Abufares | Architect Tartous, Syria
April 17th, 2009

Re: ‘Syria is ...

On a stormy night in February 1960 another child was born. The egress from the womb could have occurred at any place but chances were that I was born in Syria, in a sleepy little town by the sea known as Tartous. A geographical accident, no more, made me a Syrian.

I grew up in a magical time and place, when and where everybody knew my name. My hometown was a typical Mediterranean fishing village. Folks worked and played together effusively oblivious to descent, affluence and creed. With the sun lifting her skirt daintily above the knees and dipping herself unashamedly in the bluest of blue seas, men gathered around square wooden tables and played cards. Women walked leisurely along the tree-lined Al-Mina Street, pushing babies in strollers and enjoying the unhindered view to the west and the cool evening breeze wafting from the east.

The winds of change blew over the Levant altering the landscape as it has done so many times in the long course of history. Happy times were followed by abysmal ones. As I became of age, the ingrained travel bug nagged at me. I stood by the eternal sea and looked back at what I was leaving behind. Syrians were increasingly identifying themselves more microscopically. They were Muslims or Christians. Turning the magnification level further, they inhered in a sect of Islam or a church in Christianity. They were rich or poor. The rich were snobby and the poor detestable. They went their different ways as there were no more places to host them both. They were liberal or traditional. They belittled each other by virtue of the way they dressed or celebrated their nuptials. Syrians differed from city to city, from street to street, from home to home. Yet these were not the disparities that jointly form a mosaic of colors, shades and hues. They were mere pieces of a giant puzzle with a tedious and dull background. Their discord only vanished within the confines of a stifling political calaboose. They whispered in hushed voices and looked behind their shoulders. They shared their fears of walls… walls with ears everywhere.

The illegitimate affair between mosque and state produced a misbegotten political model which threw its shadow over the entire Arab world. Colonialism or not, we were breastfed subservience to our leaders with good manners and hospitality. No vision of liberation was conceived by the intellectual elite. The curse of polarization and division that plagued the masses infected the upper cerebral echelon of society with equal force. Bootlickers usurping stolen wealth, forming a new parasitic socioeconomic class, holding the welfare of the country hostage in their despicable hands and partners in crime on one side and disillusioned expatriates conquering distant lands, disenchanted denizens waiting in queues for their daily bread and nihilistic fundamentalists seeking salvation in the archaic realm of fanaticism on the other. A magnificent human tapestry, millennia in the making was ripped apart in front of my eyes while Syria lost her way and succumbed to her external injuries and internal bleeding.

But she was not born yesterday my Syria. She has witnessed wave after wave of raiders from without and vandals from within triumph then lose their grip and vanish like swill in the gutters of time. Like the mythical phoenix, she will rise from her ashes. Syria is Abu Al-Alaa Al Maari (973-1057), author of “A Treatise on Forgiveness” which was the inspiration for Dante’s Divine Comedy. Syria is Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998) the greatest modern Arab poet who made women and Damascus even more beautiful than they already were. Syria is Sadik Jalal Al-Azm (1934 – ) who attacked, head-on, the putrid state of theological reason and political literature, unabashed, unafraid and unperturbed. Syria is Saadallah Wanous (1941-1997) one of the most influential playwrights of the 20th century on the international scene and a social and political critic with a sharp eye for the details behind the details at home.

Syria is also ordinary people with a passion for the good life. Syria is two adoring young lovers holding hands on a mountain road and stealing moments of joy and intimacy. Syria is a brilliant new generation of youthful men and women capably chiseling their freedom and emancipation from the rocks of stagnation and conformity. Syria is the unborn children who will come along and set her on the proper course in the making of history. Syria is her persevering and ingenious people waiting impatiently on the sideline. Syria is a sailor who leaves his home behind in search of fortune in lands beyond. Syria is a Tartoussi, sitting by the sea, trousers rolled, a glass of Arak in hand, cheering “Kasak Ya Watan”. Syria is me.

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23 Responses to the Article

Alex Says:

“Syria is the unborn children who will come along and set her on the proper course in the making of history.”

Amen

But it is not only the unborn. So many Syrians, like you, convinced me that Syria will be on the proper course sooner than expected.

