With the war in Syria going on for seven years, since 2011, a silver streak has appeared on the horizon as Syria’s damaged infrastructure is being restored with Russian help. Schools and factories have been built up again, school children and factory workers are gradually returning. Furthermore, thousands of Syrian volunteer organizations provide help and assistance to their countrymen in need. President Assad is still ruling, although he should have gone a long time ago, if so-called “western powers” could have imposed their will. Are these western powers waning? Maybe they are, or rather, Russia’s powers are getting stronger. Russia, Iran and Turkey want to make sure that Bashar Al Assad will remain where he is, and they have no intention of letting Syria being split into “zones of interest”. The country will not be wiped out, as was the case with Libya, bombed to rubble and ashes by Nato.
The Indian analyst M.K. Bhadrakumar thinks that “paradoxically, while Middle Eastern politics is in turmoil, the prospects for peace in Syria may have improved. (…) Russia and Iran intend to retain their military footprints in Syria for a foreseable future” (Indian Punchline, 20.11.2018). Russian military is present in the Syrian port of Tartous as well as in the airbase of Hmeimim.
Furthermore, the Russian Federation operates a reconciliation centre for humanitarian aid in Syria. It gives medical assistance at border crossings because the main efforts of the Russian military are now focused on assistance to the refugees returning to their homes. With Russian help, more than 30.000 refugees were able to return to their homes in Syria from the Idlib de-escalation zone since March this year. At the checkpoints in Abu al-Duhur, they received meals, warm clothing and medical attention by Russian doctors. The refugees returned through the human corridor to the territory controlled by the Syrian Government (TASS, 30.11.2018).
The Russian reconciliation centre also sends clothing and food to people in need, for example in the city of Aleppo. In November 2018, “humanitarian operations were conducted in the city of Aleppo. A total of 150 school backpacks with school kits were handed out to pupils in the Fatih Marashi school in the Ashaar neighborhood. As many as 150 outfits and 150 blankets were distributed among civilians in the Julub neighborhood. Apart from that, one tonne of fresh bread was handed out” (TASS, 13.11.2018).
Another humanitarian operation was conducted in the first week of December 2018. Sergei Solomatin, Head of the Russian reconciliation centre, reported that 500 bags of food were handed out to residents of Skalbiya in the Hama governorate. Apart from that, Russian military is joining Syrians in their efforts to restore infrastructure facilities in Syria. More than 30.000 residential houses, 709 educational and 117 medical facilities have been restored. A total of 927 kilometers of motorways have been repaired in Syria up to now (TASS, 08.12.2018).
Especially in the city of Aleppo, 130 damaged schools were repaired by the Syrian authorities, and 340 more schools in the eastern part of Aleppo province. Despite the ongoing war, young people need to receive education because they are important for the future of the country and will ensure its survival. A total of 1.349 schools are currently open in Aleppo. Some school buildings were almost completely destroyed during the war. Engineer Bassam Makhshur, who works on restoring schools, said that the most difficult part is clearing out debris: “The most difficult stage is the first stage – clearing out debris. Works were often halted, as we found mines under every collapsed wall, and we had to call in sappers” (TASS, 06.12.2018).
In addition, Syrian children will be able to study at cadet schools of the Russian Defence Ministry for free. The document was signed in Moscow on the 20th of September 2018. It entered into force on the 20th of October 2018. The Syrian children will pursue curricula developed for Russian cadets and receive instruction in the Russian language on a gratuitous basis. Expenses will be paid by the Russian side (TASS, 30.10.2018). In this way, the Russian Federation wants to help build up the Syrian Armed Forces so they can operate on their own in the future.
The Syrian Arab News Agency reported that hundreds of factories have returned to work in Damascus and its countryside. According to Samer Al Debs, Head of the Chamber of Industry in Damascus, 710 factories in Damascus and 90 factories in Tal Kurdi are functioning again, along with a number of small handicraft workshops in Al Sbeine and Al Qadam near Damascus. He explained that the Syrian industry faces great challenges. Laws and regulations are needed, as well as a strategic vision to promote and market Syrian industrial products. Samer Al-Debs pointed out that the situation is getting better as more areas are being restored, not to mention the re-opening of the Nassib border crossing center and starting exports (SANA, 04.12.2018).
The Syrians are very patriotic people. Many civilians are helping the Syrian and the Russian military to restore damaged facilities in Syria. As the Syrian Arab News Agency reported, they are the “very core of civil society and have an integral role as key partner in community development in the pre-and post-war periods. The concept of voluntary work in Syria has changed in order to alleviate the negative repercussions of the terrorist war waged against the country. Thus, the majority of charity events and societal activities aim to provide support and help to the martyrs’ families, the wounded army personnel, women, children, persons with disabilities, the elderlies and displaced families” (SANA, 05.12.2018).
Volunteering activities include the campaign “Together it Will Return More Beautiful” which was organized jointly by the Syria Trust for Development, the Revolutionary Youth Union, the association “Basmet Shabab Syria”, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All East. This six-month campaign helped to rehabilitate schools, health centres, public squares and streets in terror-affected areas in the countryside of Damascus and in the city of Aleppo.
Thousands of Syrian youths took part in different volunteering activities to convey a message that Syria is not giving up. The initiative “Imaar” targets youth, based on the idea of humanitarian volunteer work. Up to 600 university students benefited from 60 free training hours offered as part of the initiative. Mohammed Zafer Zanzoul, the founder of the initiative “Imaar” initiative, stressed the fact that volunteer work has been essential to support Syrian steadfastness against terrorism and war.
In the same context, Kholoud Rajab, chairwomen of the association “Jouzor” (Roots), told the press that the war waged on Syria necessitated great efforts to provide support to all Syrians confronted with difficult circumstances. She explained that her association focused on sustainable and developmental projects: providing social and psychological support; protecting children from violence, exploitation and abuse; empowering the youth; offering health services and launching a special programme to care for persons with disabilities.
According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Social Affairs, there are 1.500 civil and non-governmental volunteer organizations operating in different Syrian provinces. This shows that the Syrians are patriotic and idealistic people, not giving up but fighting for the survival of their nation and state.
Meanwhile, on an international level, Russia, Iran and Turkey have reiterated the need to maintain Syria’s independence. They reaffirmed their strong commitment to the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic. The joint statement was adopted at the Astana meeting on Syria and read out by the Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov. The guarantor countries “reaffirmed their determination to continue cooperation in order to ultimately eliminate DAESH/ISIL, Nusra Front and all other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al-Qaeda and DAESH/ISIL as designated by the UN Security Council” (TASS, 29.11.2018).
It might still be a long and rocky road to achieve peace in Syria, but the country will not be wiped out for sure. Syria will not meet the same fate as Libya, which was heavily bombarded by Nato and the leader Muammar Gaddafi murdered in a brutal way. Bashar Al Assad, President of the Syrian Arab Republic, has a good chance of surviving the war, with Russian and Iranian help.
Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Moscow.
Her blog: https://olivia2010kroth.wordpress.com