8 Things You Should Know About Syria That Your News Anchor Doesn’t

It’s no hidden secret that the more you travel, the more you come to realize that other places, people and cultures can be very different on the ground than to how they are perceived in mainstream media and Western Government’s travel recommendations.

Today I had CNN on in my hotel room in Davao City, Philippines and as anyone who keeps half an interest in world events would understand, it wasn’t long before a story surrounding the Syrian Arab Republic came on.

There was talk of death, protest marches, sanctions, Bashar al-Assad’s days as President being numbered, defecting soldiers, funding and armament of opposition factions and failed UN policy to name just a few.

Of all the cheesy, over used ‘Arab Spring’ terms within the story, it was how the reporter finished that was of particular interest to me:

“… *insert reporters name here*, reporting from London…”

What better way to give a detailed and informative view on a complex country and its politics than being thousands of kilometers away from it, right?

After hearing this, I thought it could be helpful to share some perspectives that I learnt from visiting Syria and actually meeting the people who live there for myself. I can’t help but think that the Syria I now know is substantially different to the one being shown to the world on the TV screen at the moment.

The next time you see a news report on Syria, here are some things you should keep in mind before making your own judgment on the situation:

1. SYRIANS DON’T HATE YOU!

Local pranksters, Aleppo.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that Syrians love having guests.

I was constantly met with warm welcomes and gracious hospitality by locals all over Syria who were genuinely interested in where I was from. On learning this, they wouldn’t withhold how impressed and honoured they were that I had come “all the way from Australia!?” to visit their country on my own.

Syrian Ice Cream, Damascus.

Despite clear objections to the way Western Government’s have treated Syria and the Middle East for say, the last 200 years, I had Syrians communicate to me on, numerous occasions, that they understand these policies and actions don’t reflect the attitudes of the citizens from those countries imposing them.

“You are very welcome here!” was something I heard on a daily basis throughout Syria.

 

2. AL-QAEDA ISN’T IN SYRIA!

None of the 9/11 bombers were Syrian (According to Yahoo Answers they were all Jedi).

There are no balaclava-wearing men holding Kalashnikovs and RPG’s roaming the streets wanting to grab you from your chosen mode of transport with the intent of separating your head from its body on al-Jazeera.

Get over yourself…

Local Butcher, Aleppo Souq.

Ruined City of Palmyra.

3. SYRIA IS NOT A BAREN DESERT WASTELAND!

I’m not denying that there are parts of Syria that are desert, but one of the biggest paradigm shifts that occurred for me while in Syria was how green and lush it is in many parts.

Crac des Chevaliers.

Valley below Crac des Chevaliers.

Hama Water Wheel.

Hama Water Wheel by night.

4. SYRIANS SPEAK GREAT ENGLISH AND/OR FRENCH!

Any media story I see on Syria is almost guaranteed to show the locals of Syria as either a group of men huddled around a camera yelling frantically in Arabic or an old burqa wearing woman wailing hysterically.

I hardly ever found myself in a place or situation where I couldn’t get my question, query or point across AND answered in English.

The average Syrian’s level of English kills my Arabic…

Damascus Old City Souq.

Alley way, Damascus Old City.

5. SYRIA IS FULL OF FOREIGNERS MAKING A DIFFERENCE!

Of all the foreigners I met in Syria who were there to work, volunteer or learn the language, most of them were American citizens.

Maybe Mrs. Clinton and FOX et al should ask for their opinion sometime?

The lady on the left was an American teacher I met while heading to Crac des Chevaliers. Had taught herself Arabic and had worked extensively with Palestinian refugees. One of the most inspiring people I have ever met.

 

6. SYRIA IS VERY SOCIALLY DIVERSE!

Travel to Syria and I guarantee it won’t be long before you come across a red haired or blue-eyed Syrian.

Syria cannot be simply labeled an ‘Arab Muslim Country’. Its society is made up of Syrian Arabs, Druze, Kurds, Syrian Turkmen, Assyrians and Syriacs, Armenians, Palestinians and Iraqi’s who practice the faiths of Sunni Islam, Shia Islam, Alawite Islam, Druze and various Christian Denominations such as Orthodox, Catholic and Maronite between them.

Umayyad Mosque Courtyard

Orthodox Cathedral, Aleppo Christian Quarter.

7. SYRIA HAS SEEN WESTERN INTERVENTION FAIL IN THE REGION MANY TIMES BEFORE!

Ever heard of the Crusades?

The tomb of Saladin, Damascus.

8. THERE ARE PEOPLE IN SYRIA WHO SUPPORT BASHAR AL-ASSAD!

This might not be apparent to most people as all we are being shown is mobile-phone footage of anti-government protests on the news.

Different people told me different things in different places.

I watched President Assad and the Turkish Foreign Minister’s motorcade roll through the northern city of Aleppo to the shouts of “Our blood, Our lives, We’ll sacrifice for you!” by the thousands lining the streets.