Mazen Says:

Fantastic writing Abufares.

abufares Says:

@Alex
We have always been on the proper course. The problem is that we make so many stops to take a leak ;-)

@Mazen
Thanks buddy and I really enjoyed yours.

ayman hakki Says:

You are a poet and you got me all misty eyed. But, you also describe what is potentially wrong with Syria. The Sectarian-denominational forces at play would like to slap that glass of Arak from your hand.

We’ve gone from fear of Socialism to fear of fundamentalism in a single generation. The fact that you did go back and that you can still talk of lovers is a tribute to Syria’s historic resistance to represive trends.

Everywhere else (even in the Muslim quarters of Lebanon) it is harder for us to be the Levantines we always were. Bravo Abu fares: drink the cup that clears; of past regrets and future fears (O.K., 1048-1131).

Bisher Imam Says:

Aboufares
What a beautiful piece, I loved your essay, and enjoyed it tremendously both as an historical narrative and as a literary piece.

In your very eloquent style you gave us a hard dose of reality woven with optimism and ending with a hopeful note only a most gifted astute writer can compose. I was also born in 1960 and lived the first 25 years of the your narrative in Syria. I join you and raise my glass, tilt my head in agreement, and echo your words “Kasak Ya Watan”.

Thank you for a wonderful piece.

offended Says:

You know Abu Fares, I don’t know if you do this consciously or not, but even when you write about our flaws and shortcomings, you do that in a positive way.

Thanks for the fantastically-written piece!

Shai Says:

Abu Fares,

If only a tenth of our leaders could hear you…

A big toast to you, to your health, and to your beautiful writing!

jad Says:

Tartousi, as always, you wrote a great poetic piece. Thank you.
This is my take about the question “Syria is”: Syria is the living myth in each and every one who want to be called a Syrian, it’s unique as our soles and divers as our thinking, it’s the radical, the liberal and everything in-between, you can see it in our courtesy and our offensiveness, in our passion and emotions in the anger and the gentle tone we speak with, in our accent speaking English or French, it’s in our love of the west culture and our hate of the occupation, it’s in our tears and laughs, Syria is the beginning and the end, we want to be buried there so we can get back to our original soil……………..all that is words, true, yet words, dreams and illusions of our nostalgic to our beautiful ‘Syria’ we draw, the Syria we dream of and want, however, reality is hitting us bad, it’s showing us that Syria today and tomorrow is not that image we want or the dream we dreamed of, out of the myth, Syria, is a country like any other it won’t move without ‘energy’, not oil, wind or solar energy, the energy I’m talking about comes out of Syrians thoughts, works and their honest will to do better, to do more and improve from the inside out, unfortunately we all are not filling the real fuel tank of our Syria.
Syria as a country is a collision of politics, economics, traditions and religions. When all those ingredient combined without a clear directions and full tank we are not moving anywhere, we spin like a whirling dervish wasting the energy we have on drawing those beautiful circles that making us drunk, dizzy and high with our love of our imaginary Syria, a wakeup call is needed, our politics is not improving, our intellectuals are still behind bars for no reason, our factories are not efficient, our economy is not doing great, our religions are backwards and our poor Syrian Abou Ahmad is begging, his sons are killing in the name of religion or honour because they don’t know any better, they want to eat, learn and get treatment as a respected human, while the rich Abou Ahamd is not paying his taxes he is using his money to go out of Syria and get a different nationality.
That is not the Syria we want or dreamed of, that is not what we are praying for and that is not happening in our names either.
I love my Syria like anyone of you, I love its history, I love Bosra’s black stones, I love Palmyra’s Zenobia pride, I love Ananias church, Ommayad mosque and Damascus synagogue, I love Yousef alazme’s sacrifice and Sultan Pasha Alatrash’s revolution, I love Aleppo’s citadel, I love Lattakia and Tartous blue Mediterranean water, I love Hama waterwheels noises, I love our traditions, our family values I love the average Syrian, however, it’s enough whirling in circles, it’s time to stop, straighten up our thoughts and move forward where our water and environment are highly respected, where our desert should become green, where our factories should produce something we can sell worldwide to improve, it’s time for our farms to be efficient. It’s time for the rich Abou ahmad to pay his taxes back to Syria to improve schools and hospitals for the poor Abou ahamd to send his kids to learn science and literature instead of the hate of diversity and where they could become an energy for Syria future, it’s time to build our realistic Syria away from a rosy unrealistic dreams.

