Meditation on Raqqa

The Syrian news may not get the front page as often as it used to. But the fall of Raqqa is widely heralded as the last stand of the odious forces of a barbarous so-called caliphate: if only life could be that simple.  I've only been to the city of Raqqa once. Although today in 2017 largely abandoned it used to be the 6th largest city in Syria, situated in the very east,  on the banks of the Euphrates, 300km from the Mediterranean. It reminds of me of a time when the border of the Roman world butted up with their rivals, the Persians. In those the days the major centres of the world were Rome, Byzantium, Baghdad, Ctesiphon, Alexandria. My suspicion is that ISIS/ISIL/Daesh seized the city because of its remoteness from Damascus. Over the last two thousands years it has been captured, devastated and seen an unfair amount of warring nations: Romans, Persians, the Omayyads, and the Abbasids. When the Mongols sacked the city in the 13th century, they destroyed a remarkable ceramics tradition. I am grateful to the distinguished potter, Laurence McGowan, for pointing this out when we were there: he told us that the term Rakka or Raqqa ware is still used to describe the distinctive pottery which was once produced there with lovely examples in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.  It was a sad city when we were there in 2006 with very high levels of unemployment, though we were warmly greeted by school boys in their blue uniforms. Some of the kids who were not in school clambered up the brick walls of the Baghdad gate, as you can see in my photograph. The city's capture/liberation in October 2017 by a combined Kurdish/Syrian Arab force supported by the USA will I am sure now open another can of worms, since no doubt the Assad government supported by the Russians will claim that it should be governed from Damascus. Pray for the people of this sad city.