Damascus, capital of Arab culture for 2008

Posted by Alex 

Damascus celebrated yesterday the official opening of festivities for "Damascus, capital of Arab culture for 2008"

For the first time in Damascus fireworks were used in those celebrations. In the past, security concerns prevented organizers of similar events from using fireworks.

President Assad made a speech that included the expected expressions of pride in Damascus and its history, culture, and significance in the Arab world. But the speech also included hints to the strategic direction the Syrian President intends to take Syria in the future.

Here are some quotes:

"The routes on which Paul, the Messenger walked have been flowered with amity that he planted , and Khaled is opening his arms at the eastern gate of Damascus embracing you …the Umayyads are looking to the horizon on the minarets of the Umayyad Mosque guarding John the Baptist…and Sallahuddin is mocking those who have been harboring evil to Damascus,"

"Here are the tombs of renowned philosophers , poets and artists from all over the Arab homeland form the tomb of Farabi to the tomb of Ersouzi …and from the tomb of Iben Arabi to the tomb of Nabulsi..from the tomb of Hussein Marwa to the tomb of Abdul-Karim Karmi and from the tomb of Jawahiri to the tomb of Nizar Kabbani,"

"Damascus, the capital of Arab culture means to be the capital of the Arab dignity .. gives us the strong sense of human and national pride and inexhaustible sense of the national pride, so Damascus is the capital of the resistance culture as an inherent feature of our Arab culture features … it is the culture of freedom and defense of freedom … it is the culture of creativity because our freedom is a condition of our creativity and creativity and freedom can not be separated… Damascus, the capital of the Arab culture is a great and deep lesson and indicates the dialog of cultures and their co-existence and is a symbol of the richness of life and an eloquent proof on the futility of idea of civilizations clash,"

"The Arab culture establishes a love relationship and openness with culture of the other .. Damascus is an example in that… it opens her heart to those who come carrying their hearts and close its doors in the face of those who approach carrying their swords… we are sons of one culture .. Our Arab culture is our home as a whole… under it we live equal in belonging to it .. proud to defend it .. creators in its domain .. living in it our deepest identity because it is the pattern of our presence, values, ideas and beliefs and spiritual creativity,"

Here are some photos from those celebrations. 

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Comments (105)


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101. kingcrane jr said:

The fireworks are interesting.
One picture suggests that the Syrian premiere of “V for Vendetta” took place at that moment.

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January 21st, 2008, 2:26 pm

 

102. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Fox,
I really do not understand your argument. Are you saying that 1% of population supporting radical Islam is that same as 30% to 50% supporting radical Islam? That is the difference between Israel and Germany on one hand and the Arab world on the other.

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January 21st, 2008, 4:53 pm

 

103. Kooki said:

Did you notice that it’s actually “Damascus 2008: Arab Capital of Culture” and not “Capital of Arab Culture” at all? Perhaps that’s why there’s a blonde pictured. And perhaps that’s why there was barely a headscarf to be seen at the official launch (except for in the audience, where there were plenty).

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January 22nd, 2008, 7:48 am

 

104. Alex said:

Damascus Wearing Make-Up

Sami Moubayed

A few months ago, I met with one of the organizers of Damascus-Capital of Arab Culture 2008. She wanted my advise on what can be done to promote Damascus. I made several suggestions, including honoring 365-Syrians in 2008. I advised against one thing, however, saying: “Don’t try to promote Damascus as a beautiful city. It is no longer beautiful. Say that it is magical. Say that it is historical. Say that it is great—but it is no longer beautiful!”

God proved me wrong today. Damascus under snow was AMAZING. I have been through winters in London, Paris, Berlin, Cairo, and Beirut. Each of these cities is magical in its own way, and I am no fool. I know that we are not as majestic or organized as London, nor are we clean and proper like Berlin, or charming and romantic like Paris. But from where I stand today, Damascus is more beautiful than “all of the above.”

The Damascenes have not seen so much snow in years. The snow exposed the beauty of Damascus; it covered all the distortions on the streets, the damage done to roads, buildings, and monuments. It almost erased the ugliness of bad planning, and the destruction left behind by mediocre architects.

What I saw today was Damascus 1950—my Damascus. We witnessed its remains in the 1980s both first hand, through bedtime stories from our elders, and via the magical poetry of Nizar Qabbani. We must not forget that there is a rising number of young Syrians around who simply, don’t know ‘that’ Damascus.

I just came back from a cold and enchanting walk in Salhiyah. It reminded me of London. I saw the statue of Yusuf al-Azma, the martyr of Damascus, covered with snow. I saw children in utter joy, with heavy clothing, building a snowman near the Central Bank. They were laughing like crazy. I heard the voice of Fayruz coming out of shops that managed to remain open, despite the blizzard. The Damascenes are rediscovering Fayruz, as she is about to perform at the Opera House on January 28—her first performance, in nearly 30-years. Other Syrians were listening to Um Kalthoum playing on Damascus Radio. She was singing Ruba’yat al-Khayyam, an eternal classic; another reminder of a bygone era.

