 2011, Naji was among the first people to participate in the demonstrations. His aspirations for freedom and democracy were more powerful than his fear from the Syrian regime oppressive machine. He was interrogated multiple times by the Syrian security apparatus and threatened of imprisonment and torture, but he did not flinch. The regime’s thugs harassed him repeatedly, but he was not silenced. However, in 2013 for the safety of his family, he was forced to leave Syria and seek refuge in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep.
During his stay in Gaziantep, he established and occupied the position of editor in chief of a magazine in Arabic language called, Hentah. Hentah started as a small caliber news magazine, according to its web site reporting on "the scenes of the everyday life of the Syrian citizen", with a focus on Naji’s small Syrian town, Salamiyeh. However, with time it transformed to be a national platform for Syrian civil society, in which aspirations and vision for new democratic and plural Syria are expressed. Due to his success with Hentah magazine, Naji was appointed in 2014 a director of an influential Syrian opposition media foundation, Bassmat Syria.
When the Islamic State of Iraq entered Syria in 2013 and declared the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), Naji was one of the first people to be alerted to the dangers that those barbaric jihadists could add to the Syrian messy situation. Early on, he denounced their extremist ideology. Later on, he documented the abuses and criminal behaviour committed by the leaders and fighters of this terrorist group against Syrians.
In April 2014, Naji launched, with the help of a number of Syrian activists, a media campaign entitled “Raqqa is being slaughtered silently”. Raqqa is a city in northern Syria, self-proclaimed capital of ISIL. Naji initiated this campaign, with a number of colleagues, to raise awareness of the suffering that Syrians are enduring under the rule of ISIL. This campaign has angered ISIL enormously, leading this extremist organization to slaughter two of the activists conducting this campaign in the southern Turkish city of Urfa on October 30, 2015.
However, Naji Jerf remained the most wanted man by ISIL. In the last few months, Naji has received many death threats from ISIL supporters. Last October, he discovered explosive devices in his car. Fortunately, they were detonated before they can cause any damage.
Despite all these threats, Naji continued his efforts to expose the criminal acts of ISIL. He recently produced and directed a documentary film entitled “ISIL in Aleppo”. In this film, Naji reported the atrocities that ISIL committed against the people of Aleppo, a city in the North of Syria, before this terrorist organization was forced to leave the city. This film was diffused on December 15, 2015 on “Al Arabyia” channel, one of the most watched Arabic satellite TV channels, and received unequivocal public approval.
It seems the latter film has sealed the fate of my friend the Syrian activist and journalist, Naji Jerf. Around 3:00 PM on December 27, 2015, he was assassinated by a bullet in his head in the middle of the street in the Turkish city of Gaziantep. He was rushed to the Hospital, but he did not survive. Soon after his assassination, ISIL members claimed, on social media, responsibility for this coward assassination. In their claim they mentioned the latest film produced and directed by Naji as a reason for the killing. Naji was supposed to leave Gaziantep indefinitely and go with his family to France on December 28, 2015 on a refugee visa in order to escape from ISIL threats. Unfortunately, ISIL was determined to kill him before he could leave, as the responsibility claim stated also.
Naji is survived by a loving wife and two daughters, Yem of 7 years and the 5-years-old Emessa. He is also remembered by a large number of Syrian activists that have been inspired by his courage and dedication. All of them say with a single voice “Rest in peace Naji”.
Image: Naji Jerf - Contributed by Dr. Haytham Khoury