A tale of two Syrian narratives
Rival activists clash in Montreux, where Syrian government and opposition are holding landmark face-to-face talks.
As journalists covering the Syria peace talks in Switzerland waited for diplomats to arrive at a news conference after speeches by foreign ministers, a loud quarrel erupted in the room.
“You’re a terrorist,” one young Syrian told a media activist who supports the opposing side in the conflict. “No, you’re a terrorist,” the other retorted.
Safi Ayoush, a PhD media student, came all the way from Australia to express support for President Bashar al-Assad and raise awareness about the ongoing violence in Syria, including “killings and beheadings” at the hands of what he described as terrorists. Opposition activist Hevi Bouzo, meanwhile, is a Syrian-American who came to Montreux to cover the news for the Syrian opposition-run channel Orient TV.
“You do not have cousins who have been beheaded in your country, so you do not understand. Your opposition supports terrorist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant],” Ayoush shouted. Bouzo responded: “Assad is the terrorist. He kills children and he is the one who invented the ISIL by releasing all the jihadists from prison.”
The two continued to trade accusations, their voices rising as a swarm of cameras filmed, until a news conference organiser intervened and pushed them apart. But the incident stands as a telling example of how much tension and hostility exists between the Syrian delegations and their entourages. Around 50 members of the media accompanied the Syrian government team in Montreux, while more than a dozen reporters from the many opposition-run outlets flooded the city. Each side has a narrative.
Representatives from the Syrian government and the opposition are meeting face-to face for the first time since the conflict in their country began three years ago. One foreign journalist who witnessed Wednesday’s quarrel expressed a common concern: “If these two journalists could not have a decent civilised conversation, how could the diplomats from the Syrian warring parties have one?”
Both Ayoush and Bouzo want to see an end to the conflict in their country, but while Ayoush thinks any solution starts with fighting “terrorists” – a term the Syrian government uses to describe the armed opposition – Bouzo believes no peace can be achieved without the removal of Assad.
A senior reporter from Syrian TV told Al Jazeera the quarrel in the press room was a healthy one. “Each see the truth in a different way and they are expressing their different views. At least they didn’t beat each other up. So it’s not that bad.”
But Ahmad Kamel, a journalist working with Orient TV, said the fight shows how divided Syria has become. Journalists embedded with the regime have no freedom, he added.
“The journalists with the regime feel monitored by officials, so they either do not open their mouths or try to express their loyalty as loud as possible,” Kamel told Al Jazeera. “I have a friend who works with Syrian official media and he didn’t even tell me ‘hi’. He was too scared.”