Tuesday 23 February 2016

Email from the Englishman in Damascus

Joe, the Englishman who lived twelve years in Damascus, sent me these comments, which he says are quick and garbled, on yesterday's post about him.
Since the regime is essentially Alawite and one of the smallest minorities in the country they have looked after the other minorities with exception of the Kurds to act as a barrier to the Sunni majority. There has never been much in the way of sectarian disputes other than resentment of Alawites unfairly promoted to positions of power. If you look at the history of Syria, and remember Damascus is the oldest city in the world, the various faiths have happily lived side by side, so the last forty years of the Assad domination is only blip. Damascus old city is divided amongst all faiths including Jews and
has been for centuries. Christian communities are only in danger of Daesh although obviously they would not be comfortable under a Muslim government, but as far as I know Muslim dominated rebel groups have said they are prepared to respect the minority faiths. Major Muslim rebel groups have said they want a Muslim state but it has to be a democratic choice. In my opinion, Syrians would only ever except a moderate Muslim state with concessions to the minorities.

The more extreme rebel groups have absorbed more moderate minded ones simply as they are better organized equipped etc so it’s important to remember that al-Nusra and the like are seen as just tools to over through the regime and not the future of Syria-any extreme Muslim government would not have genuine support and we will be back in the same situation we are now.
Naturally rebel fighters are made up of the poorer disenfranchised Syrians. They are products of regime brutality and it cannot be so much of a surprise if their behaviour is as appalling as that of the regime. I have not much idea of what is left of the FSA but it did have the makings of a half decent military opposition. Fighters were also from minorities not just Sunni.

Another important point is the ability of Syrians to manage without the regime. In opposition held areas there has been lots of very positive initiatives of local councils etc and they have managed successfully enough and only the likes of Daash and the regime have caused issues. The town of Kafranble in Idlib an example, also outside of Syria many of the activists involved in the original protests are continuing to work on projects for the future including peace and reconciliation etc as well as being involved with aid to opposition areas.

What is lacking is a credible political opposition. Most Syrians do not feel the political opposition represents them in anyway-no credible leader to get behind.

Something else worth a mention regarding the Kurds; Syrian Kurds have always been treated abysmally. The regime promoted Arab nationalism and obviously they are not Arabs. They are politically and culturally divided but they have never actively campaigned for a Kurdish state, just equality. Obviously with a shift in the balance of power this attitude could change but with a moderate government in Damascus am sure they would align.

The Assads have supported the PKK in the past and only kicked them out of Turkey to the Qandil when relations with Turkey improved.
The Syrian regime will not reform. they have too much at stake. Foreign governments' interests have helpedcreate this utter mess, acting in self-interest rather than on behalf of Syrians. Of course we expect nothing less.Personally what bothers me most is the World’s perception of Syria and Syrians, little known before the war and now a by-word for terrorist or extremism, how could I have lived there for ten years is the question I am most asked by Turks.

'Well because it’s just like Turkey' 
is my usual reply. I could never live in Saudi. 
Just now I sat with an educated Turkish women and she asked me if I drank Rakki and when I said I did, since living in Damascus, she was astounded.
       'They drink alcohol!'
she said of her neighbours. 

Syrians are nice people and the country has a lot to offer, a country that could move forward quickly with the right management.


  1. Joe seems to be in the same Syria I am, not the one the journalists herded by the regime or the journalists and right wing hacks with an axe to grind portray.

    1. Yes. I bow to your and his knowledge of Syria.

      He and you do not of course see things from the point of view of besieged Shias or besieged regime supporters.

      (All I can say is that I know three Syrians, two Christians and one child of a mixed marriage, and all three prefer a reformed regime to victory for the rebels. This is scarcely a scientific sample.)

      Cockburn and Fisk are on the left and many right-wing reporters want or wanted Assad to be overthrown.