Damascus fair offers hope for exports-starved Aleppo artisans

Visitors tour a trade fair dedicated to war-hit businesses from Aleppo looking to make a revival, in the Syrian capital Damascus’ Tekkiyeh Sulimaniyeh complex. (AFP)
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Updated 06 November 2020

Damascus fair offers hope for exports-starved Aleppo artisans

DAMASCUS: Under the elegant arches and domes of an Ottoman-era compound, Joseph Tobjian displays his aromatic Aleppo soap at a trade fair designed to revive Syria’s exports-starved arts and crafts. 

The soap maker is among more than 130 merchants taking part in the state-sponsored fair in Damascus for small businesses from Aleppo, northern Syria. 

“I’ve spent my entire life around laurel oil and soap. Their scent does not leave my lungs,” Tobjian told AFP. 

“We’re in Damascus looking for an alternative to foreign markets, after exports stopped,” he said, soap bottles and natural cosmetics lining the table in front of him. 

The 61-year-old said he was surprised by the high number of visitors at the fair, including Damascus traders interested in his beauty products. 

Aleppo, Syria’s pre-war economic hub, is famed for its ancient crafts, hit hard by the conflict that broke out in 2011. 

Goods ranging from traditional soaps, furniture and garments to made-in-Syria marshmallows are on show in the capital’s Tekkiye Al-Sulaymaniyah complex. 

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Aleppo, Syria’s pre-war economic hub, is famed for its ancient crafts, hit hard by the conflict that broke out in 2011.

The Tobjian family fled to Canada from Aleppo in 2012, leaving behind a soap workshop that employed about 40 workers in its heyday. 

Unhappy with life in exile, the Syrian Armenian family returned in 2018 to find both their workshop and city in ruins. 

They relocated to a modest workshop and employed two workers to resume production of Aleppo soap, once a top export also popular among tourists. 

“We inherited this craft from our fathers and grandfathers,” said Tobjian, wearing a T-shirt bearing the image of Syria’s Bashar Assad. 

“We must do everything we can to revive our workshops and factories.” 

Aleppo’s centuries-old covered bazaar, situated in its Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, once teemed with thousands of stalls. 

The Old City saw some of the heaviest battles of Syria’s war, before Russian-backed regime forces recaptured rebel-held districts of Aleppo in December 2016. 

A gradual regime-led restoration program has revived parts of Aleppo’s bazaar but the scars of war remain. 

In Aleppo’s industrial zone, the largest in Syria, most factories and workshops were also ravaged by fighting. 

With state support, some 70 small workshops have reopened but business is slow amid an economic crisis compounded by Western sanctions and the collapse of the Syrian pound against the dollar. 

“The war destroyed the infrastructure of industries in Aleppo,” said Alaa Hilal, director of the week-long Damascus fair. 

Western sanctions, which hinder fuel imports, have also made it tough for factories to operate. 

This is why Aleppo craftsmen are looking “for opportunities to make sales, sign contracts and market their products in Damascus,” Hilal said. 

Western sanctions have pushed Syrian businesses to find alternatives. 

At the fair, Sonali Ghazal shows off marshmallows scented with rose water or pistachios from Aleppo. 

“We managed to make marshmallow in Syria, and we gave them an Aleppo touch,” the 42-year-old teacher said. 

Sonali said she used to buy them for her students before marshmallows vanished from the market because of the war and sanctions. 

She came up with a home-grown alternative, “but this time, with the flavour of Aleppo pistachios.”


Germany summons Iranian ambassador for talks on protests

Updated 26 September 2022

Germany summons Iranian ambassador for talks on protests

BERLIN: Germany summoned the Iranian ambassador in Berlin on Monday over a crackdown on nationwide protests that were sparked by the death of a woman in custody, a German foreign ministry spokesperson said.
Asked about the possibility of further sanctions on Tehran in response to the unrest, the spokesperson said “we will consider all options” with other European Union states.
Last week, the United States imposed sanctions on Iran’s morality police over allegations of abuse of Iranian women, saying it held the unit responsible for the death of the 22-year-old in custody.


Iran says 450 protesters arrested in northern province

Updated 26 September 2022

Iran says 450 protesters arrested in northern province

  • Hundreds of demonstrators, activists and journalists have been arrested during the mostly night-time demonstrations
  • The unrest first broke out on September 16 after the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, in custody of Iran's morality police

TEHRAN: Authorities in a northern Iran province have arrested 450 people during more than 10 days of protests following a young Kurdish woman’s death in morality policy custody, state media reported Monday.
Hundreds of demonstrators, reformist activists and journalists have been arrested during the mostly night-time demonstrations across the country since unrest first broke out after Mahsa Amini’s death was announced on September 16.
Amini, whose Kurdish first name was Jhina, was detained three days before that in Tehran for allegedly breaching rules mandating hijab head coverings and modest dress.
“During the troubles of the past days, 450 rioters have been arrested in Mazandaran,” the northern province’s chief prosecutor, Mohammad Karimi, was quoted as saying by official news agency IRNA.
They “have attacked government buildings and damaged public property in several parts of Mazandaran,” he added.
Local media reported that protesters were shouting anti-regime slogans, and Karimi said they were led by “foreign anti-revolutionary agents.”
On Saturday, authorities in the neighboring Guilan province announced the arrest of 739 people, including 60 women.
Iran’s judiciary chief, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, on Sunday “emphasised the need for decisive action without leniency” against the core instigators of the “riots,” the judiciary’s Mizan Online website said.
At least 41 people have died since the unrest began, mostly protesters but including members of the Islamic republic’s security forces, according to an official toll.
Photos published Monday by the Tasnim news agency showed protesters in Qom, a holy Shiite city about 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of the capital Tehran.
Security forces have released these images of “lead instigators,” Tasnim reported, asking residents to “identify them and inform the authorities.”


