The ancient Damask Rose withers away in the Syrian war

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The damask rose is one of the oldest flowers in history. Even Shakespeare’s work featured the rose that is known for its therapeutic properties. It’s a staple among perfumers—the turkish delight that you may have eaten too is flavoured with its heady-scented oil. But for the Syrian farmers growing the flower, tragedy may await—the damask rose is withering.

In a series of interviews with AFP, farmers revealed that they believe the damask rose is dying. The cultivated land in the Nabek area village close to Mrah (which is about 60 kilometres north-east of the burning capital Damascus), known for growing the 30-petaled flower, has decreased by more than half. As entire families continue to flee the fighting between the rebel groups and regime forces, the tradition of picking the crop is fading.

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Hamza Bitar (now 43) says that he “learned to walk in those fields”. According to him, Lebanese merchants bought tons of rose petals for export to Europe before the war broke out in 2011.

Access to these rose fields were prevented for a while due to the war. Mrah was deprived of its annual income after the annual rose festival was cancelled. The festival was, however, resurrected on 15 May despite the low production of damask roses.

The ancient rose, exported to Europe from the time of the Crusades, flowers naturally in May but can be grown throughout the year. Reportedly, the rose famously adorned the gardens and roadsides in and around Damascus—in a way representing the capital’s residents.

“Douma used to smell of roses,” AFP quoted Abu Bilal (52), a rose oil manufacturer, talking about the besieged town in Eastern Ghouta. “Now it reeks of gunpowder, they tell me,” he added. Even though the rose is cultivated elsewhere including countries such as Morocco, Turkey, Iran and France, Bilal feels that the rose “from Damascus is unique because its smell is heady, its quality is better and it produces more oil”.

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Syrians serve rose water made from the damask rose |Image courtesy:

The war has left more than 270,000 people dead and created millions of refugees, and the farmers and traders believe that the declining rose business is only symbolic of the people’s agony. But to the octogenarian Amin Bitar from Mrah—who has spent his entire life cultivating the flower—the damask rose “will not come back to life until the war is over”.

Source: AFP and The Daily Star

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