The gardens of Damascus: Can Syrians reconnect with nature?

An edited version of this article appeared online in the Middle East Eye on May 26, 2019.

By Alex Ray

“When people pluck these flowers, it’s like they are plucking my heart,” said an emotional Fareed Notafji as we drank sweet, strong ‘labourer’s tea’ in front of the guard shed at Damascus’s Botanic Gardens.

The sound of the fast-flowing Barada river accentuated the gardens’ dreamy setting beneath the old city walls.  The location made it possible to momentarily forget the ongoing war outside the Syrian capital. Continue reading

Killing ISIS Softly

Alex Ray 26.08.15

“Traveling to Palmyra this week was a great break from Damascus and a welcome refresher on the amazing history of the region. Although this time we had the same driver (Abu Adnan) in Palmyra, nothing else was the same. It was hot dusty and dry, and the tourism industry of the place was suffering hugely. The hotel we stayed in (Tetraplyon) was completely empty and the ruins of Palmyra were host to only 20 or so tourists.” –  diary entry for the 24th April 2011, Palmyra, Syria.

Tears fell for Palmyra this week as ISIS beheaded its long-time curator Khaled al-Asaad and destroyed one of its most famous Roman-era monuments. The rose-coloured stone – which romanced so many visitors – has been obliterated. The world owes a debt to all who have died in defence of Syria and Iraq’s heritage. Those tears were for them, for the lost treasures of our collective past and for the future of the region. Continue reading

Another bombing targets Syria’s pluralism

Alex Ray

6.2.15

Lunchtime Sunday February 1: despite being the start of the working week, crowds throng the main entrance to Souk Hamidiyyeh in central Damascus. Buses come and go from the central bus stop a few hundred metres away. They are same ones I developed a love hate relationship with while studying in Damascus.

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Laundering Al-Qaeda

Alex Ray

12.10.14

Influencing public opinion on the Syrian civil war continues to be just as important to winning as fighting on the ground. The ever-increasing complexity of the conflict means what is not said can be just as influential as what is said. Reporting that ignores context and vital explanatory detail can simply confuse or, even worse, mislead the reader.

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