Robert Fisk: Another week in the violent, murderous and divided world of Syria

Christians and Armenians among latest to die

Share

A week is a long time in violence. It seems only yesterday – five days ago, in fact – that armed men shot Sheikh Abu Haitham al-Bortawi outside the el-Noor mosque in the Rukenadin suburb of Damascus. Went to the scene. Middle class area. Tree shaded, clean street. Ten in the morning. Turns out he was the cleric who knelt right next to Bashar al-Assad for the Eid prayers at the end of Ramadan. A dagger to the heart of the body politick.

I meet an old friend the next day at a café in Mezzeh, and he's crying. His dentist lived in Zabadani, in the hills near the Lebanese border, in Free Syria Army country. His son was warned the family home was unsafe because of incoming fire. From the army? No one's sure. But a shell hit the house and the dentist has just arrived at the French Hospital. Dead, his grieving family still at the morgue.

Then there's the two Christian guys outside town. One runs a DVD store, the other a pharmacy. Murdered. Next day, their funeral cortege is car-bombed. Twelve dead, at least 40 wounded. Turns out they had brothers in the Syrian army, apparently conscripts. Hardly a sin. But the opposition says the two men were "connected to the military".

A Syrian journalist calls me. Six Armenians have been "slaughtered with knives" in their homes. I race to the Armenian church and there is brown-robed Bishop Armesh Nalbandian next to the ancient chapel of Saint Sarkis – he has around 6,500 parishioners in Damascus – and only a few metres from the memorial to the 1915 Armenian genocide. Many of those one and a half million victims of Ottoman Turkish slaughter were put to death in the deserts north of Damascus, now the scene of another Calvary.

But the "six-dead" story is untrue, Armesh says. Good news. But no. Three Damascus Armenians have just been murdered, apparently shot. Thirty-nine-year-old Bedros Matosian died along with his younger brother Kevork and the son of one of them – the bishop isn't sure which – called Levon, who was only 22. Armed men. No identity. But the Matosians had Alawite and Sunni neighbours who were also massacred, because, so the local story goes, they refused to join the Free Syria Army.

The story depends on where you go in this divided capital. Yesterday, I take another prowl, through the Damascus suburbs; Malayha, Harasta, Zamalka, Bab Shawkeh. Thirty government checkpoints, maybe 40, but in Harasta, the Syrian Arab Republic has no sway. There are dozens of painted green, white and black FSA flags on the walls. "The free people of Harasta are denied their liberty," a slogan informs us. "Assad should go." There's a mosque so packed that the crowds have spilled on to the boiling roadway; a guy in a pick-up tells us it's safe to head for the motorway. An opposition man. A Syrian soldier in sunglasses waves us back to the autostrade of the Syrian Arab Republic.

We drive through the Assad Suburb, government housing, though some home-owners have rented to people from Zabadani – maybe a little security problem? – and just past the Tishreen military hospital (former student, one Bashar al-Assad), there's an explosion and a car with headlights zipping the street dust under its shrieking tyres and a pulverised dead dog lying inside a garage.

Up to the Kassioun mountain overlooking Damascus for lunch at Al Montagna – the only guests, save for three tired Syrian officers – and we look across at the Omayad mosque and there's a roar from the government guns on the other side of the jebel and a rumble of sound relayed mountain-to-mountain on the other side of the city. Fifteen seconds later, there's a pop far away on the edge of the Palestinian camp at Yarmouk and a smudge of grey smoke. Then another report and another rumble and another pop a bit to the right, four miles away through the heat haze. Palestinians. I close my notebook for the week.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Content and PR

£35000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

If children are obese then blame food manufacturers, not Zoella

Jane Merrick
Amos Yee arrives with his father at the State courts in Singapore on March 31  

Singapore's arrest of a 16-year-old YouTuber is all you need to know about Lee Kuan Yew's legacy

Noah Sin
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor