So much of Damascus has changed in five-years of war, yet so much remains the same. The old mansions of Damascus, with their mosaic-inlaid furniture, their picturesque courtyards with gushing water fountains and brimming lemon trees, are all still there. So are the crooked and cobbled alleys of the Old City.
The spacious old buildings of French Mandate Damascus, with their steep staircase, high ceiling apartments, and vast balconies, were also still there. They stand witness to history. Those buildings, which housed the memories and tales of our fathers and grandfathers, have been through centuries of Ottoman rule, twenty-six years of French occupation, twenty coups, five wars with Israel, and the current turmoil of Syria.
Like the people of Syria, the buildings are tired and old, battered and weak; but still standing. Driving through the streets of Damascus today, one can see house after another with closed shutters and lights turned out. On summer nights, the Damascenes used to adore spending long nights on their orchid-decorated balconies, sipping tea and eating fresh fruits from the orchards of Damascus. The orchards were gone, set ablaze by the vicious conflict of today. Many of these homes were also empty; depopulated either by their own inhabitants who fled the capital, searching for safety on all four corners of the globe. Syria’s social fabric has been brutally shattered; its economy dislocated, its memory erased.
Damascus, however, has nine thousand thousand years of history looking over its shoulders. As Mark Twain once brilliantly put it; “Damascus has seen all that has ever occurred on earth, and still she lives. She has looked upon the dry bones of a thousand empires, and will see the tombs of a thousand more, before she dies.” Damascus has been there before, in different times, in different magnitude, and with different players—but all the same prayers.
Beneath the layers of fear and despair, however, there is hope. Nothing lasts forever. This is the golden rule of life. This war is just the passing of greedy men and nations. Light prevails at the end of every tunnel, and dark clouds—no matter how vicious—eventually disappear. A country that has seen so much will certainly rise from its ashes. It always has, every single time, for thousand of years. Politicians make mistakes. Governments miscalculate. But history doesn’t. History always gets it right.
So much has been destroyed; the Damascus History Foundation aims at preserving what remains.
Founders of the Damascus History Foundation
2 November 2015