Posts Tagged ‘Damascus’

A war, in three dimensions—الحرب في ثلاثة أبعاد

Friday, June 26th, 2009

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I decided to visit the Tishreen War Panorama in the morning of the day we were to leave Damascus. Tishreen Al-‘Awal is the Levantine name for the month of October, so this was a monument to the war begun on the 6th of October, 1973, commonly called the Yom Kippur War in countries allied with Israel. As in Egypt, which fought the war alongside Syria against Israel, where there are numerous roads, places and institutions named “6th October” or “10th Ramadan” (the date in the Islamic calendar), or simply “October”, Syria has done the same with “Tishreen”. One of the state newspapers, for instance, is called “Tishreen”. Unlike with al-Naksa (variously translated as “the setback” or “the debacle”) of 1967, the October War is cast as a monumental victory for Egypt and Syria, not so much due to actual territorial gains made (somewhat slight for Syria and in the negative for Egypt), but by challenging Israel’s claim to military invincibility. The same could be said of South Lebanon in 2006. With all the death and destruction on the Lebanese side, it is hard to conceive of it as anything but an ideological victory for Hizbullah, rupturing Israel’s perceived absolute military superiority while highlighting the senseless brutality of “the usurping entity” (a phrase I put in quotes only for an English-speaking audience, as it is commonplace and self-evident in the Arabic-speaking world). It is in the same way that Syria chose to pick the “recovery” of the town of Quneitra from Israel as the centerpiece of its propaganda. Quneitra is a town in the Golan Heights that Israel had occupied during “the setback”, and from which it withdrew after the ceasefire of 1973, in the process evacuating some 37,000 Arabs and dismantling every bit and piece of infrastructure that could have been used by Syrians or profited from by the Israeli contractors to whom it was sold.

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R&R in Damascus—الإستراحة والإرتياح في الشام

Friday, June 26th, 2009
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Our day in Damascus was slow, easy and relaxing. We wandered again around the old city, visiting the palace of As`ad Pasha al-Azem, the 18th century governor of Damascus. It was bigger and more elabrate architecturally than its smaller cousin that I wrote about in Hama, but the latter had been more carefully restored and, on a purely aesthetic level, found it more impressive. This Azem Palace in Damascus was more like a museum, with the focus being on the objects filling the rooms, and less on the rooms themselves. The cheezy dioramas were still there, and there were a great many artifacts that had been left in the old house or recovered from elsewhere. There were copious signs detailing the historical context of this period of the Ottoman Empire, although there was only passing mention of the diversion of resources (including the cutting off of Damascus’s public water supply) that was necessary to build this magnificent palace. What mention there was of such matters was left unexamined, while other signs made note of all the luxurious appointments built into the palace, such a retreat and respite being a virtual necessity for a man holding such grave daily responsibility as the Pasha. What a bunch of hogwash.

Perhaps the reader is thinking, “and what about you, o intrepid traveler? What has been so taxing about three weeks of vacation (and two more to go), wandering about the countryside of Syria, treated as a guest of honor wherever you go, that you should be in need of such ‘rest and relaxation’ in Damascus?” Touché, dear reader, touché. And it is not without a twinge of guilt that I announce that I’ll be giving up on the part of this trip that has been genuinely challenging: the cycling. Between my bum knee and Elaina’s “delicate constitution”, as she puts it (with a touch of irony, I presume), cycling through the much less hospitable (in terms of the terrain and the elements) territory of Jordan seems like stubborn folly. Instead, we’ll be doing the unthinkable: renting a car. It’s a little more than we’d like to spend, but will allow us to visit the sort of out-of-the-way places we might have hoped to have seen by bike, and is certainly cheaper than a knee operation.

With that in mind, the only obligation we spent the day attending to was figuring out how to get ourselves to Amman via bus (it was not possible to rent a one-way car to al-Aqaba from Damascus). The rest of the day was spent wandering, resting, relaxing and generally vacationing, in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Try not to let your jealousy get to you.

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