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S2E11: The Koblenz Trial - 1 Year Later

Branch 251
May 14, 2021
48
 MIN
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English
May 14, 2021
48
 MIN

S2E11: The Koblenz Trial - 1 Year Later

In a Branch 251 first, the whole team discusses where we stand, one year after the start of the Al-Khatib-, or Koblenz trial. How have expectations lived up to reality? But also, what is everyone's favorite episode? This is the final episode of season 2. We'll be back before you know it with season 3.

In a Branch 251 first, the whole team discusses where we stand, one year after the start of the Al-Khatib-, or Koblenz trial. How have expectations lived up to reality? But also, what is everyone's favorite episode? This is the final episode of season 2. We'll be back before you know it with season 3.

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SJAC and ICWC report on one year of the Koblenz trial

ECCHR trial reports

Syria Justice and Accountability Centre's monitoring of the trial

Support for our podcast comes from German Federal Foreign Office funds that are provided by the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen IFA's zivik Funding Programme.

Logo design by laurenshebly.nl -- Photo by James Lawler Duggan/AFP/Getty Images.

Music via blue dot sessions




Episode Transcript

[music]

Asser Khattab: Welcome to this special and last episode of this season of Branch 251, which comes only a few days after the first anniversary of the opening of the trial in Koblenz of Anwar R. and Eyad A. for crimes against humanity that they are accused of having committed during their time in Syria. For this last episode, I'm joined by the entire team of Branch 251 for us to talk about this remarkable year, to talk about some of the episodes that we have produced and what may be coming next. How we feel about it, and how we have felt about the trial and our work on it from the beginning until today.

[music]

I guess we can start by talking about the pretrial period. The period when we did not yet know that there will be a trial in Koblenz against those two individuals under something that's called the universal jurisdiction. I would want to post this question maybe first to Fritz. Fritz, did you see this trial coming?

Fritz Streiff: From the work that I had been doing on Syria accountability for a few years before it, I knew that there was a lot of work that already had been done in terms of criminal case building in European countries. Definitely, with an emphasis on Europe, I think the German Federal Prosecutor has started the structured investigation into crimes committed in Syria in 2011. We knew that many civil society organizations including Syrians had been collecting evidence and filing complaints in Germany and other countries including France, for example as well.

I think we all working in this field had an idea that soon a case like this may come about, an arrest may be made and a trial may start. That it would be those two individuals and that it would be in Koblenz, that was definitely-- I would even say it was quite unexpected from my perspective.

Asser: Given the fact that you are the person who started this podcast, can you place a moment in time when you first had this idea about this project?

Fritz: Well, the two were arrested in February 2019. A good year before the trial started. Honestly, it was only in probably early April 2020 that-- just a few weeks before the trial started that I had this idea. I knew this trial was coming. I knew it was going to be the worldwide first regarding crimes against humanity committed in Syria and that it was going to be historic in that way. This idea for this podcast just came to me-- Well, I don't know, on a random Tuesday or something. All of a sudden, I thought, "Let's make a trial podcast." [laughs].

Asser: As far as I understand, you've been interested in the subject of podcasts in general for some time now.

Fritz: Exactly. I was actually waiting for a topic to make a podcast on for a while. Then it just came together like that.

Asser: Noor, I want to jump quickly to you and see whether also you have seen this trial coming. I know that there was news about the arrest of the two individuals. That was quite popular at the time. Not everyone necessarily was able to foresee that a trial was going to start.

Noor Hamadeh: To be honest, I had the same sense as Fritz, which is, I was very aware of civil society efforts to document information. To try and work toward developing cases against different individuals. To try and think about what avenues were available through universal jurisdiction. I saw some trial coming. I knew that this was something that was going to be coming up. This trial, in particular, I definitely didn't see coming and wasn't conscious of until the news broke.

Asser: I'm like you. I remember the time when news of the arrest, especially of Anwar R, was being talked about by everyone, especially in the journalism circles that I was a member of. I found it fascinating news from the beginning. They had discussions with several people about it. But, I didn't necessarily manage to imagine where that would lead specifically, especially given that actually, only through this trial did I learn about universal jurisdiction and how it works. Before, I couldn't really imagine how Germany or any other country could go about such a process.

