New York- I first embarked on a trip to Syria in the summer of 2002. I had been in touch with the office of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP-a.k.a. the Barzani family) in D.C. about entering Iraqi Kurdistan clandestinely from Qamishle-something they said they would be all too happy to do at the time. Of course when I got to Syria to meet my D.C. KDP’s contact in Damascus, it was a different story. I stayed at a decrepit old hotel from the French Mandate period called the al-Haramein. My main memories of the place were shaving at an open air sink on the quintessentially Levantine roof and meeting a beautiful older Syrian woman with her adorable young daughter in the sun splashed courtyard who was visiting family from Kuwait where she lived and mistook me for a Syrian (hence the aforementioned shave). Oh and also the incredibly cheap and delicious falafel carts near the end of the walking street the hotel was situated on.
Syria, to the naive Westerner, could seem to have been a deceptively peaceful police state. But Syria was and is a place with a long history of political violence and repression which the regime has until 2011 been incredibly adept at sweeping under the rug. We now know that beneath the religious and ethnic tapestry lies great anger that can no longer be repressed. The genie is out of the bottle and much as Bashar and his vile brother Maher try, the end of the Assad dynasty along with the Ba’ath Party is all but assured. Syria is a lovely country ruled by a loathsome family.
Of course the KDP guy refused to meet me saying the office in D.C. had never mentioned anything about an American journalist who he was supposed to meet. Looking back, I should have simply headed up to Qamishle and linked up with smugglers to make the semi-secret Tigris crossing. Then I recall having a devil of a time trying to email my KDP person back home because Bashar al-Assad had thoughtfully blocked Hotmail which was what I was using at the time. Anyhow, my idea totally went south and I ended up bailing Syria altogether and going to Georgia and sneaking into the Pankisi Gorge abutting the Chechen border.
I took just a few snapshots in Damascus because I thought I was saving all my film (yes, film!) to shoot the Peshmerga frontline with the Iraqi Army. So I thought I needed to conserve my film rolls. Glad I have the photos I do though because now I don’t know when I’ll be able to freely wander around Syria’s fascinating capital again.