13.06.2014 Author: Jim Dean

My Dinner in Homs on Election Day

5645643On Monday night of last week, if someone had told me that on Tuesday, June 3rd,  I would be traveling from Damascus north to the city of Homs in an armored van convoy with two carloads of AK-47-packing Syrian soldiers, I would have called them crazy.

But it happened. We were greeted by the governor of Homs, given full access to see anything and talk to anyone we wanted to. We were escorted from one polling station after another to the complete surprise of voters, astonished to see Western “observers” had come to watch them vote.

We met a resilient people celebrating their denial of the West’s attempt to make them a vassal state. And despite their one block long Wall of the Martyrs with its 900 large photos of just some of their dead, they were already beginning to rebuild the destroyed areas of their city with roughly $40 billion in damages. It will take a generation to recover from what the US and its terrorist allies have done to them.

The journey began last Monday a week ago when the Syrian government amended its position of just bringing in the planned parliamentary representative to include some independent observers. Invitations were sent out from the Speaker of the Syrian Parliament and their new independent election commission which was created from their new Constitution.

 I found myself on the list due to the independent reputation of Veterans Today,  my writing for New Eastern Outlook in Moscow, Press TV in Tehran, plus the extensive interviewing history we have with PTV. Thus began a whirlwind of preparation for short-notice airline tickets going in via Beirut, as direct flights to Damascus are blocked under US sanctions. After 15 hours of travel I set down in Beirut to get my first taste of Mideast culture which turned out to be a wonderful surprise.

The high point there was meeting Franklin Lamb, a contributor to VT, and accepting his offer of a 6:30 Sunday morning motorbike tour of Beirut. In two hours I saw the Sabra-Shatilla gravesite and monument, most of the bombing locations including two in Franklin’s neighborhood, and then heading out toward the sea into the narrow alleyways where the Amal militia people stayed.

Sunday afternoon we headed up to the Damascus border in a convoy of cars and guards whom I will not reveal, but who do a lot of security work. We passengers began getting used to having a lot of folding stock AK-47s around us all the time, inside the cars and out. By the end of the trip, I had seen so many I was beginning to think they were a permanent appendage of Syrian soldiers. At the border they took over security for us.

We finally arrived at the Dama Rose Hotel in Damascus and began another acclimation process, learning that what we thought was thunder from an incoming summer storm turned out to be rebel shelling on the outskirts of the city. And yes, just as everyone told us, after a few days it became part of the background noise of the city.

Monday was filled with siren blaring police escorts to the Ministry of Justice for a 90 minute visit with the election commission, with about a half-hour briefing to describe their work, and followed by a gracious one-hour question and answer session. They were grilled by the ten of us not only on the mechanical details of the process, but the internal political and world reaction aspects of the election.  The White House had already claimed it to be a sham, dismissing the input of fifteen million Syrians out of hand, a strange lesson in democracy which our Founding Fathers would have been ashamed.

Our escort next took us to the Syrian Parliament where we had a more formal 60 minute session with the Speaker. He used half the time for a detailed briefing on the current situation.  Major highlights included their holding foreign fighters from 85 countries. I had no idea they had that many. He was openly pessimistic regarding any change in US policy toward subjugating Syria to make it a vassal state in the New Cold War that seems to be the cornerstone of our foreign policy.

When we walked out the door we were mobbed by six TV and six radio stations waiting for interviews. Besides the Parliamentary delegates from some Syria friendly nations, only thirty-two observers had been allowed in. The Syrian press was very curious as to why we had been chosen and about our thoughts on the war and the election. We seemed a breath of fresh air from all the media bashing they have gotten from corporate media.

Tuesday morning found us splitting up into different groups, heading out to a half dozen voting locations across the country. I had chosen Homs due to the tremendous fighting and destruction that had taken place there. I wanted to see the people who had endured the worst of it. Security was very high, and I lost count of the checkpoints on the way up at fifty, most all of them manned by militia to free up the Army for offensive operation and key areas. This combination has been key to their rolling back the rebels in a steady but costly process.

Our Homs arrival started with the governor and a short briefing focusing on the local security, the damage they had endured, and the rebuilding that had begun. We are talking $40 billion of destruction in Homs with only $1.5 billion budgeted for reconstruction in the current year.  He also confirmed they would take us anywhere we wanted to go, we could talk to anyone, and take all the photos and video that we wanted.

We split into two groups with two local Parliament members accompanying each one  as hosts. At the first stop, we learned right away that politics is intense in Syria. Their mode was totally festive with music and dancing. We are treated like the Allies coming into Paris during WWII, embarrassing really, as we brought no aid or assistance. Our task was to watch how the election was going first hand and go back to spread the word in our own countries.

Obama had already called the election a sham. He was wrong…dead wrong. What he was calling a rigged election was simply the Syrian nation rallying around their war time leader and their Army who had saved them and suffered more casualties that the “other parties” involved. The 160,000 Syrian dead would work out to over two million in the US population. The reference point to view that with was our 350,000 KIA’s during WWII.

The US has inflicted comparatively like six WWIIs on the Syrian people already (minus the Pearl Harbor trigger) and Obama is planning to up that number. We have seen almost no numbers on the wounded in Western media. Using a rough estimate of five wounded for each KIA generates ten million more casualties, more families touched, and where their wounded soldiers are suffering under conditions that would make our own VA look like a medical paradise.

The good news was seeing that the whole city had not been destroyed, and normal life was going on in some places that were spared the intense fighting.  When we got down into the old city, the most common comment was “it looks like Berlin at the end of WWII”.

3424234At the polling stations there were smiles all around, despite the horror that their own insurgents and eighty-five other countries had put upon them. What I saw was an undefeated people who will fight till hell freezes over to defend their country. They know what the end game will be if the West wins.

Already much of the factory machinery in the north has been stripped bare, much of it going to Turkey, who is getting an incredible free ride PR- wise for their involvement in the war. This factory stripping was done to kill the jobs, and bury Syrians under a generation of reconstruction cost to break their spirits. It has not.

We toured six polling stations, ending up at an early Christian Assyrian church, which had been looted during the war, plus suffering the indignity of having their saints’ graves dug up and destroyed. I missed hearing this story in person as I had wanted to walk down the street to interview a squad of soldiers manning their post among the destroyed and vacant buildings in the old city.

I was struck by their humbleness. They saw nothing heroic in defending their country from foreign attack. They had lost friends, and all of their families had suffered greatly. But they had their city completely under their control now, with the nearest rebels seven or eight kilometers away. They shared with me that Muslims and Christians had lived in peace in Homs for generations…until the West decided that the only secular country in the Mid East “threatened their interests

When finished with our polling station tour we went to the obligatory banquet, which is their custom. I will remember to always sit near one of the interpreters at such an event. We had our ears filled with story after story of their unwavering resistance, MPs had been murdered, and even one sitting with us who had been kidnapped and ransomed for 5 million lira. Pride, not sadness was oozing out of them.

But my biggest surprise was not finding a single person who held any animosity towards the American people for what had been done to them. The Syrians are a very politically sophisticated people. They understood that most Americans knew next to nothing about Syria, and that Western media had trashed them unendingly. Their animosity was 100% toward the American and other Western governments who have been destroying Syria.

When it was time to leave we were caught off guard with their kissing us goodbye in the Arab fashion, which takes a bit of getting used to. It was their way of showing us that they accepted us as having sincere motives for coming. We had not come to gawk at them but to share their suffering for a day, and the joy of their survival.

It was a dinner I will remember for a long long time…my dinner in Homs on election day, which is why I chose that for my title. I thank the Syrian people for the opportunity and their wonderful hospitality despite what my country has done to them. I have to admit, I don’t think I could have been that gracious.

Jim W. Dean, managing editor for Veteran Today, producer/host of Heritage TV Atlanta, specially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.