NATO bombs. Russia aids Bashar. Hezbollah. Pilotless aircrafts. Drones. Attacks on the Kurd are made possible by the Turks. Qatar finances the rebels. Iran’s Shiite army is fighting against ISIS, which is being supported by Saudi Arabia. The Al Nusra front expects help from Israel. Brigades Hamas and Fataha had a conflict in Damask. ISIS attacked the Free Syrian Army, yesterday’s ally. China is waiting for a reparation contract.
Geopolitics. Strategy. Complex alliances. The thread that is tangled in Syria will not be easily untangled, even by those who tangled it. One could search for cause in colonial division, the petrodollar, Russian stubbornness, religion, the flow of oil. To explain that there is almost no military alliance or economic superpower whose shadow has not fallen on the desert’s sand. The ocean of oil. But.
Text and photos / Zoran Marinovic
You see this bottle. Glass. Plain. Ismael shows me the corner of the desk, while we’re sitting in a tent in one of the many refugee camps near Jordan’s borders. In the past four years, more than 7 million people have been moved out of Syria, more than half to the neighbouring countries. There weren’t that many refuges after World War II. Ismael is a Bedouin, a nomad. He had a herd of sheep he inherited from his father. And his father from his father.
They never had any land, but all the land was theirs. They could pass borders, set up tents wherever there was green grass. It was like that for as long as they could remember, until one day, four years ago. The war began. Worse than all droughts and overruns and grasshoppers together, said the old man. He had three wives and ten children. Tents. Camels, the herd, now he has nothing.
“In this bottle, at the edge of the table. You pour water. And you can drink when you’re thirsty. You can put it in your bag and take it with you. You can pour milk in it too. Others can use it as well. This bottle is peace. But it’s enough just to touch it, push it with my finger. You don’t have to be smart or strong to do that. It will shatter in a million pieces. That is war.
Then we could all be the smartest and the strongest, but we will never be able to put the pieces back together, and it will never hold water again. After a while, we will become thirsty again. If we’re weak or strong, but there is no more bottle. Now each of us must find a source and drink out of our hands. Until we find another bottle. And pour water in it. That is peace. “
More than any geopolitical analysis, this Bedouin story of the fragile peace describes the situation in the Middle East. Literally. The bottle was shattered. The pieces are everywhere.
In many history books, Damask is the cradle of culture. It is one of the oldest populated cities in the world, in which the minaret stands right by the church’s bell tower and the Armenian Church right next to the synagogue. But after a long while, they are once again guarded by the army. Those minarets and bell towers have become the last aces in the sleeve of President Bashar Al Asada.
For now he is the only option, the least bad of them all, which doesn’t exclude anyone. The “West” doesn’t negotiate with Bashar. He is the head of a regime which is not developing democracy. They don’t negotiate with him, and there’s no one else to negotiate with.
And no one knows how to glue back the shattered bottle. Not the strong, not the weak.
What I can see from all of this are little pieces of accidents that tore apart the lives of these little people. I remember the graffiti from Tito’s streets in Sarajevo, black spray paint on a ruin, angrily written in the 90’s –“May the nation fuck go fuck their own mothers”. No analysts, no then, not now, has been able to describe war better than that slogan.
All other attempts remained merely attempts. Today the ruins of the south suburbs of Damask, on the line of conflict with Al Nusta, are covered by similar graffiti. The description is only a little bit different, because the Arab language doesn’t know of such Balkan straightforward terms. Very concrete.
In those broken apartments, amongst the couches, fridges, scattered books, stacked bags of sand, with rifles in their hands, the young soldiers lye. I saw their faces for a brief moment. As soon as I took out my camera, they put on their black masks. They don’t have names, they don’t have faces. Only numbers.
The markings show that we’re on Assad’s side. In the past four years, the Syrian army has lost more than 35 000 soldiers. The rebels aren’t counted. Why the masks? I wonder.
They fear retribution because they come from Alep, Rastan and other cities under Al Nustra’s or ISIS’s control. That’s how the faceless soldiers protect their families, which are still “there”. We’re talking about winter and the cold that has found its way into the ruins while the never ending gunshots can be heard from nearby. Then it all goes silent. The quiet on the fronts is sinister. Nowhere is it quieter.
A couple weeks ago, an Al Nustra attempt to breach into the city centre, which is just 6-7 kilometres from here, was stopped on these very streets. The deceased rebels were mostly Chechens, Afghans and Iraqis. And most of the prisoners didn’t know which country they were in. They went into holy war. It didn’t matter where. Or where. They chose torture.
Abdullah is young. He has no interest in politics. Or the jihad. He won’t say anything about Bashar. Until recently, he worked as a tourist guide in Damask. Today, the tourist groups have been replaced by trucks full of soldiers. Black clouds have covered the city. A car bomb exploded in the city centre just a couple of days ago. While we observe the burnt remains, Abdullah says to me “never forget the beauty of Syria.
What you see here is merely a blink, the shadow in the glory of this city. There have been other conquerors. The Persian. The Mongols. The Turks. The crusades. But Damask will live. Even after this. And after others.” He continues watching the results of the soccer league on his tablet. Manchester United and PSG interest him more than lose military allies which are changing faster than the scores of rigged games.
He says, if the world is a desktop, Syria today is the Recycle Bin. All that is excess, unnecessary, can be erased. You only need to click delete. With one click of a mouse, everything disappears. But, unfortunately, everything you don’t need is and is no longer on your desktop, you may not see, but it’s still on your laptop. And you can retrieve it.
That’s what happened with Syria. Europe let their extremists go. And that’s how the problem was solved. But they’re still in the system. And now they are slowing inching back. Towards the desktop. Did they really believe the extremists would just stay put? Enjoying the culture of old Damask. No, they don’t like the edits of satire magazines, they place greater importance on the caricatures of roman mosaics.
Because then all their desktop icons get meaning and begin to make sense. And you thought you deleted them. You though they were gone.
Every morning, at 6 AM, a dirty bus drives from Damask to Rakka. The capital of Islamist Calafat and the core of ISIS. It’s full. Inside are “different” people. And while women pass the streets of Damask in their dresses, tight pants, with only a scarf over their heads, here there are only black capes, niqabs, which cover the face. I may greet with salam alejkum, in the eyes of the passengers I remain an American. An enemy. Guilty.
It’s better to speak Croatian, to distance myself from imperialism, at least for a moment. I am intrigued by life in Rakki, but I do not get a word. People are afraid. The soldiers at the ISIL border would probably ask who has been talking to “the American”. That question would be unpleasant to say the least. There are not arguments here. Did you speak with him of not? With the American.
A woman in a niqab tells us, in passing, Dach (the word Syrians use for ISIS) takes only heads. Everyone else would take everything. They would steal, break, rape. Those are bandits. ISIS provides protection, gives food and duel. There are no bandits or robberies here. It only has to be as they say. And there’s no other way.
And there truly IS no other way. The bottle is shattered. The pieces of glass lye on the floor. The nation has taken of their shoes and is walking on shattered glass. And may the nation fuck their own mothers. We remember. Just this time there’s some new Tito street. Some new Sarajevo. Damask. Makes no difference.