In every Syrian’s memory, there is an olive tree, a jasmine flower, a yellow canary, a morning Turkish coffee and a cat.
There is a long history shared by Syrians and cats, together they underwent different transformations through Syrian times. From sharing simplicity, to oppression, to revolution.
The old Syrian houses mainly had a similar design, a considerable yard in the middle of the house with a fountain, half of the yard is planted with roses and jasmines, sometimes a lemon tree or a mulberry tree. I remember when I was a little girl in the mid and late 80’s, my grandfather’s house was an old Damascene one, and never ran out of cats. Most of Syrians welcomed the feline visitors at any time, they were a desirable guests that came to feed and breed. The green vegetation in every house provided a shelter and a shade to rest. These cats had many homes, but one can never call them stray. There is a mosque in the old city of Damascus called The Castle of Damascene Cats where its owner endowed it for the sick and hungry cats. At that time, Humans and cats lived side by side in harmony.
Syrian regime’s attempts to animalize humans started to pay off in the last 3 decades. Through massacres, detention centers, impoverishing policies and terror, intentional spread of ignorance and aggression; Syrians relationship with humans and the little creatures started to change in itself. Bit by bit, the lovely open space houses started to disappear by continuous governmental plans to “organize” an uglier city. Cement profitable small boxes apartments grew in numbers, and cats have no place to go but the random dangerous streets, they became stray. For me, to destroy such houses symbolize the destruction of relations of humans with nature and each others, to erase people’s compassion and empathy. I started to notice more aggressive practices like kicking a cat, or waving it by its tale occur more often than before. The new generations didn’t share the old Syrian love for cats, but still, there were many who did not let go their deep affection to the creatures once they shared their world with. I used to walk everyday through The Traditional Handmade Market in The Tekkiye Mosque in Damascus, where an old artist had a small rectangular studio and shop, and he used to feed about 20 stray cats daily, the entire area was like a small island of what used to be Syria. In my opinion, the biggest crime committed against my country is mutilating and molding it in a freakish entity exactly like the image of the freaks ruled it for 40 years.
Since Assad regime started to eliminate everything related to Syria after the revolution began so only the freaks could rule again, all creatures were targeted by the hate and grudge of Assad snipers and death squads. The poor felines were not excluded from the massacre. Many cats are shot in the streets by Assad snipers just for fun. Like humans, they were also buried under rubble and killed under shelling. Many animals like cows, donkeys, chickens, dogs and goats were executed by ASSad psychopath soldiers and even tortured for fun imitating an interrogation session.
One video shows dead cats taken out from under rubble after a house shelled by ASSad thugs.
The awakening of conscious and dignity in Syria brought with it the long forgotten compassion for the creatures we shared our lives with. Soldiers from the Free Syrian Army started to share their whatever food they have with cats. When enough medications available to humans, medical aid can be provided to animals. But all in my country are under a vicious circle of death and pain.
A time will come when both humans and cats in Syria will be free and regain their compassion as beings worthy of walking on this sad planet.