Conversations from Syria ... by Gail Malone

Musings on Syrian soldiers in the Syria you never see

This is a guest post to Australian Voice by Gail Malone, a peace activist who recently visited Syria. She describes it as "just a touristy thing about soldiers."

...and when we die, we die standing like trees.
Nassif Zeytoun-Haweety

I decided to write my impressions of the Syrian Army, as they are demonized ad nauseam in the Western media. What one needs to understand is that these men and women are not 'Assad's' troops, they are the sons and daughters of Syria, no horns or tails in sight. They are ordinary Syrians in an extraordinary battle for their secular Motherland, to maintain her sovereignty and their cultural heritage which dates back millennia. It's a battle of biblical proportions to retain Syria intact, in all her glorious diversity. We live in a time where lies are taken as fact and those speaking the truth are insulted with ad hominem attacks, but never with real evidence. Those that speak for free speech can find 'no platform' for those that don't maintain the narrative.

We are to believe everything the US tell us, without any evidence. We are not to believe Syria or Russia, regardless of indisputable evidence. This brave army needs the recognition it deserves and a little humanisation in the Western gaze. One only need read Syrian history to understand Syria will never kneel. The entire planet should be thankful to these brave troops in their fight against international terrorism, and think long and hard before throwing MSM lies into debates. Lives are in the balance. Vive the Syrian Armed Forces, if there is a God, he is surely on their side.

Our hotel in Latakia

Driving back to our hotel in Latakia, one of a number of regular checkpoints came up and the soldier looked in checking our faces and said; "Welcome, I hate Obama." "So do we", I replied. He laughed, waved and waved us on. On we drove to our hotel, the coalition of the unwilling, Janice a hawk and me a pacifist. Somehow we met in the middle in Syria.

In a village in the mountains of Latakia, where we stopped to eat, that's an entire

A gifted carnation

epicurean delight story, with a tandoor and family recipes. Out of the blue a soldier, a fine stamp of a man, gave us 2 two wee crimson carnations, also saying welcome. A random act of kindness.

Our driver giggling with/at us, as we drove through the desert. Checking his tyres, at every stop, worried, as it's not easy to replace them. So to the cracked windscreen, a gift from a terrorist's mortar. The sanctions, you know. After all he'd seen, his eyes still sparkled when he laughed. He effortlessly made us all laugh with this quiet charm and humour. A perfectly odd bunch were we, and we trusted him with our lives.

We sat with soldiers who had helped save Ma'loula from continued terrorist occupation. They were not soldiers then, they were men protecting their ancient village, besieged by outsiders and the inevitable traitors who could be bought. They had one policeman and were raided before the so-called 'peaceful' protests had even started. We were by the church that had been built on a pagan temple, the marble altar remained, with its raised

Mal'loula, a day trip from Damascus

sides to hold the blood of sacrifices, its drain hole filled. On a balcony we took tea and listened as they told us the stories of Ma'loula, where Aramaic is still spoken. After, we were escorted on a walk round the area, where great strides had been made rebuilding the damage. It was breathtaking.

Then there was the checkpoint leaving Ma'loula, where early into the crisis, soldiers had been martyred at the hand of takfiris. No way we were going anywhere, regardless of our schedule, without eating small green apples with them. They were so good, still glistening from being freshly washed for us.

Old stone house in Kassab, with ocean views

More soldiers escorted us in Kassab. Wow what a place! Where the mountains meet the Mediterranean. Before we went sight-seeing we were given a ubiquitous coffee. Hospitality in Syria is not the sole preserve of the hospitality industry, it permeates Syrian society. We, in Australia could learn a lot about gracious hospitality from Syria. What we saw in natural magnificence is hard to describe, such a surprise. Kassab is on the border of Turkey, from whence the terrorists came to the village. It's basically an Armenian area, catering to tourists in both summer and winter.

I can still see the deep dark eyes across the dining table of our new friend as we ate at the Mona Lisa Restaurant in Old Damascus. His stories were related without ego or bravado, just as a matter of fact as he showed his battle scars. The following morning I saw his exhausted body sprawled out across a comfy bed, in our friend's room ... out like a light, fully dressed.

The Damascus Sword, Umayyad Square

After a visit to the Opera House in Damascus, we met a wounded soldier in a wheelchair at its gates. He was happy to speak with us and welcome us to Syria. The night before there had been an attack, as is often the case resulting in death, lives shattered like the glass of the 'Sword' across the street.

One goes through an awful lot of checkpoints in Syria. There's a war of attrition against the Syrian people, the cruel sanctions are just one part of the wearing down of Syrian society. Still, we were never treated without a welcome nod or wave. Many ... too many were boys, much younger than my own sons and at least one grandson. They don't have air conditioning and ice cream machines like US soldiers. Nights in the desert must be unbearable, it gets so cold and rations are minimal. The long days in the heat just as bad, enough to make anyone a little cranky, and if they were a cranky, they didn't show it. They don't transverse Syria in matching Toyota Hiluxes. You'll see them in farm trucks and other sundry vehicles. The terrorists are also paid more than the Syrian Army. It's nice to have friends in high places, especially ones with a seemingly endless supply of weapons. They also pay the highest price in the crisis, an anomaly in post 9/11 wars where 90% of casualties are civilians. Women often travel to the front lines to feed their troops. They are grateful of their presence, praying mothers elsewhere do the same for their sons and daughters. Our media never allows this to be known.

These men and women kept us safe, as they do all Syrians, where ever humanly possible. We, from two aggressor nations, traveled around secure in the fact they were present. The Australian Forces are in Syria illegally, as are her citizen jihadis that make their way in droves to Syria. The Syrian Army's presence made it possible for us to travel to certain areas in relative safety. They also keep the people who live in these liberated areas as safe as possible, given the circumstances. Although the cruel sanctions really bite, life goes on. I have nothing but respect for the Syrian armed forces, their allies and the people.

I also know the berating I'll receive. "You went to government held areas, you're bought and paid for." It's all that ridiculous. Well, yes I went to government held areas, I make no apologies for that. That's where the majority of the Syrian people are. The majority of Syrians chose to be where civilization still exists. They chose colour, dance, music, smoking nargile and great food. They chose life over Wahhabism. Why is that so hard to fathom? Why are the majority of Syrian voices silenced? Their Armed Forces defend their right to be free. It's time to stop calling them Assad's forces. They're Syrian Soldiers. This is not about who does or doesn't support who, it's about peace and the self-determination of the Syrian people. All countries that aren't in Syria to help, need to stop hindering.