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

Italian Red Cross Chief: Don't Label Migrants 'Illegal'

Speaking at the United Nations headquarters in New York Wednesday Francesco Rocca says migrants are victims, not criminals More

US Intel Officials Cautious About New IS Threat

Threat, said to have been posted by alleged American member of Islamic State terror group, says Sunday’s attack in Texas ‘is only the beginning’ More

Eyes in Sky Monitor Weather, Predict Epidemics

Satellites track storms, population movements, ocean warming to predict disease conditions 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.
Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailandi
X
May 05, 2015 5:50 PM
Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailand

Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Russia's 'Victory Day' Glory Over Nazis Overshadowed by Ukraine

ussia is preparing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, known since the Soviet era as “The Great Patriotic War,” with a massive parade on May 9th of military hardware and millions of medals handed out to veterans or their relatives. But critics say the Soviet-style display of power and nationalism overshadows tragic scars during and after the war that still influence politics and foreign policy, especially in the current Ukraine crisis.
Video

Video WWII Anniversary Brings Old Friends and New Worries

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has special significance, with Russia becoming more assertive in Ukraine and sending its military planes to the edges of western countries’ airspace. Changes in the geostrategic balance and the transatlantic relationship are felt across the continent, not least in German towns that have hosted U.S. military bases since the defeat of Nazi Germany. VOA’s Al Pessin visited Schweinfurt, Germany, where a large base closed last year.
Video

Video Abraham Lincoln Funeral Re-created for 150th Civil War Anniversary

Over the last four years, commemorative events to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War have brought thousands of visitors to battlefields and historic landmarks across the country. As VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, the final event in the Civil War's sesquicentennial honors the final journey home of the slain American President, Abraham Lincoln.
Video

Video Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalists

Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Volunteers Pull Together to Aid Baltimore Riot Victims

Calm has returned to Baltimore, Maryland, after authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed almost a week ago to stem the rioting that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray - the 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries suffered while in police custody. Six police officers, three of them African-American, have been charged in connection with his death. Baltimore is now trying to get back to normal, in part with the help of volunteers who responded to calls to help those in the city'
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Obama Praises Work of 3 Immigrant Journalists

President Barack Obama met with three immigrant journalists at the White House Friday to praise them for their work ahead of World Press Freedom Day, May 3. In attendance: Dieu Cay (his pen name) a blogger from Vietnam recently released from prison; Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia who was harassed and detained for exposing the marrying off of young girls as child brides, and Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, who works for VOA's Russian Service.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

VOA Blogs