The revolution is being branded. A young Turkish graphic designer from the small border town of Kilis in Turkey has been commissioned by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to design their logo.
More accustomed to creating posters declaring “girls need to go to school” for the local municipality’s education programmes, 28-year-old Sedat Akpinar looked up from his computer to find the FSA’s northern border commander, Abu Hayder, standing in his shop.
With designers and materials in short supply in Syria, the commander had crossed the border last week, hoping to find someone in Turkey who could help him create “an identifiable symbol” to be placed on cars, trucks, tanks, T-shirts, baseball caps and bandannas.
With him, Hayder had brought his “quality controller”: an FSA soldier with a background in design, now occupied as a full-time sniper. The recruit had a bullet wound in his arm over which he had tattooed a sword. “Designed by me!” he declared proudly.
Sedat didn’t feel like arguing, so he set about mocking up a design employing the green, white and black and three red stars of the Syrian flag superimposed with an eagle and an assault rifle “representing war”.
Speaking only Turkish, the designer then had to draft in one of his neighbours, a local smuggler who spoke Arabic. Together, they were able to build the Arabic characters for “Northern Storm Brigade”, a branch of the FSA, across the top of the insignia.
Once he had approved the final mock-up, the FSA commander instructed Sedat to print 300 stickers with the logo, each with a different number, as number plates for his army’s vehicles. The printing had to be done on the spot: Hayder was returning to Syria that day. But he assured Sedat that he would return shortly to order black T-shirts and baseball caps embossed with the logo. “If we take Aleppo we want all the fighters in our brigade to look the same when we enter the town,” he explained.
Even as the bullets fly, this very 21st century rebel group appears to understand the power of branding and the media. By building a unified image, the commander told Sedat, the FSA is seeking to present itself as a force with the trappings of statehood, capable of not only looking to the future with confidence, but also taking a central role in driving change at the heart of the Syrian government.
The man who controls the FSA’s operations around the border with Turkey then handed the designer $300 (£187) and a flash drive full of footage and photographs of the conflict. These included interviews with senior FSA commanders and images from the frontline; even gruesome footage allegedly showing a soldier from the regime’s forces being decapitated with a chainsaw. “Sell that to CNN or the BBC and you can keep the profits!” the commander told the designer.