Mobile  |  About us  |  Photos  |  Videos  |  Subscriptions  |  RSS Feeds  |  Today's Paper  |  Classifieds  |  Contact Us
The Daily Star
MONDAY, 21 APR 2014
02:14 AM Beirut time
Weather    
Beirut
18 °C
Blom Index
BLOM
1,214.01down
Middle East
Follow this story Print RSS Feed ePaper share this
Syria’s media put differences aside at foundering peace talks
Reuters
Louay Safi spokesperson for the Syrian National Coalition, Syria's main political opposition group, is surrounded by journalists after a meeting with the Syrian government at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)
Louay Safi spokesperson for the Syrian National Coalition, Syria's main political opposition group, is surrounded by journalists after a meeting with the Syrian government at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)
A+ A-

GENEVA: 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 II” talks, delegates for President Bashar 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-old 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. At the U.N. cafeteria, pro-Assad reporters pester their anti-government peers for details on northern Syria, where the rebels hold large swaths 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 news 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 Greater Syria (ISIS).

“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 regime.

“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 Ahmad 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.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 30, 2014, on page 8.
Home Middle East
 
     
 
Syria
Advertisement
Comments  

Your feedback is important to us!

We invite all our readers to share with us their views and comments about this article.

Disclaimer: Comments submitted by third parties on this site are the sole responsibility of the individual(s) whose content is submitted. The Daily Star accepts no responsibility for the content of comment(s), including, without limitation, any error, omission or inaccuracy therein. Please note that your email address will NOT appear on the site.

comments powered by Disqus
Story Summary
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.

Still, the activists and journalists in this article asked to remain anonymous, fearing rebuke back at home.

At the U.N. cafeteria, pro-Assad reporters pester their anti-government peers for details on northern Syria, where the rebels hold large swaths of territory and Al-Qaeda-linked groups are on the rise.

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 news 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 Greater Syria (ISIS).

Pro-government journalists insist it was a foreign conspiracy against the country.
Related Articles
 
 
Who are the ‘media activists’ covering the war?
 
 
Syrian opposition leader to visit China
 
 
Syrian opposition sees Lebanon election as life or death matter
 
 
Kasab shows political solution key: SNC official
 
 
Syria says won't be swayed by Arab summit
Show More
Entities
Advertisement


Baabda 2014
Advertisement
Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Linked In Follow us on Google+ Subscribe to our Live Feed
Multimedia
Images  
Pictures of the day
A selection of images from around the world- Saturday April 19, 2014
View all view all
Advertisement
Rami G. Khouri
Rami G. Khouri
Why Israeli-Palestinian talks fail
Michael Young
Michael Young
Why confuse gibberish with knowledge?
David Ignatius
David Ignatius
Echoes of 1914 characterize the Ukraine crisis
View all view all
Advertisement
cartoon
 
Click to View Articles
 
 
News
Business
Opinion
Sports
Culture
Technology
Entertainment
Privacy Policy | Anti-Spamming Policy | Disclaimer | Copyright Notice
© 2014 The Daily Star - All Rights Reserved - Designed and Developed By IDS