Syria (Syrian Arab Republic) is a big country of Middle East ranging from the Mediterranean Sea and Lebanon to the west to Iraq in the east and from Turkey in the north to Jordan and Israel in the south. Its territory consists of fertile valleys, high mountain ranges and desert. The history of Syria is lost deep in time, consisting the cradle of mankind, since the Neolithic era when agriculture and livestock farming was first practiced here in the Mesopotamian Valley. From the 14th century BC nomadic tribes of Aramae and Phoenicians settled the area. The Empire of the Assyrians flourished from the 10th century BC. century until 605 BC. and the conquest by the Babylonians and afterwards by Persians. Alexander the Great annexed this region to its vast empire, naming it Syria as a paraphrase of Assyria, an acquisition that continued by the successive Greek kingdoms of the Seleucids. The kingdom of Palmyra was founded in the 3rd century AD as a wealthy trade center of this desert city and eventually became part of the Roman and later the Byzantine Empire, followed by the Arabian conquest and the prevalence of Islam. The conquests will be continued by the Crusaders, the Seljuks, the Kurds, the Mongols and finally the Ottomans, who promoted a peaceful coexistence of the different national and religious groups. The modern history of Syria is tied to the troubled, wider Middle East area. Israel-Egypt War, Palestinian Issue, Iraqi Crisis, with Syria involved in warfare with Israel for the Golan Heights, as well as in the Lebanese long term civil war.
The Syrian Civil War
n 2011, Arab demonstrations in Syria have escalated into a revolt against the president Bashar Al-Assad regime, triggering a bloody civil war that continues to this day, with enormous costs in human lives, infrastructure and of course, causing economic collapse, a humanitarian crisis and a huge refugee wave to Europe. As is common with civil conflicts, the situation has become complicated, with foreign powers being involved in a “proxy war” with Russia, the US. and the states of the Middle East, either opposed to the dictatorial regime or supporting it as a legitimate government. Assad, however, was re-elected in the 2014 elections with an overwhelming percentage. The situation soon became uncontrollable, with cities being pounded by rebel fire or government army and most victims in the civilian population. In 2013, the Islamist State of Iraq and Levante (ISIS) was formed, which captured cities in neighboring Iraq, together with money, arms and control of oil fields. With just 2,500 fighters captured the city of Mosul, proclaiming it the capital of the “caliphate,” greatening its power, imposing an extreme version of Sharia law and committing crimes and atrocities to the civilians. The jihadists were constantly strengthening, recruiting foreign fighters and expanding their area of occupation. In 2015 the rebels surrendered the destroyed city of Homs, but continued the confrontation of Aleppo, the biggest city at that time. ISIS occupies the ancient city of Palmyra, causing incalculable catastrophes, theft and looting of the monuments. Russia launches air raids against the rebels, while U.S.A. still remains uninvolved. Finally, in 2017, the United States were also involved, supporting the recapture of the city of Raqqa from ISIS. Their involvement and the subsequent bombing of certain positions has aggravated relations with Russia. Also, their support for Kurdish groups has caused dissatisfaction of Turkey, which invaded Afrin in 2018. The Syrian government was accused by Amnesty International for more than 13,000 captives, dissidents of the Bashar al-Assad regime, that were executed in prisons, acts that constitute crimes against humanity. The Syrian government has denied these accusations. Since the beginning of the war, the parts involved have been accused of using chemical weapons against civilians, while the Syrian government finally admitting their possession. Following a series of chemical weapons’ attacks, US President Donald Trump ordered missile attacks on Assad’s air bases. The United Nations estimates the war deaths to more than 300,000. There are accusations of all aspects of human rights violations, including torture, kidnappings, illegal detention and civilian executions. At least 4 million people have left Syria to neighboring countries, or to Greece and from there to Europe, being the main wave of the European immigration crisis. Today (April 2019), a few days after the declaration of the total elimination of the Islamic state from the last encampment in the Baghuz region by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the ISIS attacks continue. As well as the main participants continue their battles, in a civil war that seems never ending.
The capital and now biggest city, is one of the oldest continuous inhabited cities of the world. The old town is of special beauty, with its narrow streets and colonial architecture buildings, with main attractions being the Al-Hamidiyah Souq, the great mosque Umayyad, which encloses the temple of John the Baptist, the Saladin mausoleum, the chapel of Apostle Paul, the chapel of St. Ananias.
Aleppo was the largest and richest city in Syria before the war (4.5 million in 2010). It is estimated to have been inhabited since the 6th millennium BC. The Citadel, one of the largest and oldest castles in the world, is built on a dominant hill of the city. Al-Madina Souq was a famous bazaar, stretching for about 12 km, making it the largest covered market in the world. Unfortunately it was completely destroyed during the civil war. The city was in a four-year siege between the rebel forces and the government, with huge disasters in every part and countless victims among civilians. Now the city is controlled by the Syrian army, but in the north and southwest suburbs the fighting continues.
One of the most afflicted cities, which, during its three-year siege, was presenting us tragic images of the war.
Getting Used to War
Some legitimate questions you would ask me:
_What are you going to do in Syria?
_To see how it is. Let’s say… tourism.
_And why do you do that?
_Because I need to know. Cause I care. Cause the trip to me is not limited to recreation.
_Are you crazy?
_In the medical sense of the term, probably not.
_Are not you afraid? Do you want to commit suicide?
_I do worry, like in any trip. So far, I have no suicide will.
_But it’s a war zone.
_Yes this is the bitter truth. There’s an ongoing war. The way I travel is based on knowledge and that shows me that I can visit some important areas that aren’t on the front line, at this time…
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