Syrian Government Assault Targets Rebels in Aleppo – Voice of America
Syria: Assad regime launches ‘savage and barbaric’ assault on Aleppo – The Telegraph
At least 58 killed across Syria – Herald
Intervention is now driving Syria’s descent into darkness – The Guardian
Syrian army kill 123 people – Kuwait News Agency
Pack Your Bags for Syria
“You are going to Syria next month. We have got a project to do over there“, my boss informed me during a meeting. I was not sure how to react. All I knew was that Syria is some place in the middle east having poor relationship with United States. I also perceived Syria as a highly conservative and fundamentalist country. But I knew that Syria – one of the oldest civilization has a key place in human and Muslim history. Being in my early 20s, Syria sounded like an adventure and fun. So without any hesitation I said yes for the trip which I never thought would become one my memorable trip of life time.
NOT Welcome in Syria
I landed on Damascus International Airport with mixed expectations. While standing in the queue for immigration I observed people around me who were wearing moderate western cloths and had friendly faces. “This place does not seem that conservative after all“, I thought. I also saw friendly immigration officer who was smiling all the time.
At my turn, I smiled back and gave him my passport. All of sudden the smile disappeared. At most of the destinations in the world, expressions of immigration officers do change as soon as they see Pakistan passport. But this one was different. “You B(P)akistani. Come with me“. Shocked and worried, I followed him. I was taken to a small room which was overcrowded with two officers and around dozen passengers. The officer instructed me to wait.
I was trying to figure out the criteria for this extra ordinary treatment. Most of the detained passengers were Iraqis and Egyptians. I stood in the corner unnoticed. Soon I was joined by an Indian. It was like meeting an old friend after a long time. We shared the same language and origin of sub-continent. It was much easier to share the fear and frustration with an Indian rather than Arabs. We cursed the Syrian immigration for treating us this way.
After an hour which felt like years, my name was called. Officer entered my passport number on black computer screen which was in Arabic. The result was a red pop up in Arabic. He raised his eye brow in suspicion. “Wait Outside!”, he shouted at me . “What’s going one?”, I demanded. “You will know soon”, he shouted again.
Experiencing My First Interrogation
After waiting for another year, I was taken for interrogation. Two unfriendly officers started asking basic questions like my name, father’s name, age, amount of cash I had etc. Shortly the interrogation took a new direction which goes some thing like this.
“Why are you here?”
“My firm has been hired by a corporation here to do a project for a bank.”
“What is origin of this corporation?”
“American!”. Officer stared at me in disbelief.
“Who is here to pick you?”
“Some one from the company”
They asked me to give the number of my host Basim (names have been changed to protect the identity) who was outside.
“Wait outside and pray.”
By this time, I was terrified and frustrated. All I wanted was to get the next flight back home. Soon after I was called to another bigger room full of 10 officers. The friendly man behind table appears to be in-charge. He again asked the same set of question but in more polite manner. In the end he said, “You should not have been here” and asked me to wait outside while he decides what to do with me.
Another hour passed by before I was called again. An officer returned my passport and said “There was a misunderstanding”. “Screw you”, I responded in my heart. I went to the immigration counter. “Welcome to Syria!”, the personnel at the counter said after stamping my passport. I went to the luggage belt only to find that my luggage was missed at Dubai airport. My poor host Basim greeted me who was waiting since past four hours. He was also called in for interrogation while I was detained.
10% of Syrians Are Secret Agents
Discussion of Syria is incomplete without its secret service. Syria is ruled by a dictator like government who have appointed over 2 million people in secret service to suppress the opposition. Once on a road you can sense the detective and secret agents all around you. People are afraid to discuss government or any other matter, even if no one is around. People don’t even want to answer simple questions like “Are girls allowed to choose their own soulmate in Syria?“.
I am absolutely sure that I was under watch after the immigration incident. It seems that agents don’t make any effort to hide. I saw familiar faces keeping close eye on me all the time. One evening as I was having dinner at the roadside restaurants, I saw a man in brown suite across the road looking at me. When I finished my dinner after 30 minutes, he was still standing at the same spot. Another day when I returned to my hotel room, I smelled fresh paint. On close inspection I found a spot on the ceiling with fresh paint and a small hole. I was certain that a camera was installed in my room.
Is Syria That Bad?
Despite all the detention, harassment, embarrassment and creepy stuff, I enjoyed a lot in Syria. Will I travel to Syria again? Yes. Why? Because of wonderful people, amazing history and rich heritage. This bright side of Syria is covered in my next post.