Fayrouz, Damascus, Um Kalthoum, snow, and roasted chestnuts from one of the peddlers of Damascus.

Readers might claim: “What’s wrong with Sami? Hasn’t he seen snow in his life? Does a little bit of snow merit an entire article?”

The answer is: “Snow doesn’t, but Damascus does!” I suddenly remembered how beautiful this city was, after having lost much of my earlier admiration for it. I am not writing in my capacity as a historian or analyst; I am writing as a Syrian who feel in love with Damascus—again—for the millionth time in his life.

The reason probably is that I have been back to Damascus since 2004. I witnessed the Herculean task of building the Umayyad Square. I saw it get torn down and erected once again, in 2001-2005. I saw it flood and nearly collapse. I also recently saw it celebrating very colorful fireworks as the Syrian capital launched festivities for 2008. I witnessed the ugliness of a wind storm that tore the city apart three years ago. I witnessed the mushrooming of cars in Damascus—more in quality than the city can tolerate, with its current structure. They left Damascus in ruin. I witnessed the never ending drills, dust, confusion and chaos left behind by the Municipality of Damascus. I saw sidewalks cave in months after they were renovated. I witnessed crazy driving, passive policemen, topped with complete disregard for law and order.

But today, by early evening, the streets were empty. Cars were not driving by and honking away. Police officers were too cold to obstruct traffic. For the first time in many years, we had a lot of fresh air to inhale.

Satellite Television was not working in Damascus—because of the snow. I had nothing to watch but Syrian TV. I was actually impressed, because I have not tuned-in for ages, and found some young, well-spoken, well-dressed, and beautiful anchors on TV. I found them very elegant and presentable, and if it were not for snow, millions of Syrians who no longer watch Syrian TV would probably have never noticed them.

Older people were thrilled with the snow. It reminded them of “their Damascus.” Snow was common after all, up to the late 1970s. The image of a beautiful Damascus made them look younger again.

Since I am not writing politics, and by no means is this meant to be a ‘serious’ article, I will copy a statement I recently made in an earlier article called “The Eternal City.” My Damascus is the smell of jasmine one inhales while walking down Abu Rummaneh Street, or through the Afif and Rawda neighborhoods. It is the old stone buildings scattered throughout these elegant residential districts, with their spacious balconies, and high-ceiling apartments. These buildings still ‘smell’ like Damascus. It is the beautiful parliament building on Abid Street, the old municipality in Marjeh Square, the original faculties of Damascus University, the Ain al-Fijja Waterworks Building, and the Hijaz Railway Station. They are real, elegant, proud Damascus. All of them today, were covered with snow.

My Damascus is the smell of mother’s cooking, and the ordinary people one recounts every day who seemingly never change despite the passing of time. They are the grocer, the policeman, the next-door shop owner, and the building janitor. My Damascus is the noise that comes from the streets at 7:00 am, along with a cold Damascene breeze telling us that winter has arrived, and students are back to school. It’s the sound of mosques at prayer time, and churches on Sunday. Its an afternoon promenade in the Old City and the June chill of a summer evening in Damascus.

My Damascus is the smell of mother’s cooking, and the ordinary people one recounts every day who seemingly never change despite the passing of time. They are the grocer, the policeman, the next-door shop owner, and the building janitor. It’s the chivalry of young Damascene men and the dazzling eyes of Damascene ladies, which speak volumes about their lives, dreams, and upbringing. My Damascus is the noise that comes from the streets at 7:00 am, along with a cold Damascene breeze telling us that winter has arrived, and students are back to school. It’s the sound of mosques at prayer time, and churches on Sunday. Its an afternoon promenade in the Old City and the June chill of a summer evening in Damascus.

I was wrong when I told the lady that we can no longer market Damascus as a Beautiful City.

This city just doesn’t want to die. Its like an aged and ailing woman who loves life and insists on living it abundantly.

Ugliness prevails? Perhaps, but not tonight. Was it just make-up? Probably. But if snow could cover up for the damage—at least for tonight—then so can we!

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January 22nd, 2008, 7:46 pm

 

105. Imad Elias said:

There are numerous blondes in Syria, and many are very fair skinned. My son has dirty/blonde hair and he looks like the prototype all American boy but is 100% Syrian. What a moronic racist thing to say by “Offended” that the girl in the picture is not “arab and not even Syrian” (but he/she can “guess” that that she’s “East European”). Wow!! Why don’t you bring back in fashion Hitlerean views on race, while you’re at it. “Offended” indeed…by your ignorance and prejudice.

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January 31st, 2008, 7:10 pm

 

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