Tonight, CNN’s Arwa Damon will be at the Newseum in downtown DC to collect Oxfam America’s first ever “Right the Wrong” Award. The award comes as Damon returns from a reporting stint in Turkey, where she has been covering anti-government protests. But for the past few weeks, Damon has been been covering a much more dangerous beat -the civil war in Syria. Indeed, Oxfam is recognizing her tonight for her “fearless reporting on conflict and humanitarian disasters in Syria.” (A great example of which can be found here.)
“It is a bit surreal,” she says of the contrast between the chaos of a war zone and the pomp of an awards ceremony.
“I am more comfortable being out there, dirt under my nails, amongst it all. But of course it’s phenomenally flattering and I think it does serve as a platform to highlight all the issues that we are covering out there.”
Damon is perhaps uniquely suited to cover the war for CNN -she is the quadrilingual, half-American granddaughter of former Syrian Prime Minister Muhsin al-Barazi. He was deposed and executed in 1949 during one the coups that wracked the early days of the independent Syrian state. She grew up in Morocco and Turkey, graduated from Skidmore College in New York, and began her career shortly after 9/11. At the time, she was working at a Turkish textile company, but in the face of the anti-Arab backlash taking hold of the country, she decided to dedicate her life to a higher purpose than hawking robes and carpets.
With little more than her ability to speak Arabic (and French, and Turkish), and an idealistic desire to foster understanding between the people of the East and the West, she went to Iraq as a journalist to cover the American occupation and subsequent insurgency there. Since then, she has reported from places such as Thailand, Libya, and Egypt. And now she’s covering Syria -a place she had visited several times before the current crisis, but, despite her background, never considered her home. Her parents lived in Beirut after the coup, and she says that she and her family always thought of themselves as Arab more than Syrian.
Damon will be back there in ten days -where exactly, she’s not quite sure. It depends on the situation on the ground and how easy it is to get across the border. So this is but another brief break in a decade-long career dominated by conflict and tragedy. Damon admits it can be overwhelming.
“I always get told during my annual reviews that I need to take more time off,” she says with a derisive chuckle. “But I chose this life. I chose this work, and I don’t regret any of it.”
Check back here later for more from Arwa Damon. She took some time earlier to talk to FishbowlDC about her career, and had some great insights into the Syrian conflict and the nature of war reporting. We’ll be posting that interview tomorrow morning.