I also had an older man, who was a former Professor of Middle Eastern studies at a university in Canada, ask me to write a letter to Amnesty International upon my return to Australia, requesting them to continue their investigations of political prisoner treatment in the country.

Aleppo Souq.

View over Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, from Aleppo citadel.

 

Visiting Syria changed my life.

It was the first Middle-Eastern country I had ever been to and it smashed any pre-conceptions I had of the region like a sledgehammer.

I have not been able to view Western news and Political talk about the region the same ever since.

Its unique character is rooted in its physical ruggedness and the diversity of its people. I write this not to give support to any particular side of the argument surrounding Syria’s current political situation, but rather to give some objective insight on what the full picture actually looks like.

What should happen in Syria? I DON’T KNOW! – I’m not from there and I have never lived there.

One thing I do know however, is that Syria’s future needs to be determined by Syrians and no one else.

My one hope for Syria is that the issues at hand are resolved sooner than later so more people can experience this amazing country for themselves…

 

Have you been to Syria or are you interested in the topic? would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

29 thoughts on “8 Things You Should Know About Syria That Your News Anchor Doesn’t

  1. Thank you for sharing this with me. It’s everything I have ever heard about this country. I was looking forward to visiting during this RTW trip, but with everything happening I can’t any more. One day though I will visit it for sure. My prayers are with them.

  2. Syria looks like a remarkable place to visit, from the people to the landscape. It can be so frustrating watching the news these days. It’s so politically motivated and far from “on the ground” as it should be.

    • Cant agree with you more suzy, here’s to the un-corrupted travel blogger being the new champion of spreading truth.
      Glad you liked it and cant thank you enough for sharing it on your own blog.

  3. Western press or western propaganda? Things haveint changed much since I travelled through Syria 46 years ago.

    • Growing up hearing those stories from that trip 46 years ago definitely planted the travel seed within me! Love you Dad.

  4. I loved this! I haven’t yet been to the Middle East, but I studied a bunch of the political history in college and am fascinated. Thanks for sharing some lesser-known info.

    • Thanks for your feedback and stopping by Emily, means a lot!
      Fascination of the middle east from my dads travel stories of being there in the 60′s drove my motivations to go there and its been “only a matter of time till i go back” ever since i left! I hope you get a chance to see it for yourself!

  5. Nice article and pics! Makes me wanna go visit there – I figured there must be more to it than ‘men huddled around a camera yelling frantically in Arabic or an old burqa wearing woman wailing hysterically’ like you said! haha Commercial network news is ridiculous.

    • thanks michelle! funny how mainstream news doesnt have the logic/reason of the common man hey?!?! hope you’re good!

  6. Excellent post! These things need to be said more often. Syrians I met were some of the friendliest, most genuinely hospitable people that I’ve met while traveling. I would love to revisit some some day.

  7. On our way to Syria we heard a lot of great things from travellers coming the other way. Everyone who’d been there tended to say it was the highlight of their travels in the region. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the border things were beginning to kick off and my visaless ass was (politely) turned away.

    Hopefully things will calm down soon and we will be able to try again another day.

    • ahhh Shane! That sucks! I was very grateful I had pre-organised my visa before I left Australia and got in while I could. The Syrian’s are smart people, it will be foreign interference that will prolong people like yourself being able to get back there to check it out. Loving your website btw! keep it up bro…

  8. Wonderful post Ash! I have many friends in Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, etc…but have not visited yet. I talk to them almost on a daily basis and you are so right, the news does not reflect the people in the region even close. In fact, I deteste how they paint them in a bad light no matter what side the news angle is coming from. You verified something that my friends consistently reiterate to me…that I will be so welcomed in their homes and they can’t wait for me to get there. We need to bridge the gap of the misconceptions of our middle east friends because the news is become more and more just the bull-horn of manipulative politicians. It is truly up to the people to tell the truth now. I look forward to reading more of your blog, I just stumbled up on it, thank you. Take care!

    • Thanks for taking the time to read it Syndee, Im glad you liked it!
      With all your connections in the region you are going to have the most incredible time when you eventually visit…
      A wise man told me in Beirut “This place doesn’t need us to come here with our soldiers. It needs us here as doctors, teachers and tourists…”. Building relationships in the area like you have is exactly how we bring change to western perceptions of this amazing region…
      Hope you’re good!

  9. Such a great post I studied aabrod in Morocco for a year in 2009-2010 and ran everyday. I know that exact feeling you talk about; I felt it even in the sleepy mountain village that I lived in. That stare that is simultaneously disapproving and lustful, that somehow is so violating from so far away I’ll never forget it. At the same time, some of my favorite moments in Morocco are when I was running, breathing a quick salam to everyone i passed.

  10. Good article from someone that has experienced the place for themself. A lot of Journo’s reporting on reports ha.

  11. Pingback: Krak des Chevaliers in Syria - Backpacking,Travel Advice and Pictures

  12. As a Syrian this post both warms my heart and breaks it …I wish more people would’ve had the chance to visit Syria before its destruction…Thank you for the post and share with you the hope that Syria sees itself out of this horrible situation

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