FREE NEWSLETTER: Econintersect sends a nightly newsletter highlighting news events of the day, and providing a summary of new articles posted on the website. Econintersect will not sell or pass your email address to others per our privacy policy. You can cancel this subscription at any time by selecting the unsubscribing link in the footer of each email.

posted on 21 April 2016

Behind The Syrian Violence: The Peaceful Town Of Al Qaryatayn

from The Conversation

-- this post authored by Emma Loosley, University of Exeter

When the Syrian town of Al Qaryatayn was recaptured from IS by government forces, the media coverage was predictable and depressing. Reports highlighted the damage and desecration of holy buildings treasured by the Christian inhabitants, in a town apparently divided by religious faith.

None of the reports described Qaryatayn in a way that is familiar to its residents. How do I know this? Well, for around three years I became an adopted Qurwani (as natives are known) and, although I have been unable to return since 2010, I have stayed in contact with my friends there and know how they feel about their lives since the war began.

Qaryatayn is one of the most remote and impoverished towns in Syria, and was never on the tourist trail. Like its more celebrated neighbour Palmyra (three hours away) it exists because of an ancient oasis. But what Qaryatayn lacks in glorious classical monuments (even the monastery was a simple modest mud brick structure) it makes up for with a fascinating traditional culture and distinct community identity.

The author in Al Qaryatayn. Emma Loosley, Author provided

When I first visited in 2001 I was told the name of the town came from the Syriac words for "two villages". Long ago, two tribes had inhabited the land around the oasis and been early converts to Christianity. When they heard of the rise of a new religion (Islam) it was decided that one tribe would become Muslim and the other would remain Christian. Whichever became dominant, that tribe would always protect those who followed the other faith. This was believed by all Qurwani who viewed Dayr Mar Elian esh Sharqi (the monastery of St. Julian of the East) as a shrine for the whole town. From the inscription over the monastery entrance it was clear that Muslims and Christian had prayed there together since at least the 15th century. Mar Elian was a source of pride to all Qurwani and its destruction has greatly distressed both faiths.

Faiths in harmony. Emma Loosley, Author provided

In 2001 I became only the third foreigner to live in Qaryatayn. The first was archaeologist Gertrude Bell almost exactly a hundred years previously, followed by a Norwegian lady missionary in the 1920s and then me.

Gertrude Bell in Iraq. Gertrude Bell archive

At first the Qurwani were a little suspicious of me and my bicycle (the only one in town with a light, which attracted plenty of attention in itself). It was not unusual for me to cycle to a workshop or meeting only to have the bike thrown into the back of a truck so I could be driven home. A woman on a bicycle was not considered decent. And until I got to know the community well I could not tell who was Christian and who was Muslim within the 40,000-strong population. All the married women wore flowing kaftans and headscarves, the younger men jeans with Western shirt, and the old men had long galabiyehs with kefiyehs around their heads.

Before the war. Emma Loosley, Author provided

In such a remote town job prospects were non-existent and the town was being sapped of its youth who went to Homs or Damascus to study and never returned. Those who remained followed their fathers as herdsmen, craftsmen or shopkeepers. For the girls there was even less choice - kindergarten teacher or very early marriage.

But while life was short of material possessions and life choices, the town overflowed with love and laughter. What made Qaryatayn different from other places I knew in Syria was the depth of community spirit. People had very little but were prepared to share what they had and I often saw neighbours taking hot food to the sick or elderly in a manner that meant nobody ever felt isolated. This generosity was soon extended to me and I would often return home to find a plastic pail of grapes or some stuffed courgettes left at the door.

Qaryatayn's position on the boundary of the Syrian steppe and the desert means it is a particularly dusty and arid place to live. Every afternoon a hot wind sweeps across the town from the west whipping up a layer of dust and dirt that stings the eyes. Everything about the town is dust coloured. The traditional village houses are built of sun dried mud brick and set in shady yards where a few chickens might scratch around in the dirt beneath grape vines. But the Qurwani are fiercely house proud. Floors of polished cement are scrubbed to a high shine and covered with colourful plastic mats in the summer and overlaid with wool and cotton ones in the winter. Homes have little furniture, with fabric-covered sponge pads and cushions lining the walls for reclining during the day and sleeping on at night.

Syrian hospitality. Emma Loosley, Author provided

When Qaryatayn was taken by IS last year my thoughts went to my many friends there. I have since had the opportunity to talk to people who have survived being IS prisoners. My Christian friends were just as distressed over the destruction of the Sunni town graveyard as they were over the demolition of Christian graves and the monastery. They were clear that the murderous jihadis who overran their town had nothing in common with their Muslim neighbours who had defied the invaders to try and protect Christian friends. After almost 1,500 years the promise of friendship made between the two tribes still holds true today. All are united by a hope that the war will end and they can return to life as it was before. They were extremely poor and life was difficult, but they had peace. And the experiences of the last year have taught them to treasure even more the community spirit that we all took for granted for so long.

The ConversationEmma Loosley, Associate Professor of Theology and Religion, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

>>>>> Scroll down to view and make comments <<<<<<

Click here for Historical News Post Listing

Make a Comment

Econintersect wants your comments, data and opinion on the articles posted.  As the internet is a "war zone" of trolls, hackers and spammers - Econintersect must balance its defences against ease of commenting.  We have joined with Livefyre to manage our comment streams.

To comment, using Livefyre just click the "Sign In" button at the top-left corner of the comment box below. You can create a commenting account using your favorite social network such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn or Open ID - or open a Livefyre account using your email address.

You can also comment using Facebook directly using he comment block below.

Econintersect Contributors


Print this page or create a PDF file of this page
Print Friendly and PDF

The growing use of ad blocking software is creating a shortfall in covering our fixed expenses. Please consider a donation to Econintersect to allow continuing output of quality and balanced financial and economic news and analysis.

Take a look at what is going on inside of
Main Home
Analysis Blog
From Money Controlling People to People Controlling Money
Rising Tide Does Not Lift All Ships
News Blog
How The Space Station Avoids Junk In Space
Infographic Of The Day: The Most Popular Jobs In A Decade
Early And Late Cycle Verdicts Are Baseless
The Surprising Divergence Of Employment And Capacity Utilization
The Slump In Undocumented Immigration To The United States
U.S. Productivity Growth Flowing Downstream
Your Light Bulbs Could Be Playing Havoc With Your Health - Here's Why
Mentions Of Trump And Clinton In Hip Hop Lyrics
Salary Is The Most Important Job Criterion
Can Switch Replicate Nintendos Past Success
The Numbers Behind The Zumwalt
Docking A Huge Cruise Ship Is More Complicated Than You Think
New Seasonal Outlook Updates from NOAA and JAMSTEC - Let's Compare Them.
Investing Blog
FinTech Is Taking A Bite Out Of Banks
Options Early Assignment - Should You Worry?
Opinion Blog
The Beer Goggles Stock Market
US 2016 Election: Will US-China Relations Change
Precious Metals Blog
Preparing For Post-Election Social Unrest
Live Markets
21Oct2016 Market Close: Major US Indexes Close Flat On Low Volume, Crude Prices Resume Climb, US Dollar Stabilizes In Mid 98 Handle, Yes, Most Investors Are Worried Which Way This Market Will Go
Amazon Books & More

.... and keep up with economic news using our dynamic economic newspapers with the largest international coverage on the internet
Asia / Pacific
Middle East / Africa
USA Government

Crowdfunding ....



Analysis Blog
News Blog
Investing Blog
Opinion Blog
Precious Metals Blog
Markets Blog
Video of the Day


Asia / Pacific
Middle East / Africa
USA Government

RSS Feeds / Social Media

Combined Econintersect Feed

Free Newsletter

Marketplace - Books & More

Economic Forecast

Content Contribution



  Top Economics Site Contributor TalkMarkets Contributor Finance Blogs Free PageRank Checker Active Search Results Google+

This Web Page by Steven Hansen ---- Copyright 2010 - 2016 Econintersect LLC - all rights reserved