Majhool Says:

I sensed a lot of hope towards the end. What is that you are seeing ?

abufares Says:

It’s an honor to read your comments Gents above.

Ayman, you quoted Omar Khayam who is indeed my highest inspiration. I don’t know whether that was accidental or on purpose.
“Drink the cup that clears; of past regrets and future fears”
What more can I add to that?

Bisher, Kasak Ya Watan indeed, Kasak to you as well. Part of our identity is the ability to be harshly realistic, highly optimistic and hopelessly hopeful. It is what makes us Syrians in the end.

Offended, the only way to deal with our flaws and shortcomings is by being 100% positive

Shai, cheers (in a time of peace someday)

Jad
Your comment deserves to be a post on its own. You’re absolutely right: Syria is a country of contradictions and that’s what makes it most interesting.

Majhool (aren’t we all:-)
Al Taghrai’i wrote:
Ou3alillou al Nafsa Bil Amal Arqabouha
Ma Adiaqa Al 3aishi Lawla Fous7atou Al Amali

أعلل النفس بالآمال أرقبها
ما أضيق العيش لولا فسحة الأمل

I cannot be but hopeful. I do it for my own well being as this is the only way to truly enjoy a Kass Arak.

Karin Says:

Fantastic Abufares – a sheer pleasure to read!! What a question who would get my vote … you knew that!

Isobel Says:

Your writing always amazes me, Abu Fares. What a beautifully written piece. Your love for your homeland is evident in every word…in your criticisms and your heartfelt descriptions of the beauty of simple pleasures there. I can only hope one day I’ll get a small taste of it myself – although no one can fully appreciate the true complexities and character of a country like those who have lived there which you have so aptly shown. :)

Fantasia Says:

My heart ached and soared. Beautiful.

abufares Says:

@Karin
Well you were always biased as far as I’m concerned. I’m not complaining though, you were there to support me from the very beginning. Thank you for being there for me time and again.

@Isobel
I am way beyond politics and sociology when I speak to you (for I feel that I’m talking to you most of the time :-) ) My love for my homeland is to be taken for granted for there are a very few places that I would consider hostile to my inherently good nature. However, to have you here in Syria for a small taste wouldn’t do it. I want to give you the taste of your life. Just tell me when.

@Fantasia
It’s when your heart ache and soar that you are at your best. The problem is that you make us men ache and soar in a much different, yet more pleasant, way. Thank you for taking the trouble and coming over and reading me where I am a guest. I am thrilled and honored to be in such a great company of fellow men.

ayman hakki Says:

Ah my beloved drink the cup that clears
Today…of past regrets, and future fears
Tomorrow! Why tomorrow I may be myself
with yesterday’s; Seven Thousand Years.
…………………………………………………..
I even gave you his dates of birth and death.
It is now eight thousand years Abufares, and
still some want the cup banned from our lips.
Yup, that’s my all time favorite poem…Ayman.

AN Says:

Amazing!
I always love Syria,but now.I love her more,after i read your post.
Thanks gentleman.

abufares Says:

Thanks to you AN.
Syria is to be loved by all, regardless of a few.

ayman hakki Says:

even the few love syria, habibi

Ann Galal Says:

I love this and I love Syria. My best friend at University was Damascene and I always dreamed of visiting her country, unfortunately she is now in Saudia! Tartous was one of the highlights of my stay in your unique country, which I felt very privileged to visit, while my daughter was studying in Damascus. I would also say that I felt incredibly welcomed by everyone I met in every part of the country, I don’t think you have to be too worried about the true, inclusive spirit of the Syrian people – I think it is definitely regenerating. Long may Syria be preserved from the scourge of globalisation and all forms of fundamentalism! Syria is the only country I have visited or, lived in, in the Middle East that truly values and has managed to hold on to all the best aspects of its cultural heritage. You put Egypt to shame!

abufares Says:

@Ann
Your kind and just words about Syria fill me with pleasure and delight and since you consider your visit to Tartous as one of the highlights of your stay then you must possess an uncanny eye for the beauty within. I do hope that Syria finds her way which will lead her to maintaining those rare qualities very few places have left. Syria’s future lies as much in her past as in the days ahead. A haven of diversity of multiplicity, a palette of hues and colors, a feast of pleasures and delights.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Allie Says:

Beautiful writing, as per usual, Abufares. A touching article.

abufares Says:

Thank you Allie for being here and for taking the time to comment

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