National Geographic : 1946 Dec
Syria and Lebanon Taste Freedom become a region of fertility and wealth along the Khabur River. Several of the Christian Assyrian girls whom I met in the hospital parlor had nursed men wounded during the recent fighting. Two of them wanted to visit friends in the still-restive city. While escorting them through crowded streets, I came upon a procession on its way to burn some French books (Color Plate X). One volume refused to burn. I turned it over with my toe. It was a geography. An intelligent young Syrian tried to explain. "We know that burning books is barbaric and does no good. But it gives us an emo tional outlet." How many books the world has known since Jesus preached in Galilee! Though it seemed unbelievable, these pretty Assyrian nurses, newly trained in Christian healing, could have understood the Sermon on the Mount as it left Jesus' lips nearly two thousand years ago. In The Four Gospels According to the Eastern Version, George M. Lamsa, an Assyrian, has given us an English translation from Aramaic, the still-living lan guage which Jesus spoke. In Aramaic, a dot above or below a letter changes its meaning. Under such circum stances, a flyspeck may embarrass a scholar more than it would a housewife. Grand Central of Desert Travel As our RAF plane flew from Deir ez Zor to Palmyra, where men burrowed like moles to secure additional water, I wondered how the great Zenobia here amassed the jewels under whose intolerable weight, as Aurelian's lovely but defiant captive, she all but fainted in the streets of Rome. At this Grand Central of desert travel, statues were erected to caravan leaders, cap tains of the only industry Palmyra knew desert trade. So antediluvian does the homely dromedary appear that one might assume that caravans have crossed the Syrian Desert ever since the first thorn-chewers shuffled off the Ark. Ac tually, the camel has served in the Syrian Desert only 3,000 years. Two-humped Bactrian camels arrived first, but their heavy camel's hair coats, excellent for a Mongolian winter, were too hot for the Syrian Desert. For centuries Arabian camels have supplied the Syrian market. In 1931, when the Citroin-Haardt Trans Asiatic Expedition's tractors followed a trail first laid down by some nameless camel driver in the long ago, the squalid houses of present day Palmyrenes were being cleared from the imposing Temple of the Sun.* Now their neatly aligned town has taken roots. During the brief stay of our plane at the airport, we stretched our legs by following the sound of tom-toms to a native wedding dance, where the headcloths of desert men waved in dust clouds stirred by festive feet (Plate V). In the Syrian capital city of Damascus, British, Irish, Scottish, French, Greek, and Jewish schools and hospitals have long flour ished. The eastern end of this great Moslem city is dotted with churches and synagogues. Pagans and Christians once worshiped where Moslems in the Omayyad Mosque touch their foreheads to soft, lustrous prayer rugs as they bow toward Mecca (page 733). Damascus was an outpost for Byzantium, as it later was for Constantinople. In A. D. 635, when the Greeks were napping, the Arabs entered the city. Today's churches stand in the area which surrendered and where, for more than 1,300 years, Christian rights have been respected. Yet twice within twenty years, in 1925 and 1945, Moslem Damascus was bombarded by the overzealous troops of a Christian power. On the other hand, no serious student of antiquity can overlook the splendid new mu seums at Damascus and Beirut. No inde pendent government can ignore the loving care with which their ancient treasures were preserved by the French. Gallic skill in road making, fruit culture, and industrial develop ment are other monuments of the mandate period. In one of the deservedly famous Damascene courtyards I photographed two Christian girls, whose charm is mildly reflected in Plates I and XI. At a friend's home I met a dozen or so women of the best Moslem families, dressed in Paris fashions, wearing no veils, unmistakably pretty, but safe from the intrusion of my lens. In Damascus Old Ways Die Hard Damascus Moslems are traditionally con servative. One who knows the patriarchal city's mosques and cabarets, its aggressive bazaardom, and its retiring private life must sympathize with those who cling to some of the old values (pages 750 and 751). In an attempt to preserve the good, modern minded Damascenes have turned to their American friends for aid. What may become a Damascene sister of the American University of Beirut (Plates XII and XIII) has already * See "Citroen Trans-Asiatic Expedition Reaches Kashmir," by Maynard Owen Williams, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, October, 1931.