In reality, the regime has been waging a total war against civilians for daring to stand up to it. The result has been death, hunger, disease and the appearance of extremists trying to exploit our suffering.
The portrayal in official media reflects the regime's refusal to recognise that Syrians have legitimate demands – that millions of people of all backgrounds want a government that serves rather than exploits its people.
This week, the Syrian National Coalition took a decision to attend peace talks to attempt to put an end to the suffering. Before the vote, many members expressed the fear that talks would be exploited by the regime to extend its rule. Many of the coalition's constituents, people living inside the country, remain opposed to the idea of talks. The regime will find a way to stay and the destruction, death and pain will have all been for nothing, they say.
It is not difficult to see why Syrians worry that the regime will spin negotiations into a mandate to extend its rule. Seeing Bashar al-Assad praised for allowing the international community to remove the chemical weapons he has already unleashed on his people only confirms their worst fears.
When the regime recognises reality, it portrays the suffering it has caused as the fault of the victims. Only a few days ago, Syria recorded its first polio-related death in more than a decade. A Syrian family lost their child to the disease because their neighbourhood was denied food, water, medicine or power, leaving toddlers to scavenge for food among human waste. The regime said foreign fighters had brought the disease with them, and then announced a vaccination programme. Such cynical exploitation of suffering is nothing short of grotesque.
For Syrians to truly embrace the idea of peace talks as a viable path to a better future, we must see that Damascus's ability to distort reality has ended.
The coalition understands that peace talks are the best option available to stop the fighting as quickly as possible and end our people's suffering. The regime has already said it will not come to negotiate stepping down. It understands, as well as we do, that freedom for Syrians means a Syria free of Assad. For peace talks to be successful, the regime must be forced to accept reality – it will not do so of its own accord.
Talks must be based on existing commitments. The document known as the Geneva communiqué obligates the regime to take a number of vital steps to lessen the violence, increase the flow of aid, release prisoners and form a transitional authority. It must be clear to the regime that evading the commitments agreed to in the communiqué will have serious consequences.
Eleven nations – including the US, UK and France – issued a more recent London communiqué following a meeting in October that only stated the obvious when it said that Assad and his close associates with blood on their hands must step aside. This is a statement of fact. Assad made his departure inevitable when he decided to use bullets and bombs on unarmed demonstrators in 2011. The forces he has unleashed cannot easily be reboxed. The question is not whether Assad will go, but when and how.
For Syria to have a chance at peace, pressure – under chapter 7 of the UN charter – is necessary. This means the regime is forced to understand that deception carries with it the risk of facing international military action.
Once the regime honours its previous commitments we can begin the task of rebuilding Syria as a free, democratic state where all citizens are equal. This becomes harder with each passing day the regime remains in power.
This article was published in The Guardian