In the global village of today, birds and angels of peace fly high and cross all borders of spirits , minds and hearts freely and with a message of smiles, amity and fraternity with no limits! This has been the journey of my dear friend, Janice Kortkamp, to Syrians' daily aspirations, civilization and agonies! 'Blessed are the Peacemakers' and indeed for many Syrians, plagued with the agonies of about 6 years of foreign-backed terrorism and unjust brutal sanctions against their well-being and existence, the stances of objectivity and transparency of Janice have been felt as some cure! The Syria Times Online is honoured to publish the following online interview with the thrilling US voice of justice, freedom, and reason:
How do you find Syria and Syrians?
Is there a country or people more gracious than Syria and Syrians? In spite of the six years of a nightmare war, Syria and Syrians remain friendly and welcoming. One example, our group was in Ma’aloula and a woman of the town came out to meet us as we were leaving, inviting us to coffee and sweets at her home. She didn’t know us…she only knew we were visitors to her town and wanted to share what she had with us.
In Homs, I was in desperate need of a haircut! A friend took me to a local salon and the owner there spoke English. After finding out I was a friend of Syria do you think he would let me pay for that cut no matter how much I wanted to? No! He would not take payment to show his appreciation for my willingness to be there.
These kinds of interactions happened many dozens of times, all over in Damascus, Ma’aloula, Homs and Lattakia where I went. My friend Gail Malone and I were traveling together for a few weeks. At one checkpoint the serious and focused soldier looked over our documents and gave us permission to go forward. When we gave him our thanks with warm smiles of friendship, he smiled back, welcomed us to Syria and said, “but I hate Obama.” When Gail and I responded, “So do we!!” we all laughed. Meeting with soldiers has been the greatest privilege. I respect those men and women so much.
Everywhere I went in Syria, people were asking me to stay with them and their families instead of a hotel. And everywhere I was greeted with “you are most welcome in Syria.”
How was your journey and reflections?
My two trips, in May and October of 2016, were life changing. Syria offers a unique opportunity as a traveler to observe first-hand the tragic, horrific and destructive effects of western interventions in the Middle East. To see this brutal war up close and to hear the personal stories first hand is heart wrenching and difficult. Yet in spite of six years of horrific war, much of Syria is still beautiful and wonderful to visit. Seeing historic and archaeological sites, walking on the sandy beaches, enjoying the delicious food at local cafes, gives me great hope. Those experiences allowed me to see a little of what Syria was like before the war and also brings home the reality that Syria has seen “empires rise and crumble and fall to ruin” as Mark Twain wrote about Damascus. I have no doubt Syria will win this war – I actually have never doubted it even though every single day I am heartbroken at the amount of sacrifice is required to do it.
The Syrian society, Army, soci-economic conditions?
It is no surprise to me that Syria was one of the fastest growing tourist destinations prior to 2011. It is a spectacular country even now but how I would love to have seen it before. The fabulous healthy food, the accommodations and service, the cleanliness all make the traveler feel so comfortable. The society is the finest – with the art and culture, history, the open tolerance, but particularly the lively, deep thinking, gracious people with their humor and willingness to share of themselves with a stranger all make Syria my favorite place to visit on earth. But at all times and ever present is the war combined with the strength and weariness of the people. I don’t know if any other country’s population today could stand what Syrians have stoically endured over these six years.
I have many friends in the army there. Their lives are tough and the fight is brutal. I treasure every minute I have shared with them. At all times the soldiers I encountered have been courteous while carefully inspecting my paperwork but once assured I was traveling in the country legally and had good will, they were helpful and often very kind. I am so appreciative of the soldiers who showed me around old Homs, Kessab, Ma’aloula, and the Citadel of Saladin.
War time economies are always dreadful but Syria’s is made so much worse because of western sanctions against it. While the exchange rate makes traveling there affordable it is a bitter benefit, and I hope prices will return in the not too distant future closer to pre-war levels. Personally I believe Syria will be the place to go and to do business even more than ever. The western half of the world underestimated the resilience and determination of Syrians; during the rebuilding process those same westerners will witness how quickly and inventively Syrians will work restoring their infrastructure.
The fight against terrorism?
The Syrian armed forces are now the most experienced anti-terrorist fighting organization in the world after adapting through hard fought campaigns to previously unseen methods of warfare. Their instincts and those of the intelligence services also have been honed to a razor’s edge after surviving throughout this perfect storm of geo-political intrigue. I notice this in “regular” Syrians also; they seem to have a sixth sense and sharp nose for questionable characters.
There are so many kinds of terrorists and terrorism in Syria: the foreign “jihadists” and mercenaries that are constantly coming into the country via Turkey; the brain washed violent radicals; the equally brainwashed fundamentalists who think everyone should accept sharia as a matter of course – a system they believe will ‘benefit’ all; the sleeper cells; the large terrorist armies that have advanced weaponry and air support from the US coalition and Israel; the foreign intelligence agents and special forces operating there against international law; the quiet saboteurs and traitors; the profiteers and criminals…I see Syria fighting terrorism on all these fronts.
The challenge of course is doing all this fighting with the least amount of damage to infrastructure and civilian deaths – how to treat the cancer and not kill the patient. In my opinion, it is impossible to defeat the terrorist armies and militias in Syria without heavy bombing and many unintentional deaths due to the nature of this war. How careful can you be to keep human shields safe when no one is safe in Syria as long as there are terrorists? Are people to be considered civilians – and Syrians - if they’ve been aiding and supporting terrorist groups even though they might not carry a weapon? These are questions I wish Syria never had to contend with but it is one of many unfortunate realities of this conflict.
President Assad's leadership and fight against terrorism?
It was President Assad’s interview with RT in 2012 that started to wake me up about Syria in the first place. Until I watched that, I could not have picked out a picture of him or perhaps not even been able to confidently locate Syria on a map. I was an all-too-typical American, full of opinions about the Middle East but empty of knowledge, understanding or in many ways I’m ashamed to say, empathy.
While acting as Commander in Chief during one of the most complex and brutal conflicts in history, against an array of enemies including the US, UK, France, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and of course the Muslim Brotherhood, President Assad has also had to fight an unprecedented information war against the most well-coordinated and sophisticated media propaganda blitzes ever seen. This dark, false narrative has supported the terrorists on the ground and the diplomatic terrorism that’s been employed against Syria by every major western country and their allies as well as the UN.
That is all in addition to running a country in wartime and in the most conflicted region in the world.
Yet I have watched him rise to each challenge. He and the First Lady are exemplary in my opinion and personal heroes of mine now. Have mistakes been made? I would be shocked if there weren’t; he is human after all and these are extraordinary times. However, the foundation he was and is trying to build of quality secular education, health care, sciences and technology, opening and growing of the economy and tourism, respect and protection for women , all religious and people groups, is positive and productive. I particularly appreciate the Assads’ devotion and commitment to the younger generation. They know that that is where real change begins to defeat extremism. I am heartbroken when I consider what the past several years would be have looked like had the west and allies not intervened to try to crush the prosperity and stability that was growing.
Your meetings in Syria?
There is a part of me that feels like I’m in the Twilight Zone when attending meetings with leaders such as Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban, Reconciliation Minister Dr. Ali Haidar, Tourism Minister Besher Yazji, the Grand Mufti Dr. Hassoun and Patriarch Gregory III, the Governors of Lattakia and Homs. I am after all just a housewife from Virginia – who am I to be in the company of authority figures like those – a most humbling situation.
But also illustrative of what has been happening over the course of the war.
Main stream media journalists haven’t been just useless, they’ve been instrumental in spreading lies and propaganda promoting terrorists to “freedom fighters” and “activist journalists”. So to counterbalance those and the absurd “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights”, independent journalists like Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett and activists like Tim Anderson, Rev. Andrew Ashdown, Rev. David Smith, Dr. Declan Hayes, and many others all stepped in to observe and report reality.
We’ve seen supposedly humanitarian NGO’s like Human Rights Watch and Doctors Without Borders show their true colors and agendas supporting the west’s illegal regime change coup.
This breakdown of traditional structures for reporting wars and conflicts, coupled with the obvious reckless and malignant nature of western interventions that has made the ME a killing floor, has led to many of us in the west to just say, “Enough!” and act out of our own consciences to do something, anything we can, to learn and help share the truth.
Meetings with “regular” Syrians have been equally humbling: doctors, lawyers, teachers, scientists, musicians, business owners, factory workers, students, children, housewives, humanitarian aid workers, taxi drivers, waiters, journalists and of course, soldiers, all these interactions and friendships have touched me deeply and I am so very thankful for their willingness to share with me.
A message to the west regarding the ongoing?
My message to the governments in the west is this: STOP! STOP what we’ve been doing. STOP our interventions. STOP the sanctions. STOP support for Israel and the Sauds. STOP working with the Muslim Brotherhood. Leave Syria to Syrians.
My other message to the people in the west is this: GO! GO see for yourself what Syria is really like and what is really happening there.
Your evaluation for Syria Times and President Assad's unofficial site?
Syria Times and the President Assad unofficial site I use again and again. Syria Times is a broad spectrum resource that is kept up to date and relevant both for the daily changing situation on the ground as well as general information about Syria. The President Assad page is a welcomed archive of news and information related to the president with invaluable articles, photos and background to help activists like me combat the constant slandering of that great leader.
Whatever you like to comment or add? at your disposal?
I would like to tell the people of Syria that you are not alone. While only a few of us have had the privilege of visiting your great country during these terrible times, there are many thousands of people around the world who know the truth and are actively engaged in getting that truth out into the main stream.These activists from many different countries - including those most hostile like America, the UK, France, Germany, Norway, and Australia - are devoting themselves to getting Syria’s sovereignty and independence acknowledged and respected. Also to seeing the end of their governments’ attacks on Syria and support for terrorist groups there and the lifting of sanctions. There are many true friends of Syria who are inspired by the resolve of most of the people there to stay and stand united for their country in spite of the violence and suffering. We salute you and stand with you.
Dr. Mohammad Abdo Al-Ibrahim