‘We forgot what peace is’: Everyday life in war-torn Damascus revealed in touching photo report
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Damascus residents told Russian journalists Nigina Beroeva and Ksenia Bolshakova, who report for the Varlamov.ru blog, that people in the capital welcomed the start of Russia’s anti-terrorist operation, launched on September 30, with enthusiasm.
“In Damascus [people] remember this day. Locals say all people were watching TV, following the news, rejoicing. During peaceful times maybe only football was watched with such interest,” the reporters wrote.
In conversation, some have said that there are people who do not support Russia’s operation. However, it was difficult to find opposition activists in Damascus, the report said. It added that those who said that they are pleased with Russian support questioned why it took Moscow so long to provide it. However, both sides – supporters and those who opposed the airstrikes – said that the war should be stopped, and that at the moment it can only be done with Russia’s help, according t the journalists.
The Old City area is still being shelled from time to time, but fortunately there has been no severe damage inflicted to sites of cultural heritage within Damascus, according to the report. Among the latest incidents was one targeting the Russian embassy on Tuesday. Luckily no one was injured.
People in Damascus – one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities – have grown used the struggles of war. “We can be surprised by peace! We forgot what it is,” a medical student, known only as Omar, told the blog’s reporters.
The unrest started in spring 2011 when protests against the government of President Bashar Assad snowballed. “Four years ago, when the war [had] just started, the Syrian society spilt into two camps – those who supported the president and who opposed him,” one of the residents said.
He added that at first it had been hard for people from two opposing sides to find a common language. However, now, even though they may not share political stances they accept different points of view. “We all stayed in Syria and are together going through a rough patch in the history of our country.”
At one point the unrest spilled over into violence with a religious element when Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) militants declared war on Shias, Alawites and Christians in Syria. “IS militants made lists of Christian and Alawite families, broke into their houses and murdered entire families,” a Syrian woman told the Russian journalists. “My family was in the list,” she said.
Muslim scholars and religious figures from all over the world have slammed IS saying that the group’s practices have nothing to do with Islam. “Our Prophet said that a Muslim cannot kill a person for practicing a different religion,” an imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus told the blog’s journalists. “By killing people the extremists violate our Prophet’s commandments. They are not true Muslims.”
“For us all of them are terrorists,” said Damascus resident Alma who works as a dentist. “The people who fought in the Free Syrian Army then went to fight for Al-Nusra front, some then joined IS. First there was a National Syrian Coalition, and then there appeared an Islamic Coalition. Al-Nusra is an Al-Qaeda affiliate. There are up to ten other jihadist groups that kill people.”
Despite war, the capital continues to be secular. The reporters said that you can meet women in short skirts sitting beside their friends in hijabs chatting in numerous cafes. Night clubs are open, and you can buy alcohol in some parts of the city.
In the Old City, families enjoy spending time in the beautiful Umayyad Mosque, one of the largest and oldest mosques in the world, which houses the shrine of John the Baptist (or Yahya), considered a prophet by Christians and Muslims alike. Located in the center of the mosque, it is considered to be a symbol of religious tolerance.