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What Syrians Think: Views on the Conflict, Negotiations, and Transitional Justice

By Shehzad Qazi | Insights | Series II | No. 2 | January 2014

What Syrians Think: Views on the Conflict, Negotiations, and Transitional Justice

Few people have any idea – yet these are vitally important questions. To seek some answers, Charney Research conducted qualitative survey research among Syrians inside and outside their country for the Syrian Justice and Accountability Centre, a non-partisan NGO working on transitional justice issues in Syria. The results are in our new report, “’He who did wrong should be accountable’: Syrian Perspectives on Transitional Justice,” released at a meeting January 29 at the US Institute of Peace in Washington.

The findings will surprise many – for they show a consensus in favor of a negotiated settlement and accountability for abuses on both sides. They are essential reading for anyone concerned with ending the conflict or how transitional Justice can help in a Syrian transition.


  • Syrians are deeply negative about the country’s situation and direction, with both sides shocked by the extent of the violence and social disintegration.
  • Neither side expects the conflict to end soon.
  • Interviewees across the board expressed a strong desire for a negotiated settlement.
  • They also overwhelmingly favored the return of refugees and internally displaced persons and postwar coexistence among different sects and political opinions, but with the caveat that there be no armed groups among them. 
  • There was a recognition that there had been abuses by both sides and a near-universal desire for accountability for abuses committed by both sides.  Very few were willing to “forgive and forget.” 
  • Despite this, many regime opponents would accept exile for President Assad as part of a negotiated settlement.
  • We found a surprising degree of consensus regarding transitional justice mechanisms, with trials being the most popular.  However, regime opponents and supporters differed sharply in their views of the fairness of the existing Syrian court system.
  • Truth commissions, though unfamiliar, also received support, while both sides saw compensation for losses in the conflict as necessary. 
  • Predictably, views of Bashar al-Assad were extremely polarized. The Syrian Army was seen by anti-regime respondents as serving only the regime.
  • Among opposition groups, the Syrian National Council enjoyed little support. The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces was less well-known but also viewed largely negatively.
  • From the armed opposition, the Free Syrian Army received mixed reviews even from regime opponents, while regime supporters saw them as foreign proxies.
  • Jabhat al-Nusrah, however, evoked strong hostility among regime supporters, who saw it as radical and fanatical. 
  • Television is the most popular source of information on the conflict, though much of it is seen as biased and partisan. Syrians use the internet for more objective news coverage.
  • Given the strong desire for the conflict to end and support for accountability, we found that now is the time to encourage Syrians to begin discussing how transitional justice mechanisms can play a role in creating peace with justice in their country.


To conduct the study, Charney Research worked with local interviewers, who conducted 46 in-depth individual interviews in August-September 2013. They were done in seven locations around Syria and with and with refugees in Turkey and Jordan. Interviewers spoke with men and women, members of all confessional and ethnic groups, and regime supporters and opponents.  Although it is not a quantitative opinion poll yielding percentages that can be extrapolated to the population, this type of qualitative research provides a broad sampling of attitudes and mind-sets among all the key population groups in Syria.

To download the report, click here.

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