Staying with you Noor, what were your expectations for justice mechanisms?

Noor: Like I said, I was very conscious that a lot of Syrian civil society organizations had been working toward documenting information that could be used in future justice processes. I was aware that people were trying to identify methods of developing cases through universal jurisdiction in particular. I think my expectation was that this kind of thing would happen. But, I didn't quite expect for such a trial to happen now. Obviously, it's a welcome step.

I think what's so great about it is that after this trial came out, you start hearing a lot more about other civil society actors, Syrian organizations, international human rights organizations filing complaints regarding universal jurisdiction cases for war crimes or crimes against humanity that happened in Syria. I think that's a really exciting result of this trial. In terms of expectations, I didn't really expect anything to happen so soon. I thought of justice in the Syrian context being delayed a bit more. It's definitely welcome that this-- It was unexpected but welcome.

Fritz: Noor, sorry to jump in here. As you were talking, I was just thinking, maybe one reason that some of us were thinking that justice would still be delayed a little bit is that the regime was increasingly safe in its position in power. Starting concrete justice mechanism steps like a criminal trial in a different country while a criminal regime is still in power is of course a very complex and difficult endeavor. Maybe that's why we didn't expect it to happen when it happened. I agree with you. It's definitely marked a milestone of a new phase in the search for justice and accountability for crimes in Syria.

Noor: Fritz, I think that's exactly right. I think from my perspective that's exactly why I didn't foresee steps for justice taking place in the present moment because the regime was like you said, so comfortable in its position. Obviously, that doesn't mean that people affiliated with the regime can't be prosecuted, but it definitely limits what can be done.

Asser: Noor, I can imagine that when you first heard about this trial, it wasn't only purely technical legal thoughts that came to your mind. There might have been something else as well. Could you remember what first went through your mind at the time?

Noor: I was definitely very hopeful when I first heard about the trial, and was really looking forward to hearing what would happen with it. I was definitely thinking about what kinds of doors this trial would open for future justice efforts. How was that for you, Asser?

Asser: Very similar to you. There was this time when we heard about the arrest being made. Everyone was talking about it. Then I forgot about it for a while. I guess I was focusing more on what was happening inside the country. Then the trial started and I think that gave a lot of excitement at the time, I would say. I definitely started thinking about justice for crimes committed in Syria in new dimensions that I had not thought of before even at the time, nine years of conflict. I wonder what you expected this trial would do, Noor.

Noor: I expected a couple of things. I expected and hoped that it would result in convictions. That's first of all. Secondly, I hoped and expected that the information that would come out through this trial would result in furthering future justice efforts. By that, I mean information coming out in the trial about other individuals who were implicated in crimes who might also be present in Europe. Information that might shed light on the regime's strategies, for example.

I also expected and hopes that it would give survivors of alleged crimes committed by Anwar R and also by Eyad A, some level of peace, some level of comfort. Through our interviews with people, I know that that didn't necessarily happen for everyone. I hope that it could have been positive for some people at least.

Asser: I actually didn't know what to expect at the beginning beyond, for example, a verdict or a conviction. A few years of prison for everyone, so the accusations against them be proven. What I didn't expect is seeing so much more to this trial. Like the aspects of documentation of crimes against humanity. Generally in Syria and the wider picture of the Mukhabarat and its work and the meaning of its being mentioned in testimonies for the first time in an international court.

[music]

Fritz and Saleem and Hannah have all been to Koblenz during the production of this season. Fritz, you were there with Saleem and Hannah during also one of the most important and controversial and milestone sessions of the Koblenz trial. I wanted to ask you, what was it like to be there in Koblenz, and was it really how you expected it to be?

Fritz: Just one sort of observation that I wanted to make about that first visit I thought was so interesting was this contrast between the global media attention. The amount of media attention from international outlets, the framework of the trial, the content of the trial with international crimes, crimes against humanity, torture. All these sorts of international aspects and elements, but then the contrast with being in this relatively provincial German town. I talked to some locals also on the street and pretty much nobody had an idea of what was going on in that courthouse.

