Syria, Nine Grueling Years

Sitting in silence on a red sofa, gaze transfixed to a muted tv.

January 2011.

I had hardly left that sofa just watching history unfold via al Jazeera, this time I was squeezed between Syrian friends with tears in their eyes.

We were in Syria and the revolution was in Egypt and of all the drama, the crowds and slogans, pepper spray and tanks, it was just one line that sticks in my memory, mine and no doubt most others watching or involved; the president has gone

Everybody was thinking the same thing; would a revolution happen in Syria, could it really happen? And everybody had different ideas and opinions.

I wanted to go to Egypt, I have an affinity with Cairo and many friends there, and, something quite momentous was happening. How could I leave now?

I had to stay.

Walking home one day from the modern center of Damascus to the Old city I received a telephone call, I changed my route to avoid the noise of Souk Hamadieh, I meandered through the narrow alleyways chatting, occasionally nodding to a familiar face as I passed, dusk in Damascus settles early, the city sitting in the lap of a mountain. Propped against the bonnet of a parked car I finished my phone call and tried to make a photograph of the moon reflected in an antique window pane. A typically warm day was suddenly cold.

That stroll and conversation had taken maybe thirty minutes and unbeknown to me my detour had avoided the beginning of the uprising, an event rarely mentioned, then, days later the news from the south would arrive, the people of Deraa had taken to the streets and nothing would ever be the same.486322_10152307687975179_1794775067_n

March 2011.

The beginning and the end.

Other than those of us who follow World or Middle East events have paid much attention to what was happening in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria at that time, probably even the bloody headlines of Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan hardly registered, it had already been eight years since the illegal invasion of Iraq, the Middle East was always in turmoil, easy not to pay attention, it was somewhere else and there are always problems closer to home.

Then that all changed. The problem migrated.


Its nine years now. There are still bombs in Damascus.

In Syria we had so many conversations about how long things would last, the optimists said a couple of months and others said decades, actually ten years was often suggested, we drank endless cups of tea and cursed the checkpoints, rampant inflation and lack of power.

I hung as long as I could in Damascus, another two and half years but eventually, after a lengthy investigation and interrogation by the Syrian security services followed by bankruptcy had little choice but to leave, I left everything. I gave the keys to the house I had bought to a displaced family and crossed the border into Lebanon and then onto Turkey to start again.

Since leaving Syria I am constantly surprised at the complete lack of understanding of the situation, I get blank stares of incomprehension when I mention I lived there, nothing compared to the comments my Syrian friends have to deal with.

I think if we allow our democratically elected governments to wage wars on our behalf or exploit the natural resources we desire or profit from, or if we deem one despot more worthy than another or feel the need to oust them, or even if we feel so superior to preach to others how they should act or behave then surely we have at least a duty to be aware of the facts and reality surrounding these events, not just the simplistic headlines.

Would it be fair to say that wars in the Middle East and especially the Syrian conflict have affected the social political fabric of Europe?

If anyone interested in learning more about the reality of the Syrian conflict or the culture and history of Syria, I have compiled a reading list. This is not just a random selection of titles groomed from the web but books I have read and/or by authors I have worked with or know personally and so can vouch for their authenticity and, I have included well researched travel writing produced prior to 2011, since I feel they offer a more gentle approach to a subject that can get bogged down in geo political semantics.

I had intended adding the list in this post but it turned out more extensive than I first imagined, so tell me if you are interested and I will make a follow up post.

There is so much more to the Syrian story than war and refugees, there is so much more to the Middle East, and fortunately there are some quite brilliant writers out there who have gone to inordinate lengths to document this heritage or tell these stories.

Syrian refugee boy Atmeh camp Idlib Syria

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116 thoughts on “Syria, Nine Grueling Years

  1. I was an expat in the Middle East for 15 years, and it’s appalling that the conflict and devastation rages on in Syria. I can’t believe it’s been nine years.

  2. I totally understood where you’re coming from seeing as I only just finished reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini describing the uprising and subsequent war in Kabul, Afghanistan. The people who cannot comprehend what you describe have no idea how devastating it all is, especially to people who have the bear the brunt of the uprising. I understand you. Totally do.

  3. I thank you so much for your story; not to take anything away from Syria, but it reminds me of what happens in many other parts of the Middle East and in Africa that don’t get much coverage at all, probably because big names are involved. For instance what is happening in Virunga National Park in Congo. There has been endless political, economic, and social instabilities caused by so much corruption of the local leaders who accept bribes from oil companies like Sacco to disrupt the forest that hosts mountain gorillas and a range of other animals like elephants etc. Their ultimate interest is to destabilize these countries for monetary gain, either to profit from oil, or gun sales. There is so much that goes on in these countries if you read past the news headlines, so thank you for your piece.
    You can watch the movie “Virunga” on Netflix if you are interested!

  4. Pingback: Syria, Nine Grueling Years — John Wreford Photographer – Peace and Conflict

  5. Reblogged this on Black Tortoise Press and commented:
    A bit of insight from a Syrian refugee for a Wednesday read.

    Here, we just began Phase 3 of Restore Illinois. Are freedoms seem few. We are home, we are safe. Some in the world are not so lucky.

  6. So many of us see what is going on but fail to realize there are innocent lives at stake there. Thank you for injecting humanity into the struggle of so many people.

    1. Thank you so much Rupa.
      Enjoyed your poetry and loved this….
      ‘So dance your heart out. Don’t be scared to fall, or to be caged into the crevices of your age’
      A nice start to my day
      Thank you 🙂

  7. Regime changing war- Irag, Syria, S American countries, African countries – devastating the countries, selling the resources cheap in exchange for expensive destructing weapons and putting $ into the pocket of the weapon tycoons. After emptying these countries now these &^$# moving to Asia and stirring up troubles in Asia…………………

  8. Thank you, John.

    Your work is always stunning. I think of you and the matter-of-fact beauty and pain of the place you are in at liminal moments – in the middle of the night when I wake up thirsty, or in the forest at dusk when the sky is the color of peaches, or during the full moon. Whenever I think of your stories, it’s like the most imperceptible string vibrates, the thinnest line between day and night. It’s like a sliver, a portal, humming.

    I would be very interested in your reading list.

    Thank you so much!


  9. Pingback: Syria, Nine Grueling Years – Peer to Peer

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