News / Middle East

Syria's Media Put Differences Aside at Foundering Peace Talks

Journalists reach out to ask questions to Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Makdad, right, during a short briefing to journalists after a meeting with the Syrian government at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2Journalists reach out to ask questions to Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Makdad, right, during a short briefing to journalists after a meeting with the Syrian government at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2
Journalists reach out to ask questions to Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Makdad, right, during a short briefing to journalists after a meeting with the Syrian government at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2
Journalists reach out to ask questions to Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Makdad, right, during a short briefing to journalists after a meeting with the Syrian government at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2
Journalists and activists loyal to opposing sides of Syria's civil war have managed something the negotiators at this peace conference haven't - talking to each other.
Inside the wood-paneled negotiating room at the United Nations' “Geneva 2” talks, delegates for President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition fighting to topple him do not even address each other, only their mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.
But the media teams who followed them here are not being ushered in and out of meetings. They have been stuck together for hours, waiting on officials to make statements.
After days of ignoring each other, journalists began to make eye contact. Now, wary looks and polite smiles have given way to hand shakes and intense debate.
“You do not have an agenda or a plan to build the country. You just want the president out. This no longer convinces us,” a pro-government journalist told some pro-opposition activists waiting in a hallway outside the negotiating room.
“But the point is I can say that those people (the opposition) upstairs do not represent me,” one activist countered. “Can you criticize Assad or the government? Can you say they committed crimes?”
The group of journalists and activists ended their exchange by agreeing they all love Syria.
Their cordial conversations will not end Syria's nearly 3-year war, but they show a measure of good will that official delegates here are nowhere close to offering.
Still, the activists and journalists in this article asked to remain anonymous, fearing rebuke back at home. Many insist these chats haven't changed their disgust for the other side.
Nonetheless, they have kept talking.
“Our country”
Syria's conflict began as popular protests, but a fierce  crackdown transformed them into armed revolt. Now, the country has collapsed into a bloody civil war that has killed more than 130,000 people and forced over 6 million from their homes.
At the U.N. cafeteria, pro-Assad reporters pester their anti-government peers for details on northern Syria, where the rebels hold large swathes of territory and al Qaeda-linked groups are on the rise.
They are curious about life under Islamist rule.
Activists try to talk to pro-government media about massacres in opposition areas, about the disappearances of activists and the brutal tactics of the security forces who have so far ensured four decades of Assad family rule.
At an opposition press conference, an activist says it is rebels who are now fighting to push out the most radical rebel group in northern Syria, an al Qaeda branch known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“That's not true. We're the ones fighting them. It is the Syrian army fighting them,” a state journalist interjects. “How did they get into the country? It is because you allowed them to enter through states which hate the Syrian Republic, your country. My country. Our country.”
“You have changed the flag too,” he adds, referring to the green, white and black flag that the opposition now uses in place of the red, white and black flag flown by the government.
“Nobody cares about the flag” the activist shoots back. “We did that just to tease you.”
Debates here range from how the conflict started to what kind of future awaits them all.
Opposition activists push their argument that it was Assad's brutal crackdown that plummeted Syria into this deadly spiral. Pro-government journalists insist it was a foreign conspiracy against the country.
Privately, both sides speak pityingly about the other side being brainwashed.
“They are nice people,” one journalist from Syrian state media said. “It is a shame they are being manipulated ... We have all suffered under the state, we all have our stories to tell. But is it a reason to turn against the government and destroy the country? No.”
The rival journalists and activists exchange phone numbers despite their own skepticism.
“We will go back home and nothing will change,” one pro-government journalist said, laughing. Then he followed a group of pro-opposition outside for a smoke.
At the U.N. cafeteria,  a pro-government journalist joins Ahmed Ramadan, a member of the opposition's National Coalition, as he eats his lunch.
Smiling and chatting from opposite sides of the table, they look like old friends, but this is the first time they meet.
“You see, we Syrians talk to each other,” the journalist tells others at the table.
After a long debate, the two acknowledge mistakes were made on both sides. “Okay, how do we take this further?” asks a foreign journalist sitting with them.
The two look at each other, but can think of no answer.
Neither side knows how their communication could help to ease their country's crisis. But for many, it is the first time they feel that the other side has heard them.
“I felt he was touched,” Ramadan said, as the reporter walked off. “I felt he understood what I said and believed it.”

You May Like

Kurdish President: More Needed to Defeat Islamic State

In interview with VOA's Persian Service, Massoud Barzani says peshmerga forces have not received weapons, logistical support needed to successfully fight IS in northern Iraq More

Sierra Leone's Stray Dog Population Doubles During Ebola Crisis

Many dog owners fear their pets could infect them with the virus and have abandoned them, leading to the increase and sparking fears of rabies More

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

New methods for mapping pain in the brain not only validate sufferers of chronic pain but might someday also lead to better treatment More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Anonymous
January 30, 2014 7:43 AM
When our governments in the west are having to send hundreds of millions of dollars to the countries surrounding Syria housing the influx of Syrian refugees, it is everyones business.

Why the hell is bashar al assad costing our countries millions, he is also using his airforce to drop bombs anywhere in Syria, the amount of pollution must be skyrocketed. How come the environment isn't a big issue? The emmisions in the air in Syria for 3 years must be unbelievable. Not only is assad killing Syrians he is killing our earth, affecting everyone worldwide.

by: Anonymous
January 29, 2014 2:01 PM
What MUST be done...

BOTH parties should agree to an inquest into the murders of thousands of Syrian civilians that bashar al assad must face. This should be MANDATORY. Regardless if there were crimes commited by others/groups. What must be done is the guy that is SUPPOSED to be the leader of Syria (assad) is investigated before a panel to prove whether or not he is guilty of the many crimes that were commited against the people in Syria. (Bombing civilian areas, cutting off food/water/oil to civilians etc.).

If both parties love Syria, then why not have an inquest, neither side can object to this if they truely feel assad is innocent then they shouldn't have a problem with this :).

At the end of the day assad has to go and someone else needs to take over. Dropping bombs in civilian areas by assads air force is only making matters worse and creating more hatred.

Oh and if the Pro-Assad people claim there was atrocities commited on the Anti-Assad side they can be investigated too, the world doesn't mind everyone being investigated.

Lets get the ball rolling and have a hearing on "bashar al assad" and any crimes he is guilty of, stacked up by the International Criminal Court.


PS: Should assad be found guilty of horrendous crimes in Syria (obviously) Then afterwards a democratic election must be put in place. UN monitored Ballot Boxes all over Syria.
In Response

by: Anonymous
January 30, 2014 7:38 AM
& If bashar al assad isn't in agreement with having an inquest / tribunal / investigation and be interviewed, then Interpol should put out a warrant for his arrest. Possibly even a reward for his capture funded by the International Community.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs