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  • Writer's pictureRichard Melkonian

The Syria I remember

In 2010 I took a trip to Syria. In light of current events, I wanted to share some personal impressions and photographs of Syria before the war. 

Aleppo, (Halep) is an ancient city in the north of Syria. Traders and merchants have traveled through this city for over a thousand years. It’s Ramadan.  At night, men haggle over chunks of lamb, women find new hijabs for their daughters, little boys sell coffee and pistachio cake, Beduins ride donkeys carrying birds in cages and cases of bulgur wheat to sell – he sees his friend selling saffron by the street.

“Asalem alakum keef halcum hayati!”

“Alhumdulilah, lesh, Ramadan!

The souq of Aleppo is situated next to the city’s central citadel. Frankincense from the Gulf wafts, rugs from Iran fill tiny shops. Shopkeepers greet me and offer invitations for tea.

Aleppo could have risen out of the desert itself. This city echoes with the adhan, traffic and the clatter of mule hooves on dusty cobbled floors.

I leave Aleppo, bound for Hama, and pass through barren lands where olive trees grow through tumbling ruins. A few birds circle above, hoping to find some morsel of food. Small dust tornadoes form far off on the horizon.

A new mosque is built in the Persian Style on the outskirts of Aleppo. In this modern part of the city, a reference to the past is pertinent for this cosmopolitan neighborhood.

The Dead Cities, ruins of the Byzantinian Empire, haunt the horizon. Hundreds of these sites circle Aleppo. You can hear songs of old when the wind howls through unseen passages underground.

I stay at the Mar Mussa Monastery in the Beduin desert region just north of Damascus.  This holy site has been inhabited by Coptic Christians for hundreds of years.  Ahmed and I sleep in a cave by the monastery.  We play Oud and smoke nargileh in the nights.  Time moves slowly here. 

Isa was one of the monks at the monastery.  I will never forget Isa’s hospitality. He played the Ney before and after prayer, pure talent.

This photo was taken by a friend in Damascus.  Looking back five years from today is strange.  I am saddened by Britain’s attitude towards Syria both in the media and out in the street. Father Paolo was a monk who was particularly kind to me. After the government bombarded the monastery, he fled to the border. He was caught by Isis and brutally beheaded. This is a homage not only to him but to all the others that we (that’s humanity, not the west) have failed.

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