The Secret History of the Ghouta
Don't be fooled by the headlines you read:
You see the Ghouta has a history, secret and dark, that these journalists are not sharing with you.
The Ghouta's inhabitants, let's call them the Ghoutanes, have long been infected by an incurable love for freedom. As though this is not enough for people in this region, the Ghoutanes have a version of this virus that comes with hideous courage and pathetic idealism. The first, in recent history, to encounter this type of disease were the Ottomans. On the 6th of May 1916, deep within the Ghouta, and at a house that belonged to the Bakri family, Prince Faisal was told that the Ottoman governor of Syria, Jamal Pasha, had executed twenty-one Arabs simultaneously in Damascus and Beirut for alleged anti-Ottoman activities. Prince Faisal, with too much Ghouta air in his lungs, cried out: Oh Arabs, death (in the path of freedom) is sweet; a battle cry destined to haunt the Turkish armies until their departure from Syria.
But it was the French who had the most close and personal encounters with the Ghoutanes. They too had to use aerial bombardment, and artillery fire to subdue the 'terrorists' of their time. Villages were destroyed and at certain points, the entire inhabitants of the Ghouta were treated as a hostile enemy worthy of ruthless punishment. Passages from Philip Khoury's Syria and the French Mandate and Elizabeth P. MacCallum's The nationalist crusade in Syria sound eerily similar to the type of headlines we encounter today:
The sweeping operations of four columns composed of 5000 troops, supported by tanks, armored cars, field artillery, and airplanes encountered some resistance and the number of rebels actually swelled owing to the severity of French repression.
Of course what Khoury and MacCallum aren't sharing with you is the fact that the Ghoutanes clearly deserved this. After all, the French Mandate was a progressive secular authority with noble objectives. Like all mandates, the French had no objective other than to administer Syria on the principle that "the well-being and development of such peoples" — that is, of "peoples not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world" — "form a sacred trust of civilization." But you could count on the Ghoutanes ruining this experience. After all, what concern do they have for progress when their feverish love for freedom is willing to make them continue to fight even after water was cut off to their villages.
And in the same manner that the Ghoutanes spoiled everything the French wanted to do for Syria, so too would they ruin everything the Baath regime was trying to do. Another secular and progressive experience with a plan to take Syrians to a democratic future in around 50 years shattered by rural hard headed peasants with no appreciation for a concert hall erected on the western borders of their over crowded ugly towns.
Perhaps it all started with Elijah, yes the Biblical Elijah. Perhaps he is responsible for injecting the Ghoutanes with all of this. Of all the places to anoint Hazael to be king over Syria, why choose the 'Wilderness of Damascus'? Or perhaps it was the Prophet of Islam. Why choose the Ghouta as the site where the righteous would fight till the very end? Whatever the cause, it is clearly too late to fix any of this. The Ghoutanes have to be stopped before they ruin everything.
*/Dr. Omar Imady was born in Damascus. He is presently a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Syrian Studies at the University of St Andrews.
The views & information contained in these posts & articles are strictly those of their authors who are solely responsible for their accuracy, and should not be regarded as representing the Centre for Syrian Studies or the University of St Andrews.