News / Middle East

As Syria Economy Falters, Damascus Somewhat Spared

Elizabeth Arrott
The Spice Market of Old Damascus is a strange sight in a country ravaged by civil war.

The military pounds pro-rebel towns ringing the capital, but here at its heart, business is brisk.

Naiem Bezraa stood in the shop once owned by his father and grandfather, topping off neat pyramids of cumin and dried peppers, pine nuts and almonds.

Bezraa said work carries on, but prices have gone up, affecting both customers and  business.  But he said, "Thank God," his supplies are still coming in.

Syria's economy has suffered severely from 18 months of conflict. Bezraa conceded that people are cutting back, sticking mainly to buying essentials. Customers on this ancient, bustling alleyway complain that foreign products are especially expensive.

Sense of normalcy

Still, a certain normalcy prevails.  Goods are more expensive, but available.

A man who declined to give his name carried several full shopping bags, noting the price of imported goods is high.  But he said locally manufactured products have risen less.

Government economist Afif Dala said Western sanctions, slapped on Syria for its crushing response to the uprising, have taken a toll.

“But the Syrian economy actually depends on itself," Dala said. "There is a self-sufficiency in the Syrian economy because the Syrian economy is very diverse and we almost produce everything."

In the city's Hamadeya bazaar, its roof still pockmarked with the bullet holes of French colonialists putting down an earlier uprising, shopkeepers also said business is down. 

At a scarf shop, Abdel Rehim tried to entice customers by elaborately twisting a hijab for display. Finally, a group of young women approached and a sale was underway.

Rehim said it is “a very difficult atmosphere - the atmosphere of crisis.”

Still, with the bulk of his stock made in Syria, he is able to keep the shelves stretching to the ceiling behind him, replenished. 

  • A veiled woman walks down the street in Damascus's old city. (J. Weeks/VOA)
  • As fighting continues in and around the city, shops remain open and life appears surprisingly normal. (J. Weeks/VOA)
  • A vegetable vendor does brisk business in Damascus. (J. Weeks/VOA)
  • A child peers out of a micro bus window into traffic. (J. Weeks/VOA)
  • A poster of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad hangs in the rear window of a bus in Damascus. (J. Weeks/VOA)
  • A man crosses a busy street in Damascus. Though some streets are closed to traffic due to safety concerns, most of the roads remain open. (J. Weeks/VOA)
  • Business appears normal in Damascus's old city. (J. Weeks/VOA)
  • A shop owner in a Christian neighborhood in Damascus's old city. (J. Weeks/VOA)
  • Gray smoke rises over a neighborhood on the outskirts of Damascus, where fighting between government forces and rebels continues. Residents are learning to live with the sounds of distant explosions and gunfire. (J. Weeks/VOA)
  • A cobbler busy at work. (J. Weeks/VOA)
  • A man waits on the side of the street in a Damascus market with boxes full of goods. (J. Weeks/VOA)
  • A woman from Aleppo now lives in a government-run refugee center in a Damascus suburb. The center is now home to many refugees, many of whom are ethnic Turkmens. (J. Weeks/VOA)
  • A newlywed couple celebrates at an upscale Damascus hotel. (J. Weeks/VOA)

Economy gets help

The government has made it a goal to keep business in the capital normal.  And, for what Syria does not have, it can count on help. 

Dala, of the Syrian Ministry of Economy and Trade, points to Russia, China and Venezuela as strong trade partners.

“There are a lot of countries, actually, because finally the interests, the economic interests between countries are talk, not anything else," Dala said. "It is not a moral thing, the Syrian economy, only; also its interests, benefits."

What makes some countries flinch, though, is the morality, and mortality - tens of thousands of people killed nationwide.

Again, Damascus is an anomaly.

At the market of gravestone carvers, there is little sense of urgency. 

Samer al Etouni, plying the trade his forebearers, carefully carved a marble marker, taking time on the curved lines, blowing away the chips and dust.  He said orders for war victims are few.

Al Etouni said the pace of work is the same as before the war.  He said nothing has changed. Yet even as he speaks, the war gets closer.

How long things will remain the same for him, and the rest of the capital, is the question on everyone's mind.

Japhet Weeks contributed to this report.

You May Like

Will Cuba Follow the Southeast Asia Model?

Decision to restore ties between US and Cuba has some debating whether it will lead to enhancement or regression of democracy for Communist island nation More

Kenyan Designer Finds Her Niche in Fashion Industry

‘Made in China’ fabrics underlie her success More

Report: CIA, Israel's Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Commander

The Washington Post story says Imad Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Davis K. Thanjan from: New York
October 11, 2012 8:17 AM
The ancient Spice Market in Damascus may be vibrant as long as civil war does not creep into the neighborhood. In most countries meat and vegetables are not imported and this is the big ticket item in markets. But the locally produced non-perishable items and luxuary items will be hard hit since they are not essential for survival in the midst of civil war. The imported goods will be hard to find and hard to sell. This is the same story if there is economic downturn in any country whether there is civil war or not.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Lateri
X
Deborah Block
January 31, 2015 12:12 AM
Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid