News / Middle East

Damascus Struggles to Carry On Amid Fighting

As fighting continues in and around Damascus, shops remain open and life appears surprisingly normal, September 27, 2012. (Yuli Weeks/VOA)
As fighting continues in and around Damascus, shops remain open and life appears surprisingly normal, September 27, 2012. (Yuli Weeks/VOA)
Elizabeth Arrott
Heavy fighting rages on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, but for residents of the city, life carries on, however precariously. 

A bride wearing sequins, shimmies as musicians herald her arrival at the wedding party. She and the groom are celebrating in the marble halls of a hotel; the mood is joyous and, for a moment, most seem to forget the sound of shelling and explosions that carry across the city night.

In the year and a half since a peaceful uprising against the government of Bashar al-Assad became a brutal civil war, the people of Damascus have been spared the brunt of fighting that has devastated other parts of the country. 

Still, the city has suffered car bombs and assassinations, and the thick black smoke that rises as government mortars and bombs pound the outskirts keep residents on edge. 

No one knows the future, so the focus often shifts to immediate trials: the power cuts, the shortages of gas and oil, the sanctions that take their toll on daily life.

  • 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)

In the Hamadiya market of old Damascus, a scarf merchant rearranges his merchandise, waiting for a customer. He says the atmosphere is one of crisis.  He has cut prices to bring in business, but money is tight and few people are buying.  His stock of imported goods has dropped, as sanctions cut off supply.

Unwilling to predict an end to the seeming impasse between the government and the opposition, he falls back on his faith.

He says, simply, “it's in the hands of God.”

But even in this city under government control, cracks are surfacing. Long time members of the ruling Baath party acknowledge the situation is unsustainable.

Bassam Abu Abdullah heads a fledgling political research group in Damascus. 

“This regime -  when they are saying this regime should collapse - this regime is finished.  I am telling you, I am a member of the party Baath.  For me, in my psychology, this one party system is finished not because the party Baath is wrong, but because it's not working,” said Abdullah.

It's a qualified acknowledgement and far too late for many on the other side.

Abdullah talks of presidential elections in 2014, but how the country could move from battlefield to ballot box in so short of time remains far from clear. 

From the beginning, the government dismissed the indigenous uprising as the work of foreign militants.  In the chaos that followed, it became partly true; now, even the opposition acknowledges some ten percent of its fighters are from abroad. Many display a militant Islamist bent, anathema to those who have profited from the harsh yet secular government of this multi-confessional nation.

Bassam Abu Abdullah defines the type of change needed. “We will move ourselves from one dictatorship, if this is dictatorship, to worse dictatorship, which is a religious dictatorship,” said Abdullah.

Pressed on how to find a middle ground, he points to the civil war in Lebanon, and how eventually the parties reconciled.  But only, he concedes, after 15 years.

For many in Damascus and beyond, struggling to get through just the next day, such a prospect seems impossible.

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid