The horrors inside Syria are increasingly clear. This is both a civil war and a proxy war with various powers determined to oppose and isolate Iran.
Here’s a very powerful piece in today’s New York Times by Janine di Giovanni that highlights the chaos of Assad’s Syria:
What does it feel like when a war begins? When does life as you know it implode? How do you know when it is time to pack up your home and your family and leave your country? Or if you decide not to, why?
For ordinary people, war starts with a jolt: one day you are busy with dentist appointments or arranging ballet lessons for your daughter, and then the curtain drops. One moment the daily routine grinds on; A.T.M.’s work and cellphones function. Then, suddenly, everything stops.
Barricades go up. Soldiers are recruited and neighbors work to form their own defense. Ministers are assassinated and the country falls into chaos. Fathers disappear. The banks close and money and culture and life as people knew it vanishes. In Damascus, this moment has come.
I spent nearly two weeks in Syria earlier this month; I was privileged — and lucky — to get a visa because there is a near-total media blackout. The fear that rises with civil war was palpable. Car bombs exploded in the streets; there was a shootout in a television station. The week after I was in Damascus, the Red Cross declared the 17-month uprising a civil war, which means that international human rights law applies throughout the country. More essentially it means that Syrians can’t any longer deny, as some did, that their country is at war and that the life they’ve lived is rapidly coming to an end.
During my time in Syria, daily life unfolded as it does everywhere in the world. I attended operas at one of the best opera houses in the Middle East, Dionysian pool parties on Thursday afternoons, weddings, in which couples married in elaborate Sunni and Shia ceremonies, and, watched makeup artists do their magic on actresses’ faces for a magazine photo shoot: all of these activities are part of a life that somehow continued as war crept up Syria’s doorstep but is about to fade away, except as memory.
Not far beneath the surface of the festivities, there was a current of tension, a tangible dread that the 17-month conflict would soon spill onto the streets of Damascus.
People had begun to leave Damascus when I arrived. There were going-away parties, and embassies were shutting down. The neighborhoods of Barzah and al-Midan, where I walked the streets two weeks ago after Friday Prayer, are now no-go areas, opposition strongholds. Then it was tense to talk in the street after Friday Prayer, or to try to talk to rebel supporters. Now it will be bloodier. And I wonder how many of the people I saw two weeks ago are now fleeing Syria, crossing over the border to Lebanon.
I know about the velocity of war. In all of the wars I have covered — including in Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Chechnya, Kosovo — the moments in which everything changes from normal to extremely abnormal share a similar quality. One evening in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in 2002, for example, I went to bed after dinner at a lavish French restaurant. When I woke up, there was no telephone service and no radio broadcast in the capital; “rebels” occupied the television station and flares shot through the sky. In my garden I could smell both the scent of mango trees and the smell of burning homes. My neighborhood was on fire. The 24-hour gap between peace and wartime gave me enough time to gather my passport, computer and favorite photos and flee to a hotel in the center of the city. I never returned to my beloved house with the mango trees.
In early April of 1992, a friend in Sarajevo was walking, in a miniskirt and heels, to her job in a bank when she saw a tank rolling down the street. Shots were fired. My friend crouched, trembling, behind a garbage can, her life forever altered. In a few weeks, she was sending her baby to safety on a bus in the arms of a stranger to another country. She would not see him for years.