Iran says 450 protesters arrested in northern province

Updated 26 September 2022

Iran says 450 protesters arrested in northern province

  • Hundreds of demonstrators, reformist activists and journalists have been arrested during the demonstrations across the country

TEHRAN: Authorities in a northern Iran province have arrested 450 people during more than 10 days of protests following a young Kurdish woman’s death in morality policy custody, state media reported Monday.
Hundreds of demonstrators, reformist activists and journalists have been arrested during the mostly night-time demonstrations across the country since unrest first broke out after Mahsa Amini’s death was announced on September 16.
Amini, whose Kurdish first name was Jhina, was detained three days before that in Tehran for allegedly breaching rules mandating hijab head coverings and modest dress.
“During the troubles of the past days, 450 rioters have been arrested in Mazandaran,” the northern province’s chief prosecutor, Mohammad Karimi, was quoted as saying by official news agency IRNA.
They “have attacked government buildings and damaged public property in several parts of Mazandaran,” he added.
Local media reported that protesters were shouting anti-regime slogans, and Karimi said they were led by “foreign anti-revolutionary agents.”
On Saturday, authorities in the neighboring Guilan province announced the arrest of 739 people, including 60 women.
Iran’s judiciary chief, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, on Sunday “emphasised the need for decisive action without leniency” against the core instigators of the “riots,” the judiciary’s Mizan Online website said.
At least 41 people have died since the unrest began, mostly protesters but including members of the Islamic republic’s security forces, according to an official toll.
Photos published Monday by the Tasnim news agency showed protesters in Qom, a holy Shiite city about 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of the capital Tehran.
Security forces have released these images of “lead instigators,” Tasnim reported, asking residents to “identify them and inform the authorities.”


Lebanese banks reopen partially after weeklong closure

Updated 26 September 2022

Lebanese banks reopen partially after weeklong closure

  • Lebanon’s talks with the International Monetary Fund on a bailout have progressed sluggishly

BEIRUT: Banks in crisis-hit Lebanon partially reopened Monday following a weeklong closure amid a wave of heists in which assailants stormed at least seven bank branches earlier this month, demanding to withdraw their trapped savings.
The Association of Banks in Lebanon said last Monday it was going on strike amid bank holdups by depositors and activists — a sign of growing chaos in the tiny Mideast nation.
Lebanon’s cash-strapped banks had last closed for a prolonged period back in October 2019, for two weeks, during mass anti-government protests triggered by the crisis. That year, the banks imposed strict limits on cash withdrawals, tying up the savings of millions of people.
The country’s economy has since spiraled, with about three-quarters of the population plunged into poverty. The Lebanese pound has lost over 90 percent of its value against the dollar.
The frustrations boiled over this month, with angry and desperate depositors — including one armed with a hunting rifle — started holding up the banks. One of them, Sali Hafez, broke into a Beirut bank branch with a fake pistol and retrieved some $13,000 in her savings to cover her sister’s cancer treatment.
However, only a handful of bank branches opened Monday — accepting only customers with prior appointments for corporate transactions. The partial reopening was to continue indefinitely, until banks can secure the safety of their employees.
Crowds of anxious Lebanese gathered around ATM machines.
“I’ve been here for three hours, and they won’t let me in or schedule an appoint,” Fadi Al-Osta told The Associated Press outside a bank branch in Beirut. “The security guards can let us in one at a time and check for weapons. Isn’t that their job?”
George Al-Hajj, president of Lebanon’s Federation of Bank Employees Syndicates, said branches have downsized, to have a larger number of security guards per branch.
“Our goal isn’t to harm anyone, but we want to go to work feeling safe and secure,” Al-Hajj said. “We’re also human beings.”
Tensions were simmering in the southern city of Sidon, where State Security forces armed with assault rifles stood outside some bank branches. Some police officers and army soldiers, whose salaries have lost over 90 percent of their value, unsuccessfully tried to break into a bank branch to collect small cash bonus recently granted by the government.
Lebanon’s talks with the International Monetary Fund on a bailout have progressed sluggishly, with authorities failing to implement critical reforms, including restructuring the banking sector and lifting banking secrecy laws. Last week, a visiting IMF delegation criticized the government’s slowness to implement desperately-needed financial reforms.

Related


Iran says US trying to violate sovereignty over unrest, warns of response

Updated 26 September 2022

Iran says US trying to violate sovereignty over unrest, warns of response

  • Iran has said the United States was supporting rioters and seeking to destablize the Islamic Republic

DUBAI: US attempts to violate Iran’s sovereignty over the issue of protests triggered by the death of a woman in police custody will not go unanswered, the foreign ministry said on Monday.
Iran has been rocked by nationwide demonstrations sparked by the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, after she was detained by morality police enforcing the Islamic Republic’s strict restrictions on women’s dress.
The case has drawn international condemnation. Iran has said the United States was supporting rioters and seeking to destablize the Islamic Republic.
“Washington is always trying to weaken Iran’s stability and security although it has been unsuccessful,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani told Nour news, which is affiliated with a top security body, in a statement.