image of jerusalem 2016

Memories of 1967 in 2016: Syria Today!
5 June 1967: I was hardly out of nappies then but I somehow still remember this day quite clearly.

22 October   |   2016   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

It was the start of the Six-Day War between Israel and its erstwhile Arab enemies - Egypt, Syria and Jordan. I was living in the eastern sector of Jerusalem - a holy city that was administered by Jordan at a time when it was neither the ‘eternal capital’ of Israel nor the ‘future capital’ of a virtual Palestine. My dad commuted daily between his clinic in Damascus Gate and our home in Ramallah, and the 15-mile drive took him 20 minutes. Today, negotiating the checkpoints (or machsomot in Hebrew) as well as the awful roads would easily treble that time.

One of my vivid memories of the second day of the short and decisive war - decisive for the defeat of the Arab armies and the concomitant naksa, or alternatively the untrammelled victory by Israel - was the first night when the Jordanian sub-sonic Hawker Hunters (British-made) took to the skies to defend the country. I could hear the reverberating roar of those planes and later the arrival of the Israeli super-sonic Mirage (French-made) fighters that chased them away. As I heard the dropping of the first bombs, my mum came to my little bed, made sure I had not wetted myself, and took me into their bed as a gesture of reassurance that all will be fine.

A few days later, we went out of the house and, along with our neighbours, observed the damage to property as a result of the sky-fights and the Israeli bombing of a few pseudo-strategic sites. We also prepared ourselves to the fact that life had changed irredeemably that week: Jordan was no more, our lands were occupied by a people that had been demonised rather stridently by the hecklers of Arab nationalism, and life would be much tougher.

Now does the reader not wonder about the incongruence between my childhood memories in the sixties and the title of this small piece we now call a blog? Yes, at first glimpse, but let me dispel the lack of causality.

A couple of awful nights in the 1960’s and we all were traumatised by the sporadic fighting between Israel and the retreating Arab armies. How much more traumatic, violent and unforgiving is it when we watch - even virtually and for fleeting moments - the evil that is being rained upon different parts of Syria today?

For over 5 years now, Syria is being pounded viciously by its regular army in an attempt to quell the aspirations for freedom, dignity and economic well-being of a large majority of its 22 million population. For over 3 years, it has also been caught up between a rock and a hard place, where the nastiness of the regime and the pogroms of Daesh / ISIL or other terror organisations have been razing whole neighbourhoods to the ground. And for the last year, this same country that is one of the birthplaces of civilisation, is challenging the dangerous temptations of a Russian powerhouse that wishes to recapture the glory of its USSR history as well as to have a footprint in this maligned region that prophets of old called holy and we now handily label the MENA region.

I was cowering in my parents’ bed just under 5 decades ago because of a few Hawker Hunter and Mirage fighters. How would a Syrian man, woman and child feel today as they struggle to survive in Aleppo, Daraya, Homs, Der Ezzor, the suburbs of Damascus and many other parts of the country. Do they even have a roof over their heads let alone a bed in their homes to hide in whilst the machinery of war unleashes everything from white phosphorus or sulphur to chlorine gas as well as barrel and cluster bombs? Or when innocent Syrians either disappear without trace or whose heads are chopped off by the deranged rants of a few self-appointed guardians of Islam?

Today, well over 10 million Syrians are displaced in their own country and over 4 million are refugees abroad - largely in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Germany. This is half the population of the country and the other half are divided between those fortunate enough to be far from the billowing smokes or those who are in the eye of the needle. What traumas will the children import with them even if the war stops miraculously tomorrow and the nasty men and women responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity are muzzled somehow?

The USA under President Obama has endeavoured to shift its geostrategic interest in the world - including the MENA and by analogy Syria - and has opened the way for other regional powers to enact their proxy wars. It has also cravenly kowtowed to Russian dictates although it is in my opinion complicit with a “superpower” plan for this Levantine country that remains arcane. And the militias coming from all parts of the world - near and far - are also applying Sun Tzu’s art of war as they push in one direction or other. Much of the country today is a powder keg and yet we are guilelessly flailing around with punchy statements that we know we cannot - and will not - put to the test anyway or else with prayers and incantations that are barren if not insincere. Nobody today holds the moral high ground, and nobody can look at the mirror and pretend to be innocent of the crimes perpetrated - either wilfully or otherwise - against a people. Priests, imams, politicians and advocates of peace have aided and abetted the unfolding of this tragedy and scarred the soul of this proud country.

Imagine if I were Alan Kurdi or Omar Daqneesh in 1967, or one of the hundreds of thousands freed from the rubble and sawdust of Syria by the valour of the Syrian Civil Defence known as the White Helmets. I would probably not be alive, or else too stunted emotionally, to write this piece. So whether we compare Aleppo to Guernica in 1937 as we remember Picasso’s painting, or we evoke Coventry and Dresden, or we simply weep with shame, we failed a wonderful people by allying ourselves with the purveyors of destruction and misery.

The day will come when this story will be told: but at what cost to the Syrian people and to their country? And perhaps equally troublingly at least, at what cost to us?

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2016   |   22 October


Print or download a copy of this article.


Google: Yahoo: MSN: