When I recently wrote a Syria premier blog post , Asma al-Assad, it produced a lot of memories from my experiences in Damascus for years back. From a long time before the war. Less that deserve to see the light of the day again, which brings forth pictures of Syria, quite different from the blurred and untouched land that we only hear about these years.
A Syrian beauty
My specialty at the university was Syria and the serious human rights violations that have taken place in the country for years. I therefore had a particularly critical view of the country prior to my work trip there. During the thesis I had gained in-depth knowledge of Syrian prisons and treatment of political prisoners.
For the same reason, I was honestly quite clumsy about the snotting shaft at the thought of staying in town for a period of time. Nevertheless, despite my thorough knowledge of the country, I fell in love with Damascus from the moment I drove in there. Many have described the city as ugly. I do not think it was ugly. It was brown. There were not so many other colors on the city’s buildings. Obviously, it was a city affected by the Western economic sanctions.
But it had a soul, a pulse and a nerve that pumped loose into each cobblestone, on each sidewalk and street corner of the city. When I entered the souk with its old alleys, it was almost a magical force; One was sucked into the rolling ocean of human beings in the narrow alleys surrounded by all sorts of strong smells of spices, strong perfumes, vegetables, nuts, silk fabrics, man’s worms, hormones in the air, the sweat of anxiety.
Scents and smells that, like an explosion of sensory impressions, flowed together and sparkled their senses. As a silk fabric, wrapped around one and led one deep into the heart of the souk with stretches so old that they are mentioned in the Bible. From there one could disappear, completely immersed in the magic of the place, its history, its human destroyer. Therein all fear and all reservations disappeared, until then, life was lived as the city’s inhabitants had done for 2000 years, with changing rulers and tyrants, with changing religions and political agendas.
Searched by Intelligence Service
Before my departure to Damascus, I became a friend with knowledge of the Syrian intelligence service and its approaches warned: “At one point you will find that a wildly-known man will suddenly contact you on the street. Avoid all eye contact and proceed as if you have not heard what he said. Do not turn over. It is the way the Syrian intelligence service is used to test you; if you are a spy. They will test if you are a threat or cooperative. Go on, completely disheartened “, his advice was.
When I entered the souk with its old alleys, it was almost a magic force; one was sucked into the rolling human sea in the narrow alleys surrounded by all sorts of strong smells of spices, strong perfumes, vegetables, nuts, silk fabrics, man’s worms, hormones in the air, the sweat of anxiety.
It happened exactly as my friend had said. One day in the soup I suddenly became like a lightning from a clear blue sky, visited by a stranger. The souks of the souks are small and narrow, filled with people, and not a place for people with claustrophobic tendencies.
He came straight to me with a glance in the eyes, as if he needed my help, touched my shoulder, and said something quickly, and suddenly he was gone. I remembered my friend’s advice, quickly shook his eyes, did not turn around, and continued disrespectfully into the human-ocean of the souk. But I knew he was there and he would await and see what my reaction would be. I’m sure I was under observation for the rest of my stay. But I was not visited by several intelligence officials for the rest of my time in town.
Can we talk about Disneyland?
I remember from my days in Damascus that all walls had ears. This is not something specific to Equal Syria, it applied and applies to most countries in the neighborhood. Almost as a law of nature, one could assume that all taxi drivers worked for the regime. You should not sit and pronounce criticism of the regime in a taxi. Similarly, you should not sit at restaurants and discuss such political issues. And not at all about Israel.
One evening I met a UN employee at an outdoor restaurant where foreigners from, among others, the UN and other international organizations met. Not surprisingly, the place was stuffed with waiters whose primary task was to overcome any political threats and issues in guest conversations.
As we sat under Damascus’s beautiful and dark night sky, he explained that by definition, they never referred to as “any country bordering Egypt, and as this country has never recognized as a state”. Instead, diplomats and UN employees always referred to Israel as Disneyland. And in this way we discussed Disneyland and political relations in this connection. If the restaurant’s waiters have ever wondered about all the people who have talked about Disneyland over the years, I’m not going to make it clear.
A war, not a civil war
The war in Syria can technically hardly be called a civil war anymore. A civil war in the classical sense is based on various internal fractions in a disagreed society.
Syria is not “my” country. I have no family from there or roots in Syrian soil. But in the short time I was there, I was allowed to be one of the city’s children. It is not all cities that have the ability to receive and embrace the traveler.
Or a population who wants a ruler deprived who does not want to lose his power. What originally was an expiratory of the revolution in Tunisia and Egypt, started as a simple wish from the civilian population to overturn their President Bashar al-Assad, has today ended in a genocide and a collapse of the world’s external actors, each having own agenda to follow in a country that is not theirs.
A steady stream of non-Syrian cloves
A glorious example of this is, among other things, the Islamic State with its accompanying goblets, which, as you know, have founded their so-called caliphate in the city of Raqqa in Syria. These are the few of these ignorants, who are at all of Syrian descent, even speak Arabic. Most of them are raised in Europe, and speak barely Arabic. In addition, there is a certain influx of Saudi and Iraqi youths who feel the urge to escape the Islamic state’s taboos. In other words, it is not Syrian nationals that make up the core of this event. Preserved, there are similar other so-called religious fractions of Syrian origin, which are also fighting in the war, including the Al-Nusra front. But they do not constitute the majority of these actors with a religious component as a marker.
In addition, there are other Arab, Kurdish, Armenian, Assyrian and Turkmen groups and Lebanese Hizbollah soldiers, not to mention the Russian military bombings, Saudi money, Iranian military support, Turkish troops, and the US and coalition assistance. In other words, it is no longer a “pure” civil war with only Syrian conflicting parties.
This is not a religion war
How strange it may sound, I will constantly say that this war is not a religion war. There are groupings, including the Islamic State and the Al-Nusra Front, which naturally have based their entire legitimacy on a madness concept that they have allowed themselves to call Islamic in their own perennial worldview. It is not a picture that is consistent with the religious perception of the individual Syrian Muslim family.
President Bashar al-Assad is alawit, a small sect of Shi-Muslim origin, while the Muslim majority in Syria is Sunni Muslim. But the rebellion was not a sectarian rebellion in its original form. On the other hand, it was a wish for the introduction of democracy. It was only after the outburst of the civil war that magical sizes with a taste of war and destruction came into play, and with religious wrapping – and massive financial support from abroad – introduced the religious component of the war.
No matter how much these groups call themselves religious in their abyss madness, they are still in the core of power. It’s about controlling geographic areas, especially those with oil sources, and historical monuments that can be sold – or blown up in the air just to mark themselves as a power factor.
For the president, it is a very welcome benefit with the presence of these groups in the country, because they are legitimizing his ever-aggressive warfare against the civilian population to bring these groups to life.
A multireligious society
Syria is a country that has been home for over 2,000 years throughout the world’s various branches of Islam and Christianity. In Syria, there have always been Sunni Christians, Christians of Different Observation, including Greek Orthodox, Armenian Catholics, Alawites, Drusers, Shiites, Salafists, and Yazidians.
When I think about my time in Damascus, it is of particular concern to the city and its inhabitants. Their appetite to life, their openness to strangers, the feeling of being welcome in their beautiful old city
It has never before been the cause of a war of these dimensions between the different religions in the country. On the contrary. So far, they have lived in cohesion. So do not make mistakes. This war is not religiously based. It’s about acquiring power.
Oh Damascus – with spices, perfumes, dresses, silk rolls, dates and scent of water pipes
When I think of my time in Damascus, it is of particular concern to the city and its inhabitants. Their appetite to life, their openness to strangers, the feeling of being welcome in their beautiful old city.
Knowing that the prisons were stuffed with innocent people who bravely tried to express themselves critically against a regime. Knowing that intelligence service kept a tight grip on the population. But this city and its citizens showed that life should be lived regardless. Despite and in despite. With all that belonged before that war. With heartbreak, courage and life, no matter what ethnic group and religion you may belong. With fragrances from the soup with all its shops with spices, perfumes, dresses, silk rolls and real blankets; plastic bowls and plastic cloths, nuts and daisies, children and women on their way home, shopping outfit, cigarette smoke and scented waterpipes, shoots and kebabs, greenhouses, fruit sellers, tea sellers and cafes. Restaurants and the smell of well-prepared food.
It is these sense impressions from Damascus, I will always remember.
Syria is not “my” country. I have no family from there or roots in Syrian soil. But in the short time I was there, I was allowed to be one of the city’s children. It is not all cities that have the ability to receive and embrace the traveler. But this particular ability had beautiful old Damascus. Once before the war.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons. yeowatzup from Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany – Souq al-Hamidiyya, Damascus, Syria