STOCKHOLM — A volunteer group that rescues civilians from bombed-out buildings in Syria on Thursday won the Right Livelihood Award, sometimes referred to as the “Alternative Nobel,” together with activists from Egypt and Russia and a Turkish newspaper.
The Syria Civil Defense group, also known as the White Helmets, was cited “for their outstanding bravery, compassion and humanitarian engagement in rescuing civilians from the destruction of the Syrian civil war.”
The 3,000-strong group grew out of networks of volunteer first responders who were rescuing victims from government shelling and bombardment in opposition areas.
They will share a cash award of 3 million kronor ($350,000) with Egyptian women’s rights activist Mozn Hassan and the Nazra for Feminist Studies; Russian rights campaigner Svetlana Gannushkina; and Turkish independent newspaper Cumhuriyet.
Created in 1980, the annual Right Livelihood Award honors efforts that prize founder, Swedish-German philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull, felt were being ignored by the Nobel Prizes.
“This year’s Right Livelihood Award Laureates confront some of the most pressing global issues head-on — be it war, freedom of speech, women’s rights or the plight of migrants,” said the founder’s nephew, Ole von Uexkull, the prize foundation’s director.
Ibrahim Alhaj, a member of the White Helmets in Aleppo, called the award a “pride for the Syrian revolution.”
“The teams of civil defense are working in besieged cities in most areas, like Aleppo city, besieged for more than two months and we are having difficulties securing fuel and the equipment needed for work,” he told The Associated Press in a Skype interview.
Supporters of the White Helmets say the group deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, which will be announced in two weeks.
In an interview Wednesday with AP, Syrian President Bashar Assad scoffed at that idea.
“What did they achieve in Syria?” he said. “I would only give a prize to whoever works for the peace in Syria.”
Government sympathizers accuse the group of aiding “terrorists,” a catch-all term the government uses to describe its armed opponents.
Hassan and her feminist organization were honored “for asserting the equality and rights of women in circumstances where they are subject to ongoing violence, abuse and discrimination.”
The citation said the group has documented human rights violations and coordinated the response to sexual assaults on women participating in public protests during and after the 2011 uprising in Egypt.
Gannushkina, a 74-year-old advocate for refugee rights, was cited for her work promoting “human rights and justice for refugees and forced migrants, and tolerance among different ethnic groups.”
The Turkish newspaper, Cumhuriyet, was praised for “fearless investigative journalism” in the face of “oppression, censorship, imprisonment, and death threats.”
The paper’s former editor-in-chief, Can Dundar, and its Ankara representative, Erdem Gul, were sentenced to five years in prison in May for their reports on alleged Turkish arms smuggling to Syrian rebels. The two are appealing the verdict, which increased concerns over media freedoms in Turkey.
Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb in Beirut contributed to this report.