This section is difficult for me to write on through sheer weight of ignorance. We were supposed to learn something about Syria’s history and the difficulties people there face, especially politically. Most everywhere we went there was some reference to: this church collapsed because of the Ottomans, the relics of this saint were taken by the Crusaders, this scastle was used by the French colonials, and so on. People were talking politics on and off the entire trip, but in a way that was fairly difficult to follow. Some of the nuns and priests we would visit talked a bit about how they like their president: he supports the minority religions and groups that are trying to help people; he gave computers and toys to the orphan girls at St Thekla’s monastery, and olive and fig trees to the Vision church at Kounetra; many of the churches and monasteries have a picture (in addition to the mandatory picture that’s in or on every building in Syria) of their leaders exchanging good wishes with President Assad. Especially the Christians like that, because President Assad is from a minority muslim sect, he has reason to support the other minority faiths in his country. Living in a predominately Muslim society is, as one might expect, difficult for the Christians there. People were upset about the Israeli raid of the aid flotilla to Palestine, resulting in the deaths of nine people. Syria and Israel are, of course, not friendly neighbors to say the least, and it shows whenever talk turns to politics.
On Wednesday June 2nd, after visiting the church of the Vision, we went to the Golan Heights, on the border between Israel and Syria. The Israeli side is a listening post up on the mountain. the Syrian side is a demolished city and a minefield under UN supervision. Metropolitan Saba had to get us permission to visit, as people aren’t permitted to just visit without supervision — in our case we had a guide and went to what had been the hospital, church, mosque, and shops/entertainment part of town. There are five families living there now, where it had been a mid-sized town, and all the buildings were completely stripped, even down to the marble overlays on the church. It’s like where you read about the old wars in that area, where someone would come take a city, and then demolish it so that nothing at all was left standing and usable.
On Friday after visiting Tissia (next post) we went to the Museum of the Revolution against the French in the 1920s. It was rather hyperbolic, as war memorials tend to be, with 12 pillars representing the regions that were involved, a granite tomb of the “General Leader of the Revolution Sultan Basha al-Atrash,” built next to his salon from back in the day, surrounded with flowers and with a second story involving a round viewing area, the names of (presumably) people who died in the revolution, and an inspiring mosaic describing the course of the war. The rest of the museum mostly seems to have flags and guns; our guide was determined to tell us about each of several hundred guns there.
Other posts on Syria
Opening travels — Dubai, Damascus, Sweida, Phillipi, Bosra
Road Trip part 1 — Damascus, St Thekla’s Monastery, Valley of the Christians (St George Monastery, Crusader Castle)
Road Trip part 2 — Latakia, Palmyra
Road Trip part 3 — Homs, SaidNaya (Theotokos Monastery, St George’s Monastery, Cherubim Monastery), Vision Church
Back in Sweida — Mounted icons, Tissia, meeting people, candles, Izra