That contrast is really also what I remember about that first visit where the trial was happening there, but really it was more only physically. It was more happening in a sort of international, global, digital maybe even framework of interested people. Hannah, you were really there from the beginning every session, what's your memory of those beginning days and weeks?

Hannah El-Hitami: Well, I have to say now that I've been there for almost a year, almost every week, actually traveling back and forth and spending two or three days there, I've gotten so used to it. I've developed my routine and I know almost everybody who works in the court. There's a small group of people who's always there, some observers from NGOs once in a while, a journalist. But I do remember that at the very beginning, I was much more nervous because a court seems something so official and you don't know how to behave and you don't know what you're allowed to do and what you're not allowed to do.

That has changed completely now. Now I feel it's almost my office, but at the same time, [chuckles] I feel like it's really important for me to not become too used to it and not become indifferent.

Even though I've heard so many survivors now and their stories, and of course there's been many testimonies about really horrible torture experiences. Yes, so after all these days I spend in court, I just feel like it's important to not become desensitized and not feel like, oh--I know some of the observers and me, sometimes we talk and we talk about what we heard inside and someone's like, "Well, what about this testimony that we heard today? Was it important?" Then someone says, "Well, no, it was nothing new." Of course, it was something new just because someone had to add a very new piece of evidence, that's still really important to respect every single story. Yes, I think that's my experience, getting used to it, but at the same time, being surprised every once in a while by the stories that people share in the courtroom.

Saleem Salameh: For me actually, this was the first time I go to Koblenz and it was for the trial and for the verdict of Eyad A. I think it was very interesting because usually I work on the production side and this was for me, the first encounter with a reality of what's happening. It's like a reality check. Like this is two times more than what happens when we just make the podcast episode, or when I work on the bi-weekly updates with Hannah. For me, really what struck me the most is that I really felt that the place was owned by Syrians.

Although it was happening in Germany, the sense of Syrians and the sense of people being there, the trial being covered or translated also to Arabic, the verdict really gave me that sense of that, this actually feels very Syrian. This emotion translated also later on, which is something that I'm going to also talk about later on about the Syrian voices that we heard after the court, and also in the rest of the episodes for the rest of the podcast. I remember being outside and looking for people or waiting for people to interview them for our podcast.

I took a moment and I was looking, and literally, everyone was looking for Syrians to talk to them and to take that opinion and to capture their emotions and feelings at that very moment. Just this image will always stay in my head that this is something for the Syrian people, I think. Of course, the opinions differed and every person or every group of people have their own views on what's happening or what was the decision and all of these things, but the moment itself, that exact moment was very Syrian. That for me was a very emotional moment.

Asser: Wow. Thank you so much, Saleem. We do want to hear more about those voices that you do have experience of talking to them and hearing from them. I guess this is a good point to talk to all of us about how one year later those expectations have lived up to reality. Noor, maybe I'll start with you.

Noor: Sure. I think the trial has so far lived up to my expectations in the sense that, obviously there was a verdict in the case against Eyad A, and the case against Anwar R is still ongoing. I also think that the trial and everything around it has ended up being a little bit more complicated than I expected. One thing being, as you mentioned earlier, Asser, the documentation element of this trial resulting in a documentation of crimes against humanity in Syria beyond just Anwar R and Eyad A's role in it. I think that's one aspect of it.

Another element has been realizing the complication of universal jurisdiction and realizing that while it might be a good way to hold people accountable in a complicated setting, there are also complications that come with universal jurisdiction. One being the fact that the trial is held in Koblenz, Germany, which is a place that, for those of you who attended the trial and were there, you felt a very international presence. I think location-wise, it's not necessarily accessible to so many Syrians. Then, also one thing that's been discussed a lot is the language issue in the trial as well.

I do think that the trial has lived up to my expectations in the sense that it is pushing justice forward, however, definitely, I'm realizing that universal jurisdiction is a bit more complex than I originally anticipated.

Fritz: Yes, I think Noor, it's good for us to mention those challenges as well, because obviously, a worldwide first trial will have major expectations undefined, perhaps in the beginning and we'll come with the obvious challenges. I think one thing we can definitely already conclude now is that a regional court in Germany trying an international crime case like that is not perfect. It's far from perfect. These regional courts are not the International Criminal Court in the Hague. They don't have the same resources, the same capacities.

That I don't see how in this German context, how that will really change whether that will change. Whether there will be many lessons learned for future trials in similar regional courts in Germany, especially when we're looking back-- We did an episode on this in the first season, comparing this trial with the first trial using the German Code of Crimes against International Law. We didn't see many lessons learned between then around 2009-2010, and the Koblenz court.

I don't have too high hopes in that regard. One thing I quickly wanted to add as well, and that's also one of the things that has been a major part of the challenges. I would like to hear from Hannah about that too because I think, Hannah you wrote about, that in Der Spiegel is the issue of witness protection. Witness Protection has been a major challenge, and it's one of those things that regional courts, such as the one in Koblenz may not be well enough equipped to handle in a satisfactory way.

Before I want to hand over to Hannah, I just wanted to quickly note and we can put this in the show notes. There's an interesting report that SJAC and the ICWC just published on the occasion of the one-year anniversary mostly on these challenges, and we'll link to that report in the show notes. Hannah, you know more about this issue of witness protection, perhaps you can add something to this.

Hannah: Yes, well, actually the witness protection issue was of course just one of many challenges that became more and more visible as the trial proceeded. It's interesting that you mentioned also the ICC in comparison to what's happening in Koblenz. I also felt that when we're speaking about expectations, I imagined that the court in Koblenz and the trial would be something very international, very grand. Something like the ICC although I've never been to the ICC, but I imagined it like that. That it would be international in several languages.

That it would be recorded for history and all that hasn't happened so it has not been internationally accessible. It has not been multilingual. It has not been allowed to be recorded. At a very early point, I felt that it was an issue that an international trial was being conducted under the German Code of Criminal Procedure so as in every other local everyday criminal trial in Germany. That there were no additional rules that were specific for a trial of this size and this international relevance. For example, the witness protection that wasn't there because obviously, Germany can do anything about threats or attacks in Syria.

Of course, they can offer witness protection in very exceptional cases in Germany but the danger wasn't in Germany, it was mainly in Syria for families of witnesses who are still living there. Almost every single witness has family living in Syria. There was no support in that regard and there was no real support for traumatized witnesses. there was like psychosocial trial assistance, that's something that victims can have, but I don't think they knew about it because nobody used it. A lot of witnesses were struggling emotionally in court, and I think they would have needed special assistance.

There were so many things that I felt like okay, this is a very local court and it's a very international trial so they're not really fitting well together.

[music]

Asser: We spoke during the podcast during this season about also the expectations of many Syrians about this trial. Some were saying that they have been let down so far by the outcome of the trial. I'm referring specifically to the verdict that's already been issued against Eyad A and that sparked quite a lot of discussions and even arguments within the Syrian circles. There were so many different opinions in these discussions. Some saw that the trial is actually meeting their expectations or even exceeding them in some cases, whereas some others were very critical, actually, of what has been the outcome so far.

Saleem: Yes, I think Asser, especially from my interaction with the Syrian people that we interviewed for the podcast for the Arabic season, and also for the people that I talked to when we were in Koblenz. I think actually it's not just that some people have hopes, or some people feel positive about it and some other people feel negative. In fact, and especially after doing the final episode for the Arabic season, many people had both high hopes and low hopes when it comes to the trial. Within each person, both sides existed.

That, for me, was really interesting to see that, in fact, it's not just black and white. It's not just either fully accepting or fully supporting the trial or fully being against it or something. I think that the most remarkable thing or the thing, what I can collect from the people that we interviewed is that everyone felt that it's a step towards justice. The word justice meant so much to the fact that it's actually happening and something is taking place. The word justice was the word that almost every person who we interviewed or shared their voice and their opinion with us recalled.

I think that means something for the trial. In my opinion, it's not the only answer, and it doesn't have to be the one answer, but it is something that exists within the trial. Almost everyone agreed that it's going to take us to the next step. It's the beginning of something that is going to be much bigger in the future. I think it just means that everyone is hoping for what is going to come next, and not just relying on this as the final result, or as a final outcome. I thought that was really interesting.

Asser: Noor, what do you think this trial means or has meant to other Syrians?

Noor: I think I agree with a lot of what Saleem said. I think we've seen a lot of hope from people that we've interviewed, but we've also seen a lot of skepticism. I think for a lot of Syrians, it's hard not to be skeptical because I think for so many Syrians, they've been so let down by the international community. I think that they find it difficult to trust international mechanisms, international efforts, so I can understand that. But there's been also a lot of hope, and I think that also goes for the verdict against Eyad A because there are also so many mixed responses to that as well.

Some people were really happy with the results, some were disappointed, some were dissatisfied. I think there's definitely a mix, but one thing for sure is that we've seen a lot of hope. Even if people were disappointed in this trial, in particular, they're hopeful that it will lead to justice in the future.

Asser: What does it mean to you, Noor?

Noor: For me, I think I feel the same way that a lot of Syrians do, which is I'm feeling hopeful, and I also very much feel that this is a first step toward future accountability efforts. I definitely don't see this trial as the ideal form of accountability, but it's a step in the right direction. It's a step that's going to bring out important information that needs to be shared with the world. It's also a step that's going to encourage others to take similar steps and to use international law to be creative about accountability efforts.

[music]

Asser: Hannah, what is something most people don't know or don't get about the trial?

Hannah: I definitely feel like maybe something most German or European people don't understand about the trial is how differently Syrians are perceiving the trial. Syrians, not just in general but even those who are very directly and personally affected, and who are themselves survivors or family members of victims. I think you all mentioned this earlier, that there's so much criticism. Some people feel that it's going very well, others feel that there are a lot of flaws in the trial, others are not following it at all or don't care about it at all.

I feel like this is something that wasn't well represented in German media. It all seemed that there was this one narrative of the German state bringing justice to the Syrians who are just so grateful and happy that they finally get the chance to talk. I'm not saying that in a derogatory way, of course, a lot of Syrians were very, very grateful that they were able to talk about what happened to them, and they really felt respected. And that's totally important, I agree, but I just think that it's important to see how many different opinions there are. 

Especially after the verdict when you followed Arabic media, there were so many articles that had all the diverse opinions about the verdict in one long article. I felt that this was something really missing from the German and English media landscape.

Fritz: If I can just quickly jump in here, Asser, if it's all right. I wanted to add something that I think a lot of people don't understand. It is in the same field of what Hannah just described as well, but it's also something that I don't fully understand. I wanted to bring it up here and maybe also ask the question back to you, Asser. That is, after the verdict against Eyad A. that Hannah also just described. In front of the courtroom, we witnessed a lot of different moments, and a lot of different dynamics at play, as Saleem was describing some of them earlier.

One that really left an impression on me, that I wanted to try to describe here is, seeing the different Syrians interact with each other after the verdict, from if you want to call it that way, the different sides. What I mean with that is, Eyad A's family was there, his cousin and his son. To me, it was absolutely fascinating to see how they were interacting as well with the other Syrians that were present in the court and outside of the courtroom, especially two moments.

One of the moments was where Eyad A's son was talking with a young Syrian activist who was protesting her father's disappearance in Syria. She was protesting in front of the court, and after the verdict, she was talking with Eyad A's son. I didn't understand what they were saying, as they were talking in Arabic, but from what I gathered, they were exchanging stories. Eyad A's son was saying how difficult it was for him to deal with the situation that his father was imprisoned for something that they don't agree with he should be held accountable for.

She was describing how she hasn't seen her father in 1000s of days. I felt that was incredibly complex and powerful. The second moment that was similar but also very different in many ways is, as Eyad A's cousin and son were leaving the scene in front of the court, they were talking to some of the Syrian justice activists and case builders, Anwar al-Bunni and some people that were standing with him. They were very friendly with each other, laughing and smiling and even hugging goodbye as they were leaving.

Obviously, things are not black and white, and obviously, things are never binary and good guys and bad guys. I get that. But, in that moment, it took me a moment to, and still, I think about that, to reconcile how those relationships work and what those moments meant. I'd love to hear your reaction to that, your take on that, Asser. Maybe, if you have something to say about that.

