Sunday, September 22, 2013

Issa Bassam - My Amigo from Syria

Dr Rabin Man Shakya

Syrian conflict has been making international headlines for last two years. Despite all kinds of international diplomacy and negotiations, there is no hope any time soon of any breakthrough in Syrian civil war which has taken a colossal toll of human life: more than a hundred thousand deaths.

I am not a political analyst, but it does not take a genius to understand that quid pro quo is crucial in the international diplomacy. US, Russia, Syria and Iran should be as flexible as possible in order to break the Syrian deadlock.

But whenever I confront with Syria headlines in newspapers and TV channels, the face of a Syrian guy just sort of comes back to me at once: Issa Bassam.

Issa was a Phd student in Philosophy at the Belorussian State University(BSU) in Minsk where I was also a PhD post graduate student in Journalism. We lived together in the same BSU 12-story hostel in Minsk.

Issa had good sense of humour. He was a happy-go-lucky type guy who never got mad at me even when I made some kind of offensive remarks at him and Baath Party and the then president Hafez al-Assad. It was because of him that I got acquainted with some Arab phrases and words. Obviously, we interacted and communicated in Russian with each other. And it was because of him I was familiar with some kind of Syrian Arab cuisines.

However, I had a lot of friends from different countries studying at the BSU. Issa was one of them. We spent time hanging out in Minsk cafes, parks and thoroughfares. I remember Komsomolskoye Ozero, a man-made lake in Minsk and I also remember Leninsky Avenue was one of Minsk's busiest thoroughfares.

According to Issa, unlike majority of Syrians, he belonged to a minority Christian community in Syria. I was friend with Issa during 1986-1989. Issa never criticized Hafez al-Assad, the then President of Syria, the father of Bashar al-Assad, the incumbent tyrant of Syria.The name of Bashar was no where to be heard at that time.

That was totally a different time in recent history. The world was in the grip of the Cold War fever.There were two Super Powers:  the US and the former USSR. The former Soviet Union played a significant role in Syria's poliitical, military and socio-political development. Syria always was  the close ally of the former Soviet Union. In Syria,there is still a Russian military base which is reminiscent of the Cold War rivalry. Apart from the strategic concern,Russia has some humane interest too in Syria.

Thousands of Syrian college students and post-graduate students who studied in different former Soviet universities and colleges were married to Russian women. My friend Issa was also married to a Belorussian woman in Minsk. By the way, there was a news story last year in the New York Times about the dilemma facing Russian women in Syria.

Ever since I came back to Nepal in 1989 after completing my studies in the former USSR, I did not have any kind of contact or communication with my Syrian amigo, unfortunately. Hopefully, he is alive and kicking.

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