From Syria the country of peace

Damascus Travel Blog

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In the afternoon we drove across to Syria. Syria was a similar history to Jordan, since Lebannon and Jordan were a part of Syria, except after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire France was given the mandate over Syria, rahter than the British (until independence after WWII). So now they have excellent desert pastries and people ask if I am French :)

Before the rise of Islam, the chief religion here was Zoroastrianism, the worship of Ahura Mazda revealed by Zoroaster three or four thousand years ago. Under the Sassanians in the Middle East it was quite a savage religion, persecuting other religions and worshipping fire. It was lead by the Magi, about which Herodotus had to say; The Magi are a peculiar caste, quite different from the Egyptian priests and indeed from any other sort of person. The Egyptian priests make it an article of religion to kill no living creature except for sacrifice, but the Magi not only kill anything, except dogs and men, with their own hands but make a special point of doing so; ants, snakes, animals, birds – no matter what, they kill them indiscriminately. Well, it is an ancient custom, so let them keep it. They fled to India in the eighth century when they were persecuted during the Islamic conquest and conversion of the Middle East. Jadav Rana, the Hindu king of Sanjan, accepted them on the condition that they don’t try to convert anyone, so now they remain a very small religion (they still don’t proselytise). I think this humbling experience has been good for them, because they now focus on education and arriving at moral positions through self-reflection, so their religion has the highest literacy and tertiary education rate of any religion. Also, they firmly believe in the equality of all people, regardless of religion, race or gender, they are environmentally conscious, believe in charity, and condemn all oppression or cruelty towards people or animals.

Anyway, we didn't get to do much in Syria that day, because the border crossing took so long. We went to Damascus (Ash-Sham), the oldest continually inhabited city in the world (7000 years), in the Ghouta oasis on the Barada River. Damascus has been a captial for a long time, being a major city in the Persian, Greek and Roman Empires, then the Arab empire after it fell to Islam in 635 CE. In 1200 it was sacked by Ghengis Khan and the Mongols, then ruled by the Mamluks and Ottomans before world war I. We had dinner in the historic walled Old City in the centre, a great mezze of vegetarian food and excellent mint lemonade. The cafe was right by Umayyad Mosque, which is a bit of a floosy of religions, starting out as a Temple of Jupiter thousands of years ago, before converting to a Byzantine cathedral and then a mosque in 705 CE. It is where Saladin is buried. We went shopping in the souk (market), one of the best in the Middle East, an enormous network of covered shopping streets, and had Arab icecream, which was great :)

On a banner in the souk: From Syria the country of peace and loving to the aggressive Israel and ally America... We are in Syria and the country of self-estiem and home-bred. We refuse to your democracy after what we had seen happened in Iraq and Palastine and now your democracy build on peoples bodies which you bombed on civilians innocents, and when the matter reached the council of security in the United Nations and how you used the rejection right (the veto) to save Israel for only a suspicious matter, and how American pushed the council of security to issue a decision against Syria followed by new decision even Syria executed the first one, but the Syrian people not afraid what ever the difficulties could be, and they are resistant by leadership dearest the President Bashar Al-Assad.

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photo by: Biedjee