Who or What is Ahvaaz [Avaaz]?
And, why do veteran combat journalsts working for major news organizations trust Avaaz with their lives in getting into, and when inside, the Baba Amr quarter of Homs, Syria, which has been beseiged by the Syrian army on a mission to exterminate “Islamist terrorism”?
The name of an organization [a “global advocacy group”, The Telegraph coyly calls them] called Avaaz, has been mentioned as cooridinating closely with journalists covering the Syrian uprising, and in connection with their arrivals in besieged places like Baba Amr.
Their website is available in 14 or 15 languages at www.avaaz.org, here, they are on Twitter [@avaaz], and also Facebook — and they are interested in global matters — the oceans, the Amazon, the internet, and now Syria — identifying themselves as “a campaigning community” with 13 million members.
Their website says: “Avaaz—meaning ‘voice’ in several European, Middle Eastern and Asian languages—launched in 2007 with a simple democratic mission: organize citizens of all nations to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want … Where other global civil society groups are composed of issue-specific networks of national chapters, each with its own staff, budget, and decision-making structure, Avaaz has a single, global team with a mandate to work on any issue of public concern–allowing campaigns of extraordinary nimbleness, flexibility, focus, and scale. Avaaz’s online community can act like a megaphone to call attention to new issues; a lightning rod to channel broad public concern into a specific, targeted campaign; a fire truck to rush an effective response to a sudden, urgent emergency; and a stem cell that grows into whatever form of advocacy or work is best suited to meet an urgent need”…
UPDATE: Julian Borger reported here in The Guardian on Tuesday night [28 February] that Avaaz was founded in 2007.
Borger adds that Avaaz “emerged out of activist groups in the US and Australia, including ResPublica, GetUp! and MoveOn.org. Its founding president is Ricken Patel, a Canadian-British veteran of the International Crisis Group, a global thinktank, and MoveOn.org, a progressive American group. He runs a team of campaigners around the world, with offices in New York, Rio, Delhi, Madrid and Sydney”.
And, Borger added. Avaaz “has taken on a prominent and more physically risky role in the Arab spring, providing satellite phones and other communication equipment to pro-democracy groups in Libya, Egypt and Syria … Amid the bloodshed of Syria, the organisation’s commitment is less likely to be queried. The question its critics are raising now is whether a group that started out in the high-tech safety of the internet has found itself out of its depth in a brutal conflict in the real world”.
While the first time I recall hearing the name Ahvaaz was in connection with an “uprising” against the Islamic Republic regime installed in Tehran that the Iranian authorities strongly believe was coordinated with the American CIA + British secret services, they also seemed to have some kind of association with the MEK — or, Mujahedeen-e-Khalq = a supposedly “leftist’ movement that was part of the resistance to the Shah of Iran prior to the Iranian revolution, but was then persecuted, and took up arms against the Islamic Republic, when they found an ally in Saddam Hussein who offered them shelter and a base came which they are now evacuating for relocation as refugees around the world, under great pressure.
Ahvaaz, if I am not mistaken [will check] is the Persian version of the name of [CORR: the capital city of Khuzestan, the] Arabic-speaking province [Ahwaz] in south-western Iran, bordering Iraq, the Shatt al-Arab, and the north-western shore of Iran along the Persian Gulf. It was in the Ahvaaz province that the first clashes in the terrible Iran-Iraq war [end 1979 to August 1989] took place, between the freshly-installed Islamic Republic and a Saddam Hussein backed by the U.S., by all Arab states [officially, at least] and by all the “civilized world”.
Ahvaaz came in big, internationally, in social media more recently at a late phase of the Tahrir Square protests — and though nobody knew who they were, exactly, many otherwise savvy people were enthusiastic to support, if not join, their calls for signing petitions, etc., in support of the Tahrir movement.
Like the MEK, Avaaz seems to be very media-savvy, and have expertise in modern technology.
But, Avaaz is functioning differently than the MEK at the height of its influence. Avaaz is concentrating on social media, and video postings on the internet, as well as their new role of helping “smuggle” journalists into battle zones in closed Syria via routes they have access to in neighboring countries [Lebanon, and possibly Turkey — the Israel government is surely aware of this, but keeping a judicious quiet].
The Avaaz website explains this under the heading, Breaking the Middle East Black-out:
“Funded by donations from almost 30,000 Avaazers, an Avaaz team is working closely with the leadership of democracy movements in Syria, Yemen, Libya and more to get them high-tech phones and satellite internet modems, connect them to the world’s top media outlets, and provide communications advice. We’ve seen the power of this engagement — where our support to activists has created global media cycles with footage and eyewitness accounts that our team helps distribute to CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and others. The courage of these activists is unbelievable — a skype message read ‘state security searching the house, my laptop battery dying, if not online tomorrow I’m dead or arrested’. He’s ok, and together we’re helping to get his and many other voices out to the world”
But, in Syria, things are not ok.
[Due to the dire situation, presumably, there is no particular information about Syria, at the moment, on the Avaaz website… UPDATE Yet, Avaaz states, here, that it “has been working with activists on the Syrian Spring since it started, setting up a network of over 400 Citizen Journalists across the country, smuggling in medicines and international journalists to report on the unfolding story and campaigning to ensure that sanctions and political pressure are applied on the Assad regime. The organisation is entirely funded by small donations from its members”.
UPDATE: An article published on The Guardian website last July, here, reports that “Since 2009, Avaaz has not taken donations from foundations or corporations, nor has it accepted payments of more than $5,000. Instead, it relies simply on the generosity of individual members, who have now raised over $20m. Much of this money goes towards specific campaigns. This year, $1.5m was raised to supply cameras to citizen journalists throughout the Arab world; as a result, much of the footage currently coming out of Syria was filmed on equipment provided by Avaaz”. The BBC picked up and rewrote this today, reporting rather lazily, here, that “Avaaz says it is independent and accountable because since 2009 it has been wholly member-funded”.]
Why should journalists trust Avaaz with their lives, as Marie Colvin did?
And, why are French photographers and filmmakers working so closely with Avaaz? [Are French photographers just more passionate and curious about the world? Or, do they have some kind of official backing?…]
If Avaaz is behind the recent quantum leap in improvement in the filming and video streaming of protests throughout Syria — particularly the dancing protests highlighted in our previous post — they deserve a lot of credit for their skills.
By comparison, the MEK, before it was labelled by the US as “terrorist organization”, a label which they have been fighting, used to function less as “local fixers” who can boost a foreign correspondent’s impact and reach, and more as an effective pressure group which was in regular contact with members of Congress and other governments, as well as everyone’s editors — and if a journalist didn’t seem enthusiastic about publishing their news, they would threaten to go to one’s editors. They implied that they could promote journalists’ careers — or of having them black-listed, and fired … Like other powerful and effective lobbies, the MEK traded in influence, and was feared.
More to follow later…