Sputnik News — April 13, 2017
The so-called Syrian Civil Defense (SCD), commonly known as the White Helmets, was founded in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2013 by former British officer James Le Mesurier.
In the following years, the SCD grew to a full-fledged organization of some 3,000 volunteers operating from over a hundred local civil defense centers across Syria. The SCD is sponsored by the aid agencies of a number of governments, such as the UK Commonwealth Office, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
“It would not be correct to call the White Helmets the propagandist organization of the anti-Damascus alliance. But in the last three years, they received up to €100 million ($107 million), mostly spent on PR and relations with media. They work on the ground, but only in the areas where Islamist groups operate,” Guilliard noted.
The activists brought up the situation in eastern Aleppo where White Helmets members were active.
“They worked [in Aleppo] in close cooperation with al-Nusra Front militants. After the militants were defeated in Aleppo the White Helmets left the city,” he said.
Guilliard also said that there is already a humanitarian organization under the name “Syrian Civil Defense,” but unlike the White Helmets, it is “unbiased” and does not call for “NATO’s involvement and no-fly zones in Syria.”
Recently, the White Helmets have once again been in the media spotlight following the reported chemical attack in Idlib on April 4. The organization published footage showing its members rescuing those affected by the alleged chemical attack.
The Swedish NGO Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR) has accused the White Helmets of falsifying information about their work in Syria, including on the situation in Idlib. According to the activists, the White Helmets staged their so-called “rescue” attempts shown in their videos for purposes of propaganda.
Commenting on the findings on the Swedish activists, Guilliard underscored that despite the fact that when it comes to videos and relations with media the White Helmets are very professional, an analysis shows that their materials are often falsified.
“I would not be surprised if the conclusions of the Swedish activists turn out to be true. [Swedish peace researcher] Jan Oberg was in eastern Aleppo and he was surprised. In a situation when the city needed external humanitarian aid the White Helmets had already received their alternative Nobel Prize [the Right Livelihood award] and suddenly disappeared,” the German activist said.
Since then, the organization has enjoyed increased media attention. In February 2017, an eponymous 40-minute documentary about the White Helmets won an Oscar for best documentary short feature.
“The organization is well-connected. PR-agencies were likely involved. At the same time, Western governments and media outlets want to use information from the White Helmets because it corresponds with their view of the situation. The same is about other Syrian opposition groups, including the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Their information is not reliable but it is actively distributed because it fits the situation,” Guilliard said.