News Deeply: Describe the events surrounding your kidnapping.
Témoris Grecko: The night before there had been a very heavy fight in a neighborhood of Aleppo called Ezaa; it’s on a hill and has strategic value. The Free Syrian Army had a hard time trying to take it last year. We used to live about a mile or so from this point.
In the morning we went to see what had happened during the night. We were three journalists: a Hungarian, a Spaniard and I, accompanied by a translator and an armed guard in a van. We knew the place and had already been there. We knew the Free Syrian Army commander and several other militants who used to operate there.
So although it’s on the front lines, we considered it relatively safe. We came to a corner where a sofa has been placed outside and it’s usually occupied by insurgents, keeping watch. This time, nobody was there. We found that strange.
Suddenly masked men surrounded us with guns. They probably feared that we could shoot back and they were ready to shoot. The Hungarian and I weren’t beaten, but they beat the Spaniard on the face. They also assaulted our Syrian translator. Then they blindfolded us.
ND: Were did they take you?
TG: It wasn’t far away. They weren’t hiding – they were driving with the music on and shouting at people on the road. We sat in a traffic jam.
We were taken to a site that was five or 10 minutes from the kidnap site, in an area controlled by the insurgents. The building was big. We were taken to its basement. There were many people who saw us at the entrance. We listened to people making comments in Arabic.
A teenager hit me, but he was stopped. From a wall painting, I had the impression that the building was a school.
They took away our belongings. Then they asked us a few basic questions. No one made a comment that let on their identities or why had they captured us.
They seemed equipped for detainees. At lunchtime, somebody carried that typical Syrian bread that resembles the tortillas that we have in Mexico, and a pistachio sweet. At night they brought us bread and rice.
ND: Describe your release late that night.
TG: When they left us in a street in the middle of the night, I thought that they were going to execute us.
They woke us up and took us out into the street. We got forced into a van. Two men held their guns at our heads. A bit later we were asked to get out the van, but before that we were forced to take off our shoes. We were left in the dark and that’s when I thought they were going to shoot us. But they left.
We saw the light of a house, knocked on the door and a man came and listened to our story. After a moment of surprise, he took us to where some FSA fighters were sleeping. They took us to their barracks. There we had the great luck to meet other foreign journalists, a Greek from Cyprus and a German, and Syrian activists who were looking for us in that very moment.
ND: What was your impression of the conflict in the ten days you had been there before being kidnapped?
TG: There is a huge impasse in the conflict and there are growing divisions among opposition groups, possibly leading to increased armed infighting. This would operate in favor of the regime. Although the regime is very weak, it does not seem to fall.
Aleppo is a city split into two. People have to cross everyday between the two fronts and this means a constant threat to their lives. There was a slaughter of civilians, whose bodies were thrown into a stream. The hypothesis is that they were people who lived in the part of city controlled by insurgents and like many others had to go to the area controlled by the government, to work or study. They were probably captured and killed by the military.
People have to live like this: with the constant noise of the bombs falling, the gunfires and mortars. I met an 85-year-old man whose entire family had been killed, from his great-grandchildren to his brothers. He was the last of the family line. When I met him, he was wandering alone in Aleppo, he had absolutely nothing to do. He was waiting for death.