On my first trip to southern Turkey, where hundreds of thousands of Syrians now live as refugees, the humanitarian disaster unfolding across the region was impossible to ignore. And as bad as it was in southern Turkey, it was clearly worse inside Syria -- a place no aid worker or journalist could safely travel. Meanwhile, the first winter storm was fast approaching.
Here are some articles I wrote from that time:
- Syria Humanitarian Access A Growing Concern For Aid Groups
- Syrian Refugees Suffer Cuts To Food Aid And U.N. Bureaucracy
- Syria's Humanitarian Quagmire Worsens, U.N. Official Reports
- Journalists Javier Espinosa, Ricardo Garcia Vilanova Kidnapped In Syria, Newspaper Says
- Winter Storm Bears Down On Syrian Refugees In Desperate Need Of Blankets, Shelter
- Syrian People Struggle To Survive Humanitarian Disaster Hidden From Western Eyes
The rise of extremism inside Syria was also getting worse -- not only preventing journalists and aid workers from traveling there, but in some cases starting to drive Syrian revolutionaries out as well.
GAZIANTEP, Turkey -- A couple of months ago, Noureddine al-Abdo started feeling increasingly trapped inside his own house.
A popular and well-known opposition activist and citizen journalist, al-Abdo once had free rein over the liberated countryside he called home, in Syria's northwestern Idlib province.
"When the liberation happened, it was like a release -- we felt we were released," al-Abdo said recently. "The whole countryside of the north, from Homs to Aleppo to Bab al Hawa, I felt that it was mine."
There, for more than two years, he worked tirelessly to bring news about Syria's northern region to the world. He reported regularly to international media outlets, sometimes venturing out with armed brigades of Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters. When foreign reporters came to the country, he ferried them through the back roads of Idlib, and into more treacherous terrain to the east and south.
That feeling of freedom made the campaign against the rule of President Bashar Assad -- the risks and sorrows, the friends and close family members lost to war -- feel worth it, he said.
But lately, something has changed. A different kind of revolutionary fighter flooded parts of the north where Assad's forces were already defeated. They have set up random checkpoints and demanded strict adherence to Islamic religious law, targeting not just Westerners, but Syrians, too.