As part of our series of interviews with journalists covering the Syria crisis, we reached out to ABC News correspondent and “Nightline” anchor Terry Moran, who reported last month from the streets of Damascus. Here, he discusses the changes he saw in the Syrian capital. “Part of the horror of what’s happening in Damascus,” he says, “is just… the demoralization.”
We had been granted visas by the Assad regime — that had been in the works for months, we’d been trying to get into Damascus to cover that side of the story. The security situation as the battle for Damascus intensified was a concern, and we decided to drive in on a Saturday and see how it went. And the drive in, while there were many checkpoints, was completely uneventful.
Central Damascus, while under pressure, was not a dangerous environment. There are car bombs, and there’s mortar fire from the opposition, and it’s basically very bad luck if you’re in the way of something like that.
The biggest danger I saw was kidnapping or opportunistic crime against us because of who we were and what we were doing. We had a plan and were security conscious. What we were really there for was to see that side of the story, life in Damascus, life under the regime and get a sense of that. So we were balancing the security concerns with the desire to get out and see that side of the story.
The city’s under pressure. There’s a constant — every hour, several times an hour — sound of artillery from the hills around town, raining a tremendous amount of ordinance into the suburbs.
That just puts pressure on people, it’s not normal to live like that. And there’s the possibility of mortar fire and bombings, the city’s under attack. We felt this depression – that’s what I’d call it – and defiance.
Remember, Damascus is a multi-ethnic urbane city, one of the world’s great cities, and many people there have a strong interest in maintaining the multi-ethnic space.
They’re afraid, many people, that [religious] minorities are going to lose the space that they have to celebrate their religious holidays, or to not be religious, just to live life as their community has lived in Damascus for a long time.
The dominant feeling we heard – and we heard it again and again from people who came up to us or who talked on the side – was that, ‘at the beginning of the revolution, I was all for it, I wanted change, I wanted to change the government. But now, looking at the [proliferation] of Jihadist participation, at the cost of the war, I’ll even stand with Assad if it’ll make it end.’ So something’s happened.
We talked to Sunnis, Alawites, Christians. A lot of Americans do not understand how diverse it is. It was a Mediterranean country. And it has that quality of ‘crossroads diversity,’ still. The people of Damascus have a deep love for their city, and an interest in preserving its diversity.
ABC’s approach to security, from New York to Beirut to Damascus, was very rigorous. And this was the most rigorous approach to security. The game has changed in Syria for reporters. I was once in Bosnia, and there was a time where being a reporter in a conflict zone [was safer] – you were there, people needed their story to get out. Now, you’re a ransom.
It was a long, hard discussion [with ABC News executives] about going, right up to Beirut, before we got the green light. Nevertheless, we have a commitment to telling these stories. It was a fresh take to be in Damascus as the battle closes in here.
I felt very lucky to be there. I felt like this is a very important story. And Damascus, even with the life half choked out of it by war, is an incredible city. It’s an incredible place. I developed a very strong sense of sorrow for this chapter in their history.
What I didn’t do is go where those shells were falling on the hour, because I knew that they were raining death on people, on families, on old people. I would just stop and listen to it and say respects to the horrors that were happening.
At one point, I wanted to go to the national museum, just to see it. And they were crating up all the treasures of 5,000 years of civilization. A good 80 percent is all crated up now, because they’re worried about what’s going to happen to the city.