I spent the last week in Damascus with a US Peace Council Fact Finding Delegation. We wanted to see with our own eyes and hear from the source about the terrible crisis that has been ongoing there for five years now. Here is my first letter home from Damascus. I sent it about half way through a very busy week of meetings and discussions:
Greetings from Damascus. We had some great meetings so far this week. SANA News has been following us everywhere and reporting on our meetings daily. The show of solidarity means a lot to them. On Monday we met with the ministers of Health an Reconciliation. Ali Haidar is a very interesting person. His party is the Syrian Socialist National Party (SSNP). They were leaders in the peaceful resistance before the violence began. He has very interesting methods in his current position. We had him to dinner this evening. He never had a chance to eat but he gave a very interesting history of the political context in Syria. More on all this later.
We have met with Members of the government, the Chairman of the Lawyers Syndicate, the President of Damascus University and some members of the Damascus Chamber of Industry. The members of the government and the others all have the same message: The sanctions are harming the people of Syria and Syrian society. There are specific sanctions on medical supplies and oil infrastructure as well as the general sanctions that have make international bank transactions impossible and have severely depreciated the value of the Syrian Lb. There is only a political solution to the war but it must be an internal political solution. The objective of the government is to expel the foreign terrorists and make a reconciliation with those Syrian nationals who are currently disaffected and fighting their country. The United States could assist in this process by ceasing to arm and provide resources to the mercenaries engaged in the war, and restrain their allies to the same policy.
Certain medicines and medical equipment are unobtainable. That was the purpose of Bashar Jafa’ari’s request for chemo drugs and dialysis filters. According to the members of the Chamber of Industry, many of their factories have been destroyed or damaged by terrorists, but on top of that, they cannot import the materials they need to manufacture their products. This also affects the medical situation as Syria has lost a significant percentage of medical factories and hospitals.
The Lawyers Syndicate has been expelled from the International Bar Association and other international legal forums. They cannot raise Syrian concerns in international courts because because they have no standing in the international context and they are no longer able to continues periodic conferences with European :Lawyers where they exchange information and ideas about the law.
The University people said that Syria pays students to attend college in the US and EU, but now they graduate and don’t return. Also, they are no longer invited to international conferences and exchanges. Several Colleges have had to close due to the war and Damascus University has absorbed the students from those colleges.
The Syrian government continues to provide public utilities in occupied territories though the terrorists don’t pay them for the resources. This is a service to the citizens of Syria. The message this evening form Minister Haidar is that the state is not monolithic. There are internal disagreements. BUT, the state is functioning and providing the services a state is responsible to provide to it’s citizens. Food, water, power, education and medical care continue to be provided to all by the state despite serious obstacles.
Also, yesterday we visited a program run by the Syria Development Trust for women who are head of family. This is mostly due to the death or loss of a spouse. The women learn to sew and are then assisted in finding jobs. Mostly they are very young and very pleased with the opportunity. The program includes daycare and literacy classes for those who want them. The program does not differentiate which side the missing husbands were on. The candidates are vetted according to their personal situation and whether they are deemed ready to successfully complete the program.
Today we visited an orphanage for the children of Martyrs which provides a good education and emotional support for the children of soldiers killed in the line of duty.. They school is a boarding school though those students who wish to do so and can do so may visit their mothers on the weekend and during the summer. The program goes from 3 mos old to those ready to graduate to college or work. There were 40 students in the program before the war. Now there are 750 girls and 500 boys. They have had to radically expand their facilities. The facility is quite nice and the children receive counseling, material support and education.
Yesterday we met with the Mufti and the Bishop of Damascus. Both were wonderfully generous and charming. Their message was that Syrians are one people. Each man says he has 23,000,000 people (the total population of Syria) under his care. They would like to come to the US together but the Mufti cannot get a visa and the Bishop doesn’t want to go without him.
Eva Bartlett attended our dinner tonight and brought her translator/fixer. I think the discussion with Minister Haidar was one of the most informative though we had a prelude this afternoon when we met with the leadership of the student union and some other members of the peaceful opposition.
I will flesh out these stories on my blog later. Meanwhile we are continuously busy from early morning till 10 or 11 at night. We have a few more days of intensive experience. I have lots off social media but my iPhone isn’t cooperating in making it available – my failure I’m sure. So, stay tuned for more information and some images and video. The members of the chamber of industry took us to a great restaurant this afternoon with a live singer and dancing Sufi. Awesome!