After years of war in Duma …
“It’s getting better – thanks to Assad”
After years of bombing and a probable poison gas attack, the Syrian city Duma is again under government control.
Even if construction aid is missing – the inhabitants are getting their life back piece by piece.
By Anne Allmeling, ARD Studio Cairo*
The noise from the smithy penetrates to the street. Yassin and his brothers have pulled up the shop’s rolling grille; their workshop adjoins the sidewalk and resembles a garage. Spades lean against the wall; a few hammers and axes hang from the low ceiling. Yassin and the others work on the grindstone and the anvil. The business is going well, says the blacksmith, and adds: It could hardly be better. “We have everything, and step by step it is getting even better, and now we have regular electricity again.”
The blacksmith Yassin in his workshop in Duma.
Regular electricity – for the people in Duma this by itself is worth a lot. The city, located about 15 kilometers east of Damascus, is completely destroyed. For years, armed insurgents and government troops fought here fiercely. Thousands of people fled the city, many were killed. Since April 2018, the Syrian army is in control of Douma.
The farmers can reap again
Hardly a house is still intact. Where windows used to be, there are huge gaps. House walls are torn, whole floor ceilings hang down. But where at least one ground floor remained intact, traders have settled down. One sells tangerines and cabbage, another mint and thyme – fresh local produce.
“During the crisis, there was no work,” says Yassin, the blacksmith, about the long time of siege and fighting. “We work with the peasants, there was nothing in the crisis, but now they’re farming their fields again.”
Customer, veiled from head to toe, buys a new hammer from Yassin. There is a lot to do for those who stayed in the Douma. The streets are full of potholes, the sidewalks broken, it smells of burnt diesel. A few soldiers have made a small fire under a corrugated iron roof. The skeletal houses on the roadside give an idea of how beautiful Duma once must have been. If you want to rebuild something, you have to lend a hand. The Syrian state lacks money. The allies, Russia and Iran, are holding back with reconstruction aid, the West too – for political reasons.
The Syrian army liberated Duma from Islamists
On the outskirts of the city a cafe has recently opened: a large plastic tent with a few heaters, tables and chairs. Three young couples have retreated to the family area, smoking a water pipe, whispering softly.They have had to go through a lot in the past eight years, one of them says, 22-year-old Qais. “It was disastrous, but thank goodness, and thanks to the Syrian army, everything in Duma is the same as before, and it will be much, much better, as long as Bashar al-Assad is at the head of this country.” Qais says so while a man from the Ministry of Information and another five soldiers watch the interview. Qais’ friend Marwa is glad that islamist extremists are no longer in charge. Life has become more beautiful, she says. There are more job opportunities for me as a woman, I can go back to work, go out, or even finish my studies – among the extremists it was impossible for us as women to do anything. “Marwa wishes to find a job soon to help her family because her father has been unemployed for years. Only with the help of friends and relatives can they stay afloat.
Food supply guaranteed again
In a small shop on the main road things are busy. Ahmed does not take a break. As he speaks, he has to watch the freshly baked dumplings and mini-pizzas get quickly packaged and sold. For four years, the young family man has worked in the bakery.
“It used to be very difficult to work, because of the war and because of the shelling,” he says. In addition, there was hardly any food such as flour.
“Other ingredients such as meat and cheese were missing, which we do business with, and now it’s better: the ingredients we need are now stocked up.”
In order to cover the expenses for his wife, his three small children and himself, Ahmed needs the equivalent of six dollars a day. For this he works eight to ten hours every day.
*ARD is the Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, “Working group of public broadcasters of the Federal Republic of Germany.”