Asser: Of course. You're absolutely right. Things aren't black and white. Most people regarded the case of Eyad A as much less significant than Anwar R because he was not as senior in the Syrian Mukhabarat. There aren't that many accusations leveled against him in comparison with Anwar R. People are generally keeping their eyes on the verdict against Anwar R. What we didn't anticipate from the beginning, or at least I didn't anticipate from the beginning is how the Eyad A. case would be much more controversial in that case.

We saw that there were so many divergent views. I also got to hear from someone whose father is, until today, in Syrian regime prisons, who actually said she sympathized with Eyad A. and with his case and found it really touching. She did not think that he deserved to be made or put in this place of being the symbolic first person to be convicted of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity in Syria. Obviously, many people did not agree with her and said that actually, the verdict against Eyad A. was not very satisfactory and that they wanted more.

That he took part in crimes that were on a very great scale in their view, and he deserved more than that. Many found it, that he deserved getting exactly what he got. We got to see that even in the lines of the opposition or people who are aligned with the opposition, the views were very divergent, which shows that yes, it is not black and white, as you say.

Fritz: That moment between Eyad A's family members and someone like Anwar al-Bunni who is so clearly a symbol also for the Justice efforts and accountability efforts, such a scene of friendliness, and of amicability. What does that say to you?

Asser: I have seen that actually. I was surprised. I remember my surprise years ago, when I started to hear about, for example, rebel or opposition checkpoints being stationed very close to Syrian regime checkpoints. That they get to know each other and drink tea together and exchange greetings every morning or every evening. This was happening in several areas in Syria, many people were reporting on this. They know that they're on different sides, they know that one day, they will probably get orders to shoot against each other or go into battles with one another.

As long as those commands didn't come, they were able to recognize certain aspects of humanity in each other. I remember a scene I saw one day when people were being evacuated from a formerly rebel-held neighborhood in Homs in central Syria, when a Muslim cleric came out. Before he went on to the bus that was supposed to take him to the North, he saw the pro-regime, Muslim cleric, and they recognized each other.

They've been friends, or they'd known each other for years, and they went and hugged each other and kissed each other on the cheeks before they bid farewell, and the opposition person went to the North. These scenes that we see repeatedly, just show you that maybe at first, they're hard to comprehend, but then you realize that yes, it is not as simple as that.

Fritz: What it really showed to me as well was that in this very concrete situation that I observed, eventually, they are both suffering. Both of those "groups" are suffering from the same thing, which is Assad's tyranny and Assad's regime. In German, you have this word called Schicksalsgemeinschaft, community of fate or destiny. That's the word that came to me after reflecting on this a little further. You called it shared moments of humanity, and I think that's spot on. We really dove deep now into this kind of stuff.

I thought I would mention it because it's something that has been on my mind. I think it's something that a lot of people don't understand about this trial and about the complexities and the grey zones involved.

Asser: Absolutely.

[music]

Asser: I want to put the question out there and hear about everyone's favorite episodes. I actually don't know this. Even though I'm a member of the team, I don't think we've had a behind-the-scenes discussion about it. I'm really keen on knowing the answers of all my team members. Maybe I'll start with you, Fritz. What was your favorite episode or the one that you thought was most significant?

Fritz: You're putting me on the spot here. I didn't think about it, but I will go for the one where we collected voices from Syrians inside of Syria and outside of Syria, on the trial. I think that was in terms of content and approach. Also, what we wanted to present to the listeners with it, I think that was probably the most valuable episode of this season. I just want to give compliments to my colleagues that were involved in producing that. We all contributed to it but that was really I think a great episode.

Saleem: I actually want to channel what you're saying Fritz because for me also the episodes were-- especially in the Arabic season actually the first season of the Arabic podcast. We heard really a lot of Syrian voices from the trial to people who reached out to us, to the final episode, to the specialists who talked about specific topics that we discussed in the season. I feel like I can't just name one episode, but I would say that the episodes where we listened to Syrian people and Syrian voices, these for me felt really powerful.

I want to say that the reason is not just because of what the episode had in it, but the communication with the listeners or with the Syrian people outside of the podcast before when they were still sending their recordings. I felt like there was really a lot of trust and a lot of hope on the podcast itself. That moment felt so special for me because it was showing me that, "Okay, we're doing this and it's actually reaching the very people that we actually wanted to make this Arabic season for."

It felt really like a reward. From the messages and from the way people expressed their emotions toward the podcast and then later on sharing their opinion about the trial and verdict and what's happening generally in Syria, I feel like it's a big journey. It's not just what relays inside of the episode but also what happens in the backstage which is something that is always going to be for us, I guess, team members.

Asser: Hannah, what was your favorite episode?

Hannah: I would say my favorite episode was the one on mental health, the Arabic episode because I think it's a topic that's totally under-discussed. I think so many Syrians in Germany would really need therapy or any kind of support dealing with traumatic memories and experiences. At least that's what was very obvious in the courtroom from the witnesses who talked there. Of course, the language barrier makes that pretty difficult here in Germany. I think it was just great to hear from these initiatives that were presented in the episode.

Asser: Pauline, I suppose we haven't heard from you yet. What was your favorite episode?

Pauline Peek: This is such a hard question. In every episode, there's something that you're really proud of. That can be something as small as smoothing out a recording mistake to the point that it's completely imperceptible, or it can be finding the music that fits the script perfectly. Or it can be an interview that you've conducted before the recording. Then, of course, there's the fact that I learned so much about Syria and justice efforts just because I get to work with such competent colleagues as yourselves as well as very inspiring guests.

It's a hard one. I guess the first episode I got to help make, has a very special place. It was the episode about Syria fatigue back in season one. Other than that, I think overall my favorite episode was also actually the one that was the hardest to make. That's the episode about sexual and gender-based violence They Pay Twice. It appeared in both the English and the Arabic season. I just felt very honored I guess to be in charge of an episode that felt so important and urgent.

Asser: I came to this recording session in need to say that my favorite episode is They Pay Twice and it still is for sure one of my favorites. I was also thinking that when you said an episode being very difficult to make. I think we at the Arabic series team have really struggled with the episode that had to deal with the 10th anniversary of the Syrian Revolution. It was very hard. I found it very hard myself because it was a month that for me and for so many Syrians around the world, it was very difficult to look back and reflect on those 10 years, and all that we have lost on a personal or on kind of national level.

That ended up driving us to try something new. For me and Noor to be speaking, to be answering questions that we've posed to one another, and to share how we actually are feeling and stuff from our discussions with other Syrians and try to convey the atmosphere as best as we could. I think that made it into a very special episode after a time when I was dreading it really and dreading making it for a long time. This brings me to you, Noor, what was your favorite episode?

Noor: Asser, now you're making me question my favorite episode, because your bringing up how we arrived at our decision to record that episode in the way we did makes me really appreciate it even more and reminds me how much-- Like you said, I was also dreading working on that episode, but then I really enjoyed it when we did. but,I think if I did have to choose my favorite episode would probably be What's Choice. I really enjoyed working on that one and doing the background research.

I also thought that it answered a really important question that was in the back of my mind when I started reading about this trial and also was on the back of a lot of other people's minds. Which is regarding the question essentially of choice and how much of a choice did Eyad A. or Anwar R. have in making the decisions they made considering the environment that they worked in. I really enjoyed being able to dissect that in that episode in the way that we did.

[music]

Asser: Well, thanks, everyone. I think we've got this and I really enjoyed these conversations. I hope that our listeners have enjoyed it as well and we will leave you here to wait for us in the third season of Branch 251.

[music]

See you then.

[music]

Pauline: Branch 251 is a 75 Podcasts Production. This episode was hosted by Asser Khattab. You heard Fritz Streiff, Noor Hamadeh, Saleem Salameh, Hannah El-Hitami, and myself, Pauline Peek. Production, editing, and mixing by Pauline Peek. Support for our podcast comes from German Federal Foreign Office funds that are provided by IFA's zivik Funding Programme.

Fritz: Welcome to the world, little Oscar Streiff. Michael Barbaro, if you're listening, congratulations to you, too.

[00:48:27] [END OF AUDIO]


John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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