Fahem Omer (Zana Omar), 2019 winner
VOA’s Kurdish Service Qamishli-based reporter Fahem Omer, who uses the professional name Zana Omar, has shown consistent bravery and journalistic integrity in his ongoing coverage of the war in Syria and other geo-political stories in the region. His reporting in 2018 centered on the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces’ operation to clear eastern Syria of ISIS.
Zana regularly travels to the front lines of the conflict involving IS militants and the Syrian Kurdish YPG and Syrian Democratic forces. His video and online reports include: the IS use of chemical weapons in Hasakah, Syria; a mass grave where IS dumped bodies of people they killed; the exodus of refugees fleeing the war; and covering the war on the front line of IS-controlled Assyrian Christian villages.
In 2018, he covered stories such as U.S. military attacks against Syrian chemical weapon sites, the diminishing strength of IS forces, and the war’s consequences for the Syrian citizenry. His on-the-ground coverage and access to important sources in the region place him in a unique position to provide original reporting to VOA and the world that gives context and insight into a major world conflict.
As a seasoned war correspondent, Zana puts his life on the line to live and work as a journalist in Syria. He was arrested covering pro-democracy rallies in Damascus, nearly kidnapped by an armed pro-Assad group, and forced to flee with his family from home for filming anti-government protests. He puts immense time and effort into his reporting to deliver factual news and information to VOA’s audiences.
A 2016 bombing near Zana’s home in Qamishli was an indication of the dedication and bravery involved in reporting from the field in a conflict zone. The bombing injured Zana and wounded his wife and two sons, one of whom suffered head trauma. Zana’s home was completely demolished. The explosion also leveled his office with all of his reporting equipment, leaving few resources for him to continue his work. Despite his own personal crisis, he continued to provide reports to VOA. He was even quoted in VOA’s coverage of the bombing. Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for the blast that left over 40 dead and hundreds wounded.
His real-time, multi-faceted coverage has captured the attention of a worldwide audience. His original, often exclusive reporting from the region is shared by the VOA Kurdish Service in Kurdish and distributed in English by the VOA News Center. His reports are also distributed by the VOA Extremism Watch Desk. Zana embodies the best qualities of journalism and those that merit receiving the David Burke Award.