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Syria: Where Foreigners Have the Upper Hand

Carmen Kareem
Syrian Journalist
February 9, 2021
The Syrian revolution against the regime has turned into a war against a foreign occupation, which pretends to defend Syrians by extending “a helping hand”. In reality, however, the hand is only extended to loot the Syrians’ money and increase their poverty.

Foreigners are absolutely everywhere in Syria. People have gotten used to the scenes of American tank convoys near their cities in the north. They are no longer surprised seeing Russian armored vehicles parked in front of Damascus’ Eastern Gate in the old city center.

Syrian cities in general seem to have lost their authenticity and identity over the last ten years. If they had not already lost themselves to airstrikes. Scores of citizens fled their homes and have been replaced by foreigners.

This is for example the case in some of the neighborhoods in Old Damascus, where Iranians have been buying homes and shops using the “carrot and stick” approach. Along with Russians they negotiate directly with local Syrian parties. No need for the regime as a mediator.

Eastern Gate

Asylum Granted

Ironically, while most Syrians fled the Assad regime, Assad himself granted political asylum to Arabs from other oppressive regimes, including Hannibal Gaddafi, son of the late Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi, and his family. 

No one would have known, were it not for Hannibal’s wife Ellen Skaff, the former Lebanese model, who ran over a bunch of policemen and passers-by in central Damascus after being stopped for a traffic violation. According to witnesses, she initially refused to listen to police officers and just drove on.

The authorities did not issue any statements regarding the incident, which reportedly was only wrapped up when a senior Syrian official arrived on the scene and ordered the police and security forces to let her go. No facts or figures about fatalities or injured were disclosed. Some of the victims’ families were allegedly threatened to cover up the incident.

Unfortunately, this is nothing out of the ordinary in Syria. Citizens are ruled by force and political connections. Even the driver of a Syrian official has immense power. One should come to expect the same of the many Russians and Iranians cruising Syria’s streets.

Ironically, while most Syrians fled the Assad regime, Assad himself granted political asylum to Arabs from other oppressive regimes…

Looting Treasures

People on the coast are deprived of many of their beaches, as the Russians have seized some, while others are strictly reserved for regime forces. In fact, the Russians seem to do pretty much as they please, without having to report back to the regime.

Dimitry Tatarkov, Director of the Russian Institute of Social Sciences and International Relations, recently announced the discovery of an unknown ancient port off the Syrian coast, believed to date back to the Roman era. Prehistoric anchorages, Egyptian vases and Phoenician pots were also found.

In response, Nazir Awad, the Syrian Director-General of the Ministry of Antiquities and Museums (MAM), issued a statement emphasizing that the MAM already knew about the port, yet indicated that Russia should have coordinated with the regime before publishing the news. Foreign parties, in coordination with the regime, continue to loot the country’s resources and historical treasures.

A fisherman who makes a living in the reservoirs behind the dams in the Suwayda governorate told Daraj that he was surprised to see one of the artificial lakes suddenly emptied by the end of 2019. According to the authorities, this happened to fix a leak. According to the fisherman however, Russian forces had discovered an archaeological site and plan to loot it.

The search for antiquities and other treasures has become a widespread phenomenon in Suwayda. It has actually increased in recent years due to the rise in poverty. Normally, the authorities confiscate 80% of any valuables found and grant the owner of the land 20%, if the excavation was overseen by someone they assigned. If the authorities were not properly informed, the person concerned may be arrested.

Foreign parties, in coordination with the regime, continue to loot the country’s resources and historical treasures. 

ISIS

In 2011, the influx of foreigners escalated with the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). From all over the world, fighters came to join ISIS and live in its caliphate. The extremist organization played a pivotal role in the Syrian conflict and highly complicated any political solutions. The regime utilized its presence to misrepresent the conflict as a “sectarian war.” 

According to the Pentagon, the number of ISIS fighters in Syria, after the battle of Mosul in Iraq, amounted to some 20,000. As the battles on Syrian territory, and the oppression by the regime exacerbated, Iranian and Russian forces announced their presence in Syria in defense of their strategic interests.

According to the Jusoor Center for Studies and Development, the number of sites occupied by foreign forces has reached 477, which includes troops belonging to the US-led international coalition, as well as Russia, Turkey, Iran, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

The international coalition controls 33 military sites and outposts, while Russia has 83, most of which located in the Hama Governorate. Turkey had 113 sites and outposts, most of which in the Aleppo and Idlib governates, outside the regime’s control, while Iran has 131 outposts, most of which in southern Daraa and the countryside of Damascus. Hezbollah, for its part, has 116 outposts most of which in Aleppo.

The interests of the conflicting parties differ of course. While the Turks aspire to expand their borders, Iran is working to equip bases in southern Syria to protect the military and secure logistical supply routes for Hezbollah. Hezbollah, in its turn, is working to form a security belt along the border between Lebanon and Syria as an alternative supply corridor to the Bekaa Valley and Mount Lebanon regions.

Thus, the Syrian revolution against the regime has turned into a war against a foreign occupation, which pretends to defend Syrians by extending “a helping hand”. In reality, however, the hand is only extended to loot the Syrians’ money and increase their poverty.

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