The ancient city of Damascus has been destroyed in history and mythologized by holy scripture. Damascus is also a character: elderly, unyielding and vital, but overcrowded, tired and in danger of destruction in Syria's civil war. Nelofer Pazira captures the sounds of war and moments of resilience, as well as the fears -- and the hopes -- of a city whose past is far more certain than its future. **This episode originally aired October 26, 2015.
Death awaits many in Syria. And yet, the ancient core of Damascus is mostly unbroken by war, despite skirmishes all around it. But the outer core, the suburbs, are in ruins: battlefields between the Syrian army and the rebels, including Al-Qaeda and other Islamic groups. And ISIS is close, occupying villages near the Syria-Lebanon border and the ancient city of Palmyra and with the Russians now directly involved, the war rages on.
Damascus is still a footnote compared to the tragedy of suffering that is a daily part of the Syrian war. But that could change. Will it suffer the same fate as the northern cities of Aleppo and Palmyra? Cities that have been shattered. Historic sites deliberately destroyed. Many of their citizens killed in the streets.
Nelofer Pazira is an Afghan-Canadian. She's also an award winning director, journalist, actor and writer. Earlier this summer, Nelofer hired a car and driver to take her from Beirut to Damascus, a city she first visited almost 10 years ago.
Participants in the program:
Sami Moubayed Sami Moubayed
is a Syrian historian and native of Damascus. He has a degree from the American University of Beirut, and a PhD in Middle East politics from the University of Exeter, UK. He was editor-in-chief of Syria's English-language Forward Magazine
(2006 – 2012), and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut. He's founded Damascus Foundation for Historical Studies
to preserve what remains of documents, photographs, books, and artifacts related to modern Syria as so much has already been destroyed since the start of the current conflict. He is the author of numerous books including Damascus Between Democracy and Dictatorship, and Syria and the USA: From Wilson to Eisenhower.
His recent book is called Under the Black Flag: At the frontier of the new jihad
. His articles have appeared in a variety of newspapers around the world. He is a blogger with The Huffington Post
and an online panelist with The Washington Post. He is a founding Research Fellow at the Syrian Studies Center at St Andrews University in Scotland. Alaa Ebrahim Alaa Ebrahim
is a Syrian journalist who has been working with both local and foreign media. He has worked as a reporter, producer, fixer and translator and was wounded while covering the war in late 2011. He has a BA from University of Damascus and is currently working on his masters degree in Public Law. He started work with Syrian TV in 2003 when he was only 18. Since, he's worked with different TV stations and newspapers. Born in 1985, he is the eldest son of a mixed-sect marriage and lives in Damascus.
Nelofer Pazira Nelofer Pazira
is an award-winning Afghan-Canadian author, film director, journalist and actress. She has worked for the CBC-TV and Radio. Her documentary Of Paradise and Failure
-- about the fate of a young suicide bomber in Iraq and his family – won a Silver Medal at the International Radio Broadcasting Awards. She has written for The Independent (London), Toronto Star, The Ottawa Citizen, the British film journal Sight and Sound
and many other publications. Nelofer was awarded the Prix d'interprétation by the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma de Montréal for her performance in Kandahar
. And in 2003 she won a Gemini for her documentary film Return to Kandahar
. She directed and produced Audition
and is the writer/director of a dramatic feature film Act of Dishonour
. She's been a jury member at film festivals around the world. A former president of PEN Canada, Nelofer was involved in assisting UNESCO as a cultural ambassador in their work inside Afghanistan, and represented Canada in Europe as a cultural delegate accompanying then Governor General Michaelle Jean.
Nelofer's book A Bed of Red Flowers: In Search of My Afghanistan was named winner of the Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize in Canada (2006). She holds a degree in Journalism and English Literature from Carleton University (Ottawa), and an MA in Anthropology/Sociology and Religion from Concordia University (Montreal), and has received two honorary doctorates from Carleton University and Thomson Rivers University, BC. She founded a charity -- The Dyana Afghan Women's Fund (www.dawf.ca) – named after her childhood friend who died during the Taliban rule. It provides education for women in Afghanistan.