This article is dedicated to ordinary Syrians, whose capacity for hospitality is legendary, including those who went right out of their way for an injured Australian as he lay in pain on the cobblestones of ancient Damascus, and who are now experiencing such desperately hard times. I haven’t forgotten you.
Somewhat unexpectedly, I visited Syria in early 2009 and 2011. On both occasions my visits were adjacent to stints on a Jordanian volunteer project. Having travelled all that way, it made sense to visit another nearby country while I was in the region. Back then, despite documented internal human rights abuses, Syria was easy on the wallet and to travel around, with bus services traversing the length and breadth of the country. Like other totalitarian countries, it was also, oddly, quite safe for visitors – in a slightly disconcerting “You DO know there are spies down in the souq keeping an eye on things, don’t you?” kind of way.
So I visited Syria, unexpectedly. There I had the privilege of wandering through the ancient streets of Old
Damascus and Aleppo, and I took photos of the Apamea ruins shrouded in mist and rain, a city founded by one of Alexander the Great’s successors. Eyes out on stilts, I marvelled at the Umayyad Mosque, which has been the site of Moslem, Christian, Roman, Canaanite and earlier worship – in fact, it’s been a site of deity worship as long as humans have lived in Damascus, and no one actually knows how long that is. I saw no less than four out of the six designated World Heritage Sites in Syria, and I wrote enthusiastic articles for ‘Crikey’ after I returned to Australia. Another millennium, and there’s nothing new under the sun. After
thousands of years of empires, battles and conquest, armies and agendas overrun Syria again, mocking my glowing Crikey endorsement of this country.
The genesis of the current conflict dates from around the time I wandered through the Old City of Aleppo and its Citadel (now significantly damaged) in early February 2011, after a couple of days visiting some sensational historical sites around Hama. I kept a cautious watch on the latest news about the Arab Spring, and every now and then would duck into an internet café to check my emails, the ABC website and Peter Cave’s excellent Middle East correspondent reports on the simmering
unrest in neighbouring countries. By the time I departed for Amman and my flight back to Australia, protests were already occurring throughout Syria, unreported by the local media and out of sight and out of mind to other Syrians, let alone the rest of the world. Then significant demonstrations occurred on 15 March and rapidly escalated.
Four and a half bloody years later, Syria is being torn to bits. Like others who, like me, have had the privilege of standing in awe, gobsmacked, before this country’s amazing historical and cultural heritage and experiencing the innate hospitality of the people of this region, I have, in the interim, simply looked on and wept.
At the time of writing this article, the Syrian Government is in control of the west, including Damascus, with substantial pockets within government lines held by the rebels, and Kurds holding most of the area bordering with Turkey. IS-controlled territory includes the region of Palmyra and the ruins of its ancient Semitic city, with its ruined columns glowing in the pinky-gold desert light. In 269 AD when Queen Zenobia of Palmyra staged a classy rebellion against the Roman Empire, it was the nexus of the Palmyrene empire and a thriving trade base for Silk Road traders criss-crossing the desert with their loads of silks, spices and luxury goods.
Along the western end of the Silk Road, two thousand years after Zenobia’s time, another commodity is
sought by wealthy merchants. Rupert Murdoch and Lord Jacob Rothschild are major shareholders of Genie Energy Ltd which has been granted a license to drill for oil in the Golan Heights. As reported in the Jerusalem Post on 22 February 2013, “The Ministry of Energy and Water Resources’ Petroleum Council recommended awarding the license to Genie Energy Ltd…..Shareholders include chairman Howard Jonas, Lord Jacob Rothschild, and Rupert Murdoch. Former US vice president Dick Cheney is an adviser.”
With that in mind, it’s worth considering this:
“Experts have warned that the Isis militant group cannot be beaten without regime change in Syria, after a group of defectors revealed the horrors they had witnessed at the hands of Bashar al-Assad’s government….a doctor, a pathologist, a judge and a chemical weapons official from within the Syrian regime spoke about the atrocities they saw committed – and their frustration at the lack of attention from the international community.”
“Forgetting about the institutionalised atrocities of the Assad regime only aggravates the situation on the ground. Bombing Isis from the air while turning a blind eye to Assad will just slightly shift the balance of power in Syria – where the civilian population is effectively trapped between the Assad regime and Isis….the removal of Isis necessitates the removal of Assad and a positive long-term engagement with moderate rebel groups including moderate Islamist groups. Because only these groups can actually make a difference for the population on the ground”
Watch News Corp Australia from now on and the way its newspapers report on Syria and the possible expansion of Western military engagement with IS. If they start beating the drums of war in earnest, THEY should be asked a few questions.
Such as: for all IS’ undeniable barbarity, why your jingoistic exhortations for a Syrian intervention NOW, after decades of being mute about the documented human rights abuses of the Assad regime? What agendas are at work here? For example, does your Ultimate Boss have financial interests in that part of the world? Well can you please disclose this in your articles? This would save citizen journalists like me the bother of having to google this ourselves.
After suffering the human rights abuses of recent decades and the unconscionable humanitarian disaster of recent times, the spectacularly hospitable and generous Syrians, who are now flooding the Near East, the Mediterranean and EU member states in their desperate millions, deserve no less.
And what’s the possible end plan for this amazing country? To be ultimately partitioned and carved up, piecemeal? And in whose interests and to whose benefit?
Report on that.
*All photos in this article are mine.
** If you care to make a small donation to assist Syrian refugees, the Salaam Cultural Museum is engaged in humanitarian and educational activities in Jordanian refugee camps. It is currently looking at providing humanitarian and medical assistance with respect to the recent huge influx of refugees into the Greek Islands.