Opinion: Travel bloggers visiting Syria are normalizing the Assad regime

The Assyrians are searching for debris from a damaged house in Balyun, northwest of Idlib, on December 8, 2019, the day after a Russian airplane strike in a village market.

AAREF WATAD / AFP / Getty Photos

Neil Hauer is a Canadian journalist and researcher who writes for Russia, Syria and the Caucasus, in Yerevan, Armenia.

There are two major groups of people discussing Syria’s safe and sound environment today. The first is the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus and its allies. In the camp, such stories are expected and natural, if misleading and not constructive. Al-Assad wants to signal the end of the war: He wants to advance his return to foreign countries and get funding and recognition from international organizations after winning a “civil war. His allies have the same reasons, while Russia continues to sound the trumpet that Syria is a safe haven for refugees.” their return when they want to limit their participation.

The second group is not really expected. This is a scrum of western bloggers who have come down to this country in recent months. With a wallet, a portable video camera and a YouTube channel full of requests, a travel blogger’s approach and interest is very different from the Syrian government – but the message, and the consequences, are the same.

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The middle of the Syrian blogging trip looks like this: go to Damascus and head to the old city. Drive some socks, take pictures with various vendors and passers-by (who are always, always smiling and complaining when talking), and find that, see, Damascus really has barriers – it’s always very important to explain. Then head north, either stopping at Homs or the Krak des Chevaliers, depending on what the business community allows, before entering Aleppo. Once again, make the center of the city, sticking to the western half of the city (you know, which hasn’t been ruined by four years of state competition). You can also say a little about the war – always, if 90% of the damage was caused by the actions of God and not by a person whose government approves your visa visa. Conclude by asking others to go and see the latest stone that bears his name and a different kind of “Syria – that’s not what you think!”

Aleppo al-Saqatiyah Market, which was spotted on Jan. 21, 2017, below, and renewed on July 27, 2019, above.

Hassan Ammar / Associated Press

The most interesting thing about these films is that the incident that has plagued Syria for the past decade or so – a brutal civil war that has killed more than half a million people and more than half the country’s population – has been pushed aside. sometimes in transit. The desire to avoid this disturbing topic is understandable. Posting more travel avoids politics, and the interest in showing that Syria as a country and Assyria as a people are not defined by war alone, but because of the richness of their history and culture, is a good thing.

But this war is not just history. It is something that is still happening today, and the consequences are being heard every day by millions of Syrians. A few kilometers west of Aleppo Palace, famous for its travel bloggers, a random bomb blast campaign is affecting more than three million people in Idlib province. In the northeast of the city, thousands of civilian homes have been abandoned and their occupants forced, and perhaps permanently evicted, by the Assad government, which sees them as disloyal. The busy streets of Damascus are close to prisons like the famous Mezze prison, where thousands of prisoners have (and continue to) starve to death, many without a gall to protest against the Assad regime. Bloggers praise the goodness of Syrian restaurants while many people in the country rely on United Nations aid for their survival.

Ignoring or disregarding this “unpleasantness” – a reality that often kills real Syrian citizens – is in line with the goals of the Assad regime. Upon entering Syria, travel bloggers have formed alliances with the authorities, while only Damascus’s ideas will be allowed to be explained. Public-private audience, who have been told that they can travel with foreigners who are allowed to obtain visas, to ensure that bloggers cannot communicate with local people without fear or coercion, so that even temporary suspicions to answer the question could lead to arrests and torture. To portray Syria as a “normal” country at this time is a huge and unwise decision.

As a regular travel agent – Chechnya – ruled by one of the world’s worst criminals, I sometimes face the same questions as others: Do you not support the establishment of the Ramzan Kadyrov government? There are several key differences. First of all, a small amount of money provides money to support the evil government of Chechen – I live with my friends, not in government hotels, where I spend money in restaurants and markets. Again, my discussions of modern-day Chechnya, and the warmth and hospitality of the people and the beauty of the country, always reflect the atrocities perpetrated by the government there. If Mr. Kadyrov had read one of my articles about Chechnya, he might not have been so pleased. From what I have seen, the real contradictions can be true for Mr. al-Assad sees one of the YouTubers who visited Syria in recent months. If travel bloggers were to emphasize the realities of Syria, their accounts in the country could come in handy. But such caves are seldom found.

According to all the news, Syria was a very good tourist destination before 2011, with some of the most hospitable people in the world. Hopefully one day it will be the same, although in the meantime, it seems it will take years or decades for everything to return to the country. But the real reality is there. Visiting Syria as a tourist in 2020, is very positive, suspicious and ruthless. The Great Depression is acting as an accomplice to the horrific war crimes and human rights abuses in the world.

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