For several years, I have been involved in human rights campaigning and journalism about the war in Syria. This began at the start of 2014 when a blog post of mine on the need to stop Assad’s bombing of civilians was republished by a UK website called Left Foot Forward.

Feeling that more was needed, I began a solo online campaign, titled Syria needs a No-Fly Zone, trying to make a rational evidence-based argument for taking action to protect civilians. Many others had made the argument before me — and Syrians had been calling for a no-fly zone since October 2011 — but I tried to gather facts and ideas in one place, and to present them clearly and persistently. I avoided disturbing imagery, using blue skies as a visual theme for the campaign.

Later in 2014, I began doing design and communications work for Syria Solidarity UK, an all-volunteer activist group. That led in September 2015 to organising a meeting in Parliament for the first time. This was an event promoting a collective call by Syrian civil society organisations for action to stop the bombing, under the banner of Planet Syria. In the audience was Jo Cox, a newly-elected Labour MP who peppered the speakers with questions.

Organising the Planet Syria event led to meeting MPs, amongst them Alison McGovern and John Woodcock, and to my staffing the secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Friends of Syria. Jo Cox co-chaired the cross-party group along with Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell. The secretariat was funded for the first few months by The Syria Campaign, and then from summer 2016 onward I did the work as a volunteer.

From the Planet Syria event, I understood that meetings in Parliament do not often draw a great number of MPs. To inform and influence the thinking of Parliament and Government, the APPG would need a wider reach. Emails are easy to send of course, but just as easy to ignore. So at my first meeting with Jo Cox and John Woodcock and their staff to plan the APPG’s work, I suggested publishing a print newsletter, gathering writing on Syria that MPs might not otherwise see. I brought with a dummy issue of what I had in mind, titling it Syria Notes.

My other task was to help identify speakers for a series of meetings leading to a report. These were themed humanitarian, diplomatic, and military, the three strands of policy that Jo Cox argued needed to be brought together and centred on a strategy to protect civilians in Syria.

Jo Cox was very unusual amongst MPs, with a sharp understanding of what was needed which she communicated clearly at every opportunity. She was convinced that success required working cross-party. In the spring of 2016 we coordinated on calls for a no-fly zone, referred to as a no-bombing zone by Jo, and for aid airdrops to civilians besieged by Assad’s forces. Russia was also bombing Syrian schools and hospitals, so we called for the publication of aircraft tracking data to identify culpability for the targeting of civilians. By May of that year, it looked like we were having some effect on UK policy.

The murder of Jo Cox by a far-right extremist in June 2016 was devastating.

After Jo was killed, her friend Alison McGovern took on co-chairing the APPG. But the Brexit referendum meant a change in the UK’s political leadership, and a change in priorities. Government support for aid airdrops vanished. In September 2016, a UN aid convoy west of Aleppo was deliberately bombed, reportedly by Russian planes. The US military said they had tracking data on this attack, but they didn’t publish it. In the months that followed, both Assad and Putin’s forces bombed Aleppo city with impunity, and it fell to the dictatorship in December 2016.

It was after the fall of Aleppo that my Syrian friend M. said we should find a new way of working, and try to be independent and self-sustaining. We had experienced the difficulty of trying to influence superpowers, and felt we needed to develop superpowers of our own. We formed Superpower Partners in early 2017.

I continued volunteering with the APPG through 2017. M. was increasingly involved, doing research, making connections, and filming videos. We worked to inform parliamentarians not just of Assad and Putin’s crimes, but also of the terrible casualties in the Coalition’s siege of Raqqa, where they decided to bottle up the remaining civilian population along with the ISIS fighters, attacking anyone who tried to escape, and precisely bombing so many structures that by the end of the siege eighty percent of the city was in ruins.

By early 2018, political commitment to the APPG was ebbing away. M. and I decided to start publishing Syria Notes independently, and to produce more original and in-depth journalism. We changed the format, with a smaller page size but higher page count, and began printing in colour.

In 2019, we began taking on commissioned work through Superpower Partners. Since then, we’ve designed recipe books, annual reports for war crimes investigators, animation telling the story of the Syrian revolution, and documentaries about Syrian women activists. We even did a comic about life under siege, commissioned by an American underground comics publisher, which we reprinted as a special issue of Syria Notes.

Carrying on with Syria Notes has been hard and painful. Our book-length issue on Area 55 is hopefully just a taste of what is to come. We began by moving from advocacy to campaigning journalism, and now we find ourselves also writing history. These are stories that demand to be respected, remembered and understood.