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

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

Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

£32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

£27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Are you a recent graduate loo...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is a mul...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Irish referendum was the first on the issue of same-sex marriage anywhere in the world  

Don't be blinded by the Yes vote: Ireland is still oppressing its LGBT population

Siobhan Fenton
 

Daily catch-up: union bosses mobilise to try to prevent a Labour government

John Rentoul
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine