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Guardian of Oriental Heritage

Syria, for many centuries, was rich in professions and handicrafts which were the fruit of civilizations that rose and prospered on its land, and as a result of the human needs of the people who lived in it. With the passage of time these professions changed into traditional crafts practiced by skilful craftsmen and talented artists who enriched our heritage with wonderful pieces of art and spread all over the world. With the industrial revolution and the introduction of modern technologies these oriental crafts started to retract, which means the loss of a valuable and beautiful heritage.

The “Syria Times” Newspaper, feeling the threat of losing this heritage, will try to shed the light on these crafts hoping that decision makers and social societies will encourage the craftsmen who still practice these professions to continue their march and revive these crafts in order to really the guardians of our Oriental Heritage. Leather Ware Profession For forty years his golden fingers still play the ballad of leather craft to create new, accurate and well made shapes, colors and geometric and herbal designs. Why not? This is a profession inherited from the fathers and grand fathers. Since his eyes saw light in the small workshop of his father he grew up between the tools, ornaments and lasts. We looked for him in the heart of Old Damascus where he daily works for long hours to manufacture various products of natural leather. He is Abu Gasem, one of the last skilful craftsmen who still strife to preserve this traditional profession from which he, and his family, earn their daily living.

His clients are mostly tourists who buy valuable oriental beautiful souvenirs and gifts. Abu Gasem boasts of his products which no machine can make. His products bear a human touch and an artistic print especially that all the materials he uses are natural; both the leather and the accessories, and no machine is used in his workshop. Abu Gasem surprised us when he said:” The main reason behind the survival of this old craft is my love to my work and the sincerity by which I work. I am now an expert and an artist. I can make everything in my mind using the soft leather which is always obedient to my fingers. Products take a long time to make because everything is made by hand. I learnt that patience is the key to success. I am proud of my products and I participate in the annual Damascus International Fair in which I represent Syria with the beautiful things I make:

belts, bags, shoes, rugs, chairs, seats, souvenirs…etc. Varieties of production have no limits because I can make whatever you have in mind from leather. I always feel happy when I see the eyes of my clients bright with admiration and appreciation. This makes me forget my hard work and the long hours I usually spend for making things which people buy and take to different parts of the world”. Abu Gasem showed us his simple tools: The per forator which is used to perforate leather, the mallet which is made of copper and is used to level leather and soften it, the borer is the needle used to sew leather, and the knife which is used to cut leather. Work starts by choosing the right kind of leather, usually of goats and sheep, with special colors especially chosen for making oriental items. Leather sheets are cut with the knife after designing the required shape.

Some sheets are cut into string stripes to be woven like fabrics and assembled according to the design. Some pieces take about twenty minutes to be made while others need six months work to be finished. There are small souvenirs which require a special care in choosing the right materials and the suitable symbols and decorations to be drawn on leather like names and letters. Leather seats need longer time and special care in coloring, designing and sewing so that they can live for many years. I feel proud because I always make rare pieces that have no equal in the market. All I wish now is that this profession receives more support from the official authorities so that it can survive for long years in the future.

Mr. Fuad Arabsh, chairman of the“Vocational Society for Oriental Products” said: Abu Gasemal Sidawi is one of the distinguished craftsmen who still work till this day in this old craft of drawing and ornamenting leather warealong the original oriental designs which makes of it a heritage treasure.Mr Arbash asserted the need to train talented craftsmen to develop rare crafts so that they can continue for the coming generations. This craft is a very important one for tourists as well as for local people.

Mr. Arbash promised that a heritage village is will be built in Damascus Countryside to include 33 old traditional handicrafts.


Haifaa Mafalani