Bombs breaking the silence in Damascus
I visited Damascus 10 years ago for the first time. I loved the city at first sight, and since then I came back at least 20 times. I took many of my friends to show them the city and spend some time with them. Most of them agreed with me about the charm of the city. When I joined a group of journalists this weekend to visit Damascus once again, I knew I would not find the city as I knew it.
I noticed that even more restaurants, cafes and boutique hotels opened since I came the last time a year ago. There opened even the Syrian equivalent of the famous Buddha Bar, “Tao Bar,” with a very similar decor, only two weeks ago. Yet they are all empty.
In fact the whole city is almost empty. At first it seems that people still behave normally, even go out for dinner and nothing is unusual, but indeed is! If you visited Damascus before you notice the striking difference: a total lack of mood. Damascus has always been a very lively city. I was surprised to see that many shops were open well after midnight when I came for the first time.
The Damascenes love to dine out and hang around until very late, especially during the weekends. Yet this time, even the most popular restaurants are half empty, shops close early and there is no traffic jam. It seems that only our group and the famous “Arab observers” were staying in Cham Palace, where it was very difficult to find a room until recently. I remember that I had to call my Syrian journalist friend many times to be able to book a room.
All the quiet has been broken with a bomb blast that reportedly killed 25 in one of the central areas on Friday afternoon. We heard about the news when we came out from Friday prayer in famous Umayyid Mosque where the head of Saadet Partisi, Mustafa Kamalak, and his friends attended. In fact, it was their visit which took us to Damascus. Otherwise, it is rather difficult to come to Syria, especially after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs advised Turkish citizens not to travel to Syria due to security reasons.
The blast must have scared people even further. The regime accused “terrorists” for the incident since the rulers do not use the term “opposition” but explain everything in terms of “a grand plot against Syria” and efforts of “Salafi or Wahhabi terrorists.” Nevertheless, it seems that the majority of Syrians are just scared by the ongoing process no matter who is responsible.
It is said that the latest incidents increased the number of regime supporters. In fact, this should not be classified as supporting the regime – it just seems that people do not want a disaster similar to what happened in Iraq after the occupation and in Libya a short time ago. I heard from many people from many different circles many times that their concern about falling into a situation like that of Iraq overshadows their complaints about the regime.
Now the feeling of uncertainty is ultimate, and there is a silence before the storm in Damascus. Yet, it does not seem to be a hopeful waiting of things to come but rather a gloomy withdrawal. One feels just sad, sad for the people who seem to have lost hope of good things and fell in despair, since the prospects look worse no matter which side wins.
The Syrian regime is still trying to find a way out. That is why it agreed to the presence of Arab observers. We found very little chance to talk to them despite the fact that we stayed in the same place. They were both very busy and very indifferent to the presence of a Turkish political party group. The last thing we learned about the observers was the growing disagreement among them and the proposal of the Qatari member to channel the effort to the United Nations.
Al-Assad’s meeting with SP leader Kamalak Saturday morning showed his eagerness for a Turkish mediation. The message came from al-Assad and from everybody that we met was about their expectation from Turkish people to stop the government from supporting the opposition. I do not know if they are sincere in what they say. If so, it seems they are still hopeful that the Turkish policy on Syria may change direction, and this has the ultimate importance for them.