The Syrian Heartbreak
The Syrian Heartbreak
Normalising Relations with Syria: How Significant?
Normalising Relations with Syria: How Significant?
Op-Ed / Middle East & North Africa 1 minutes

The Syrian Heartbreak

There was a distinctive sense of national pride in Syria. It flowed from the confidence of a civilization dating back to the times of the earliest alphabets and visible in the country’s wealth of archaeological sites, including some of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It came from the depth of local culture. It stemmed from the music of Syrian Arabic, the elegance of Syrian manners, the finesse of Syrian cuisine and the sincerity of Syrian hospitality. It proceeded from modern geopolitics, too, as Damascus carved out for itself a role bigger and bolder than its scarce resources should have allowed. In particular, and despite tremendous pressure, Damascus stood firm on the Palestinian cause, which Syrians feel more strongly about than anyone, perhaps, except the Palestinians. The regime may have been a conveniently quiescent foe for Israel, but Syria was, on the map of the Arab world, the only state still “resisting.”

Syrian pride, too, fostered a strong national identity and a calm self-assurance, even among Palestinian refugees, chased from what is now Israel, who blended in over the years -- in stark contrast to the ostracism their kin experience elsewhere in the region. Such equipoise was on display when in 2006 large numbers of people fleeing violence in neighboring Lebanon and Iraq were absorbed with rare ease into a society that seemed to know and accept itself well enough to open its arms to others. Friction occurred, as in any refugee crisis, but remarkably little considering sectarian tensions and the sheer scale of the influx.

Syrians have lost much in the conflict they are now locked into, with no way back and little sign of a way forward, either for supporters of President Bashar al-Asad or for the assorted opposition forces. Syrians are paying an exorbitant price for the impasse. The country’s urban fabric is being ripped apart. In the large and lively city of Homs, Sunni neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble and the mainly Christian area around the central market pounded into dust. The industrial powerhouse Aleppo is following a similar path, as may the capital, Damascus. Architectural heritage has been razed or looted, removing a key source of that singular national pride, not to mention of revenue from future tourism. Families, businesses and religious organizations have been displaced or torn asunder by death or unbridgeable divisions of opinion.

Read the full article on the Middle East Research and Information Project


Former Project Director, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria and Senior Middle East and North Africa Adviser
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Sarah Birke
Middle East correspondent, The Economist

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