Tharwa History

Tharwa first appeared on the scene in Syria shortly after the events of September 11. It was established by pro-democracy activists, Ammar Abdulhamid and Khawla Yusuf, working as a husband and wife team in cooperation with a number of friends and young activists from Syria and the region. Tharwa went public in late 2003 as a project operated under the auspices of DarEmar, a publishing-house owned by Ammar and Khawla. The focus was on improving inter-communal relations in hope of facilitating the processes of change and democratization.  Tharwa activities, which included operating a series of websites, publishing books and organizing fairs and seminars around the country, were funded by various European donor organizations.

As a result of their activities, Ammar and Khawla were sent into exile in September 2005. They settled in Washington, D.C., and Tharwa offices in Damascus were closed down soon after. But the Tharwa network of activists actually expanded and became an underground pro-democracy movement.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Ammar and Khawla established the Tharwa Foundation to continue supporting the activities of their project. Starting in 2007 and for two years, the organization received funding from the State Department to operate a series of workshops to train citizen journalists from Syria and the region, including emphasis on use of YouTube as a way to document daily realities and abuses by authorities. Other activities included monitoring the legislative elections and presidential referendum that took place in April and May of 2007, and producing a TV program, First Step, monitoring worsening living conditions and rising popular discontent in Syria in 2008-09. The 6-part TV program concluded by a call for nonviolent revolution, and has aired continually on the satellite network, Barada TV, another program funded by the State department, until the eve of the Syrian Revolution.

In August 2009, due to lack of funding, Tharwa was forced to shut down its offices in Washington, but the Tharwa Network in Syria remained active and took part in organizing several online campaigns using Twitter and Facebook meant to protest worsening human rights conditions in the country. The campaign calling for the release of blogger Tal Al-Mallouhi in 2010 was one of the most notable ones.

With the onset of the Syrian Revolution, the Tharwa Network fused into the larger activist committees that emerged throughout the country, and continued reporting on local developments. Meanwhile, Ammar and Khawla managed to enlist the help of a number of international development organizations and academic institutes and experts, including Public International Law and Policy Group, to conduct a series of workshops on transitional challenges for the benefit of representatives of Syrian opposition groups.

The workshops took place in Copenhagen (funded by the Danish Foreign Minister and hosted by the University of Copenhagen), The Hague (funded by Hivos), and Washington D.C. (funded by the University of Copenhagen and Foundation for Defense of Democracies). Moreover, and in cooperation with the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason, Tharwa also organized a day-long workshop on National Reconciliation for the benefit of Syrian expats in the U.S.

Tharwa currently provides advice to a number of activist networks inside the country.


When it first made its appearance on the scene in Syria, Tharwa was known as the Tharwa Project. Because registering NGOs in Syria was an impossible process when members of the ruling elite are not involved, Tharwa was operated as program for online publishing run by a publishing house, DarEmar, established by Tharwa founders. But what raised much eyebrows at the time was Tharwa's Advisory Board which included many regional and international activists and academics, a first for Syrian organizations, even when unofficial. The Tharwa Project old Mission Statement was also noteworthy for its scope and ambition.