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

    US Lawmakers Vow to Continue Immigrant Program for Afghan Interpreters

    Congressional inaction threatens funding for effort which began in 2008 and has allowed more than 20,000 interpreters, their family members to immigrate to US

    Brexit's Impact on Russia Stirs Concern

    Some analysts see Brexit aiding Putin's plans to destabilize European politics; others note that an economically unstable Europe is not in Moscow's interests

    US to Train Cambodian Government on Combating Cybercrime

    Concerns raised over drafting of law, as critics fear cybercrime regulations could be used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle political dissent

    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.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora