"I am the first Syrian journalist who happened to wear body armor and a helmet; I was arrested and taken prisoner. To top it off, I am one of the first Syrian journalists wounded in the discharge of my professional duties," Yara Saleh told Sputnik.
The thirty-two-year-old anchorwoman from state television channel Al-Ekhbariya arrived in the military zone 8 months after the start of the conflict that broke out in March 2011 and accompanied the government's forces for two and a half years.
As journalists, they were supposed to cover the entry of Syrian troops into the cities, accompany Arab observers, and show Syrians and the world the testimony of local residents in areas captured by militant groups. Yara does not refer to them as anything other than "terrorists."
"The war gained momentum, the troops took cities by storm, and there was a lot of misinformation about the situation in the territories controlled by them. The army was incriminated with theft, destruction, violence, and murder. The Syrian army was guilty every time, and the civilian was always a victim. And then we began to follow the army in order to document its entrance into every town so that from the very beginning we could deliver the story from the field. At first, that was our mission. And only then they began to call us war correspondents. We were there to inform about what was going on," Yara explains.
"People were killed; they were killed and thrown into the Orontes River. It was a slaughter, and we had to tell about it."
Damascus, the north of Daraa, Idlib and Deir ez-Zor, as well as the provinces of Homs, Hama, and Latakia — this is an approximate route that the journalist crossed in two and a half years, a period comparable to the service tenure in the Syrian army.
Yara and her film crew were repeatedly targeted by militant groups; the journalist says that during these long months, by her account, she saw death, destruction, fear of civilians in the regions captured by those who would later call themselves the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Hell in the Thralls of the Free Syrian Army
One of the worst pages of her work as a war correspondent, if not to say her whole life, is connected with them. In the summer of 2012, her 4-person crew was captured by the FSA near the village of Al-Tall, a western suburb of Damascus. After 6 days, three were released, and the operator's assistant was "executed: 60 bullets were fired at him."
"The leader of the terrorists issued a religious decree (fatwā), sentencing us to death. Then they were ordered to leave the journalists alive, to then exchange them for terrorists, but Hatem (assistant cameraman, ed. note) had already been shot dead," Yara recalled in a trembling voice with tears in her eyes.
Then comes the confused story of six days of "horror, humiliation, beatings and rape attempts," a promise to "dismember her", but the story unfailingly ends with the flashback of Hatem's death.
"I have his face in front of my eyes when they dragged him to execution," Yara says.
According to her account, before they killed him, the group was asked if anyone wanted to sacrifice themselves to save him, and Yara volunteered to do it.
"It was a sincere desire; I believe that I am responsible for the crew. Then, after we were released, his mother came to me to find out where her son, who had left with me was. It was very hard. It is unthinkable for me that one Syrian can kill another. I was sure that they were not Syrians. But it turned out that they were Syrians, some of whom studied with me (before the war, ed. note)," Yara specifies.
Fifteen days after being released, Yara began to work again. She learned about the death of her colleague Yara Abbas; saw her comrade being wounded by a shell fragment, and after two and a half years she decided to leave the work of a war correspondent.
"I have developed a feeling of guilt for the fate of colleagues. Perhaps, because of my desperate courage, my coworkers followed me, and I felt guilty. Then my mother asked me to leave this job, she was very worried about me. But our creed continues, and a new generation of journalists has come to replace us," Yara says.
*Daesh is a terrorist organization banned in Russia.
The views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.