Kate Chisholm

Crossing continents | 31 March 2016

Plus: should national borders matter and life advice from Marilynne Robinson

Could radio, and in particular a weekly soap, have a role to play in the Syrian crisis? You might think, no chance, given the levels of violence and terror that have overtaken the country. How can a mere broadcast signal have an impact compared with all that destruction? But, says the director of Radio Alwan, a station operated by Syrians living in exile in a western suburb of Istanbul, ‘radio is effective’. It’s a ‘weapon’ because it ‘allows you to enter the houses of people and talk to them’. It’s also so easy. ‘You don’t need power, you don’t need electricity — just two small batteries.’

He was talking to Sara Davies on Between the Ears (Radio 3, Saturday), but we cannot be told his name for fear of reprisals. All of those working on the station have had to leave Syria after criticising the regime of President Assad. What Radio Alwan has given them is the chance to do something, even though they are no longer in Syria. The station, which transmits to Syria on FM but can also be found online, has become very popular because it’s the place to go to find out what’s happening. From Istanbul, they are constantly in touch by mobile phone with people in towns all across Syria and can report from inside the country on what’s really going on.

But the station is also about hope, and is determined to show that Syrians are ‘good people’. We heard lots of laughter from inside the office, singing too, and from the team of both male and female presenters. Meanwhile the director of the weekly drama serial, Sad Northern Nights, hopes it will change minds. It is deliberately targeted at women and tells the story of a mother and her teenage son who is caught up in the fighting.

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