Dispatches From Damascus Part Four: A Conversation With A Syrian Army Captian

The post below was written immediately upon the return from Syria of myself and my co-editor, Mike Raddie, and so has been left as it was spontaneously written:

April 20th 2018

We’re back! Landed at Heathrow just before lunchtime today. Our trip has been amazing! Profoundly moving and uplifting. It was surreal to be in Damascus during the air strikes. And last night, we could hear the loud booms from the Syrian Army battling ISIS six miles away, one of their last positions south of the city.

It’s difficult to convey the absolute love and esteem the Syrian people have for their army, which is made up of, as BSNews co-ed Mike Raddie says, the sons, daughters, fathers, brothers and sisters of Syrian families. The Syrian Army IS the Syrian people. And so the very idea they would be ‘killing their own people’ is utterly absurd.

Last night we had dinner with friends who live in Damascus and they’d invited a young Syrian Army soldier friend to join us. He is only twenty-two years old. It saddened me that he’s spent his young life having to fight. And fight off an existential threat to his country. But Syrians know what awaits them if they lose.

The people in Damascus are overjoyed they can now walk the streets in safety due to the SAA victory in East Ghouta. What country in the world would tolerate an armed oppositon on its own soil? None. As someone who has opposed militarism all my life and who has shivered at the sight of soldiers in uniform because of what it represents, it is strange not to have this feeling in Syria. Soldiers are everywhere and no-one is afraid of them. They are, as I said, their brothers, sisters, fathers and daughters. Think of solders on leave during WW2 and you’ll get a sense of the feeling there.

Sheikh Najjar Industrial City, north-east of Aleppo, Syria

The UN Charter sanctions a nation acting in self-defence, which is exactly what the SAA is doing. And in my lifetime no British soldier has been engaged in that. On Wednesday in Aleppo, as we were walking around the bombed out industrial district, Mike and I were approached by a soldier who looked to be about 50 years old. He was a captain he told us. He asked us where we were from and when we said London he asked, ‘why is your country bombing us before knowing the truth?’ He said this in a quiet voice that sounded genuinely baffled. I said that our government, along with America, wants control of Syria and isn’t interested in the truth. He replied, ‘that’s your government, but do the people know the truth? (I wrote down in my notebook immediately after this encounter what the captain said so this is verbatim). Mike and I explained that the majority of people don’t support the bombing and that there had been protests in London against it. He seemed pleased about this, but I added that a lot of people believe what they see in the mainstream media about Syria and that we were trying to bring the truth back to our country.

The captain wouldn’t be filmed, unsurprisingly, but when we gave him our email contact and website information he took the paper from us, asked for a pen, and gave us his email address. So we will be contacting him and hopefully he will be happy to answer questions from anyone who wants to engage with him. Watch this space.

Carpenters working at the Sheikh Najjar Industrial City, Aleppo

Alison Banville is co-editor of BSNews

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