• Omar Imady

The Secret History of the Ghouta

Ghouta rebels, 1925

Don’t be fooled by the headlines you read:

UN calls for end to ‘hell on earth’ violence in eastern Ghouta

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 Ghoutans, have long been infected by an incurable love for freedom. And as if this is not enough for people in this region, the Ghoutans 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: “O 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 Ghoutans. 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 population 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 coverage 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. On April 23, the French authorities warned village leaders in the Ghutah that after five days all villages in which rebels were being harbored would be burned without further notice. Over three quarters of those killed were said to have been non-combatant peasants …

Of course, what Khoury and MacCallum aren’t sharing with you is the fact that the Ghoutans 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 govern Syria on the principle that the well-being and development of such … peoples not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern worldform a sacred trust of civilization. But you could count on the Ghoutans to ruin 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 Ghoutans spoiled everything the French wanted to do for Syria, so too would they ruin everything the Ba’th regime was trying to do. Here we had 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 infecting the Ghoutans 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 Ghoutans 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.


© 2018 Centre for Syrian Studies