Uprooted by war, Syrians settle in ruins of Roman temple

Uprooted by war, Syrians settle in ruins of Roman temple
An aerial view shows the makeshift camp of Syrians displaced by war at the UNESCO-listed site of Baqirha in northwest Syria near the border with Turkey. (AFP)
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Updated 11 November 2020

Uprooted by war, Syrians settle in ruins of Roman temple

Uprooted by war, Syrians settle in ruins of Roman temple
  • Northwest Syria is home to 40 UNESCO-listed villages from the first to the seventh centuries

BAQIRHA, Syria: Abdelaziz Al-Hassan did not want to live in an overcrowded camp after fleeing war in northwestern Syria, so instead his family pitched a tent in the ruins of a Roman temple.

He, his wife and three children are among almost 1 million Syrians who fled their homes last winter during a Russia-backed offensive on Syria’s last rebel stronghold of Idlib.

In the UNESCO-listed site of Baqirha, near the Turkish border, they are now among dozens of Syrians uprooted by war who have settled among centuries-old Roman and Byzantine ruins.

Hassan and his family have set up a tunnel-shaped tent between the three surviving walls of a second-century Greek temple, on a site strewn with broken columns and a plinth.

Behind their tent, laundry hung on a rope strung between the ancient walls. Propped up over the centuries-old stones, solar panels soaked in the sun near a blackened pot on a small wood-burning stove.

Hassan says the site is a far better option than living in one of the numerous informal displacement camps that have sprouted up along the frontier, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I chose this place because it provides peace of mind, far from overcrowded places and those riddled with disease,” said the middle-aged man with a salt-and-pepper beard.

Syria is filled with archaeological sites, from Roman temples and Crusader castles to Ottoman-era caravanserais.

Many have been damaged, bombarded or plundered throughout a nine-year-old conflict that has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions.

Northwest Syria is home to 40 UNESCO-listed villages from the first to the seventh centuries that, the UN cultural body says, provide insight into “rural life in late Antiquity and during the Byzantine period.”

Dotted with the remains of temples and churches, the sites illustrate “the transition from the ancient pagan world of the Roman Empire to Byzantine Christianity,” it says.

In Baqirha, Zeus Bomos, or Zeus of the Altar, was built almost two millennia ago, historians say, in a wider area that later prospered from olive oil production.

Maamoun Abdel Karim, the head of Syria’s antiquities authority, said Baqirha was exceptional for its well-preserved buildings, also including two churches from the sixth century.

But for all the grand architecture, Hassan admitted there were a few inconveniences to living where he does, including a long walk for his children to the village school.

He also said the area is crawling with poisonous snakes and insects.

“Two days ago, near the tent’s opening, I killed a viper,” he told AFP. And “every other day, we have to kill a scorpion.”

“But we haven’t found anywhere better than here yet.”

Hassan’s brother-in-law, Saleh Jaour, and his dozen children have also made the ancient ruins of Baqirha their new home, after fleeing bombardment last winter that killed his wife and a son.

“I chose this region because it’s close to the Turkish border. If anything happens, we can flee to Turkey on foot,” said the portly 64-year-old wearing a long dark robe.

As the crow flies, the Turkish border lies just four kilometers (2.5 miles) away.

“This place is far from the crowds and the noise,” he added, saying he too was taken aback by how many people were living at close proximity in the camps.

Both Hassan and Jaour’s families escaped their homes further south during a government-led offensive between December last year and March on the jihadist-dominated stronghold of Idlib.

A cease-fire deal reached by rebel backer Turkey and regime ally Russia has since largely stemmed the fighting, but less than a quarter have returned.

Local officials have asked families living on the archaeological site in Baqirha to leave, but they have refused until they are provided with alternative shelter.

“We’ve gotten used to this place,” said Jaour, reluctant to uproot the family again at the start of the rainy winter season.

“Where else can we go?”


Trump grants Bahrain’s King Hamad top honor on last day in office

Outgoing US President Donald Trump awarded the King of Bahrain the Legion of Merit with the Degree of Chief Commander. (File/AP)
Outgoing US President Donald Trump awarded the King of Bahrain the Legion of Merit with the Degree of Chief Commander. (File/AP)
Updated 23 sec ago

Trump grants Bahrain’s King Hamad top honor on last day in office

Outgoing US President Donald Trump awarded the King of Bahrain the Legion of Merit with the Degree of Chief Commander. (File/AP)
  • King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa was given the US award after Bahrain normalised relations with Israel
  • The king was also recognized for his ‘prominent role in pushing bilateral cooperation’

LONDON: Bahrain’s King Hamad was awarded a rare medal by US President Donald Trump in recognition of his “remarkable efforts” to consolidate relations and the close partnership between the two countries, Bahrain News Agency (BNA) reported on Tuesday.
Trump decorated the monarch with the Legion of Merit, Degree Chief Commander, “a rarely-awarded, prestigious decoration that can only be bestowed by the president, typically to chiefs of state or heads of government of other countries,” the White House said.
The king was also recognized for his “prominent role in pushing bilateral cooperation to broader and more comprehensive horizons, which promoted the common interests of the two countries and its peoples,” BNA said.
The outgoing American leader said that he was “pleased to present this medal to the king, who over decades contributed to establishing Bahrain’s position as a steadfast strategic ally and partner working alongside the United States.”
Trump added that Manama’s support for the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which is stationed in Bahrain, had a supportive role in enabling it to perform its multiple tasks and he praised the king’s courage and wise leadership vision for his support for peace and his decision to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel.
He described this decision as the start of a new era of economic and security cooperation among the most important US partners in the Middle East and made peace in the region a possible process that would reshape the region’s landscape in a positive way for future generations.
The American president said that the partnership between the two countries would become deeper in the Middle East.
“The king’s decorating of this prestigious medal is an indication of the high position that he enjoys in the US, and the great appreciation for the prominent roles and major contributions he has made in enhancing security, stability, and prosperity with the vision of spreading peace in the region,” the statement added.
In its final days in office, the Trump administration announced the designation of both Bahrain and the UAE as “major security partners” of the US, a status unique to both countries that demonstrated a “new level of partnership” and “represents an enduring commitment to economic and security cooperation.
“It also reflects their extraordinary courage, determination, and leadership in entering into the Abraham Accords,” the White House said on Friday.
Bahrain, the UAE, Morocco, and Sudan joined Egypt and Jordan to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel last year, in deals brokered by the US.
Also, on Friday, Trump decorated Morocco’s King Mohammed VI with the same accolade bestowed on King Hamad for “vision and personal courage,” especially his decision to resume ties with Israel, that “have positively reshaped the landscape of the Middle East and North Africa and ushered in a new era of security and prosperity for both our countries and the world.”
The Legion of Merit is a military award that was created to honor Allied leaders in World War II and had gone into obscurity until it was revived by Trump, who last month also presented it to the prime ministers of Australia, India, and Japan.

(With AFP)