Malulaa, located 50 km from
Damascus, is a stunningly picturesque village whose
inhabitants speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus
Where Jesus' language Aramaic lives on in Syrian village
from the sounds of gunfire and civil conflict that embroil Syria
lurks an oasis of faith and miracles in this tiny village perched
on the rugged mountains. It's one of the last places on earth
where the Aramaic language Jesus Christ spoke still lives on the
tongue of its inhabitants.
the owner of an antique and souvenir shop in Old Damascus, is a
proud man and hates selling on discounts. But since public
protests erupted 13 months ago in Syria and sanctions by Western
powers, he is now all too willing to slash prices by more than
Yaseer is not an isolated sufferer. Rows and rows of shops across
the once bustling streets of Damascus and Aleppo, Syria's
commercial hub, lie deserted and look utterly desolate.
In hotels across major Syrian cities and tourist attractions,
there are virtually no bookings, forcing them to offer massive
discounts, belying better times when around 8.5 million tourists
visited the country, nearly twice that of India. The cafes and
restaurants are mostly filled with locals, smoking sheeshas (hubble
bubble) to ride out the hard times.
At a five-star hotel located close to the majestic Aleppo Fort,
they have stopped serving buffet breakfast, and prepares breakfast
only on order. "There are hardly any guests here, sir," Inad, a
distraught young bearer at the hotel, told a visiting IANS
Tourism has come down by more than 60 percent, says Tourism
Minister Lamia Assi, putting up a brave face on what's bleeding
the Syrian economy dry. After oil, tourism is Syria's largest
source of hard currency and generated $8.3 billion in revenues in
2010, the year before the Arab Spring-like fever swept some towns
of Syria like Homs, Hama and Daraa.
The story of desolation repeats itself wherever you go, especially
the fabled historical and cultural attractions of this country
that has seen civilisations, religions and cultures criss-cross
At Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, also known as the Grand Mosque that
is home to a shrine which contains the head of John the Baptist,
there are mostly religious tourists these days and most of them
are from Iran and Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan.
The mosque, which houses the tomb of the legendary Muslim
conqueror Saladin, is grand in every sense of the word; it has
exquisite screenings and its spacious, elegantly-decorated halls
are where prayers fly every day and wishes are made.
A genuinely secular country, Syria is replete with churches,
mosques and sacred shrines where Muslims and Christians often pray
together. Besides, this country of 24 million people is bristling
with myriad secular pleasures, including pristine beaches and
A nearly 45 minute-drive from Damascus stands a breathtakingly
beautiful monastery carved out of rock in Maalula village that
remains the last outpost of Aramaic, the language Jesus Christ
spoke. Made famous by Mel Gibson's movie "The Passions of the
Christ", the place was a must-visit for Christians around the
world in happier times, but now even the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic
is not attracting tourists here.
The pagan sensuality and aesthetics await visitors to Sweida, a
province located 90 km from Damascus, which houses some
spectacular archaeological sites going back to Greek and Roman
times. One of the celebrated wine-producing regions, here you will
find elegant mosaics of Dionysius, the Greek god of wine and
Aphrodite Immortal, the goddess of love.
Tourists from western Europe, the US and Britain who form the
backbone of Syrian tourism have been weaned away by advisories
from their governments who accuse the Bashar Al Assad regime of
organised massacre of opposition activists and civilians.
Another nuisance for Syrians is what they call the relentless
blitz of negative news streaming from international news networks,
particularly Western media. The fellow Arabs, who form nearly half
of the tourist inflow, seem to have become pawns in political
games as Syria accuses Saudi Arabia and Qatar of fomenting unrest
in the country.
Negative news, as industry insiders say, is often the death of
tourism. The tourism minister admits that the sanctions have
negatively impacted this once-vibrant sector, but feels confident
Syria will bounce back.
"We feel we will emerge much stronger from the crisis. People
don't care much about what the Western media has been telling.
They are telling lies," says Assi. But rhetoric is not the answer
to Syrians' economic woes which are getting exacerbated by the
That's why, Assi says, she is now looking East to new markets in
friendly countries like China and Russia, the two countries which
rallied to Syria's side in the two conflicted votes in the UN
Security Council over the last year.
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