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
    x
    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
    Reuters
    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.
     
    BRAINWASHED
     
    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

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    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.

    THIS IS THE ANSWER.

    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.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora