Despite Syria’s turmoil, Damascus, one of the world’s oldest cities, is a living, breathing centre of activity.
The political fog, security issues and explosions, are, of course, affecting people’s daily lives, but did not seem to be destroying their daily existence.
Even the bombs which killed nearly 60 Syrians only caused a pause in the everyday life of Damascus for a few hours.
It is exciting to be in Damascus at this historic time. No journalist would miss the chance to see first hand the city which some have described as “a place of revolution” or of “civil strife”.
We landed in Damascus looking for the truth about Syria, to judge for ourselves how much of what we are being told reflects reality.
The first thing I noticed was how desolate Damascus International Airport is, with few planes on the tarmac the most obvious effect of the sanctions.
Syrians are debonair. But their smiles freeze for a moment when they realise that I am a journalist from Turkey. Syrians are very careful not to show their anger about the Turkish government to ordinary Turkish citizens.
It is hard to say how strong the anti-regime movements are in Damascus. The streets are as busy as any other Arab cities in the region. As a journalist who has visited cities experiencing tension, civil war and occupation – like Ramallah, Gaza, Kabul, Kirkuk, Mitrovica, Tetova, etc. - I found the parts of Damascus that I saw to not be in that league.
There are, of course, signs of what is happening there. Protective walls have been built in front of some government buildings. But the people I encountered showed no fear about going out. Students continue their education, there is traffic everywhere and the markets are open.
The impression is that there are some small anti-al-Assad groups operating in the Syrian capital, targeting government buildings from time to time and the government forces are in control.
The Syrian Information Minister Dr. Adnan Hassan Mahmoud insisted the attacks in Damascus are the work of al-Qaida.
The people I spoke with in Damascus seem to think the same. I chatted over cups of tea with Syrians who were sitting in a cafe near Hamidiye Bazaar. One of them said “the international community -Arabs and others - if they want to help us, let them stop involving themselves in our domestic affairs. We can solve our problems on our own. The right to oppose (the government) should follow legal means. Armed opposition is not the right way.”
Evenings in Damascus are lively. People meet up at cafes and restaurants and enjoy themselves until late. The lights are on past midnight in Bab Tuma neighbourhood. Young men and woman stroll around, apparently unafraid. It reminds me of summer resorts in Turkey.
But there is another side – like the explosion near a security building in the Al Qazaz district in which nearly 60 people were killed on the morning of May 10.
We arrived at the scene, on the road to Damascus Airport, just after the explosion. A 4.5 metre deep hole showed where one bomb exploded, the remains of vehicles blasted full of holes, like a colander, were the targets of the bombing. It was professionally done - to obtain such a quantity of explosives, determine the target and to get international attention with a high death toll.
While Syrians watch the aftermath of the attacks on state TV, life in Damascus goes on. Only the roads heading to the scene of the blasts were closed for a while. Those who are gathered near the site of the bombings chanted slogans against other countries and their leaders who they say want to bring down the al-Assad regime. The Syrians I spoke to were angry, but careful not to threaten a Turkish journalist they encountered,
despite their anger at the regional powers, including Turkey, and despite their grief.
Just after the bombing, I walked through the streets of Damascus. Apart from the pain and sorrow of some families, nothing had changed. Life goes on. There are no extra security checkpoints, only those blast walls in front of some government buildings. These are not the only walls. The international community’s attitude against Syria is creating new walls between some Syrians and the rest of the world.
Bora Bayraktar, euronews correspondent in Turkey, is in Damascus at the invitation of the Syrian government.