Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture
2015-08-15 11:04:14 -
World News

During the early days of World War II, before America entered the war, the Allied forces’ only notable victories over the Axis countries occurred during the Syria-Lebanon campaign, Operation Exporter. The objective of the invasions by Australian, British, Free French and Indian military forces was to prevent Axis aircraft attacks on the Allies in Egypt and Iraq by denying them the ability to refuel in Syria. The Vichy French surrendered in July, and the Free French Army commander recognised Syria and Lebanon’s independence in November of 1941.

Aminah and Hussein were living in the city of Antakya in Iskenderun Syria, also known as Antioch, an ancient Greek city that at one time was one of the largest in the Roman Empire. After Syria’s independence was declared, and the Allied forces successful invasions of France, Italy and Greece had turned the tide in the war against Nazi Germany, Italy and the Vichy French, Aminah decided the world was now safe enough for them to have children. Their first and only daughter, Fozya, was born in 1945 and a year later Baba, their first son, was born.

Hussein was a shepherd who had trouble supporting his young family on what he earned tending to his sheep in the rolling hills overlooking the Orontes River. So in 1954 he moved 540km east to Al-Qamishli, a town of mixed ethnic and religious groups at the base of the Taurus Mountains. Al-Qamishli was founded in 1926 as a stop on the Istanbul-to-Baghdad extension of the Orient Express, and the village’s population of Sunni Muslims and Christians were later joined by Armenian and Kurdish refugees fleeing persecution in Turkey and Iraq.

In 1956 an American company discovered oil 80km east of Al-Qamishli at Qarah Shukin near the Iraqi border in far northeastern Syria, and the area began to grow very rapidly from a town of 50,000 into one of Syria’s 10 largest cities. Hussein also prospered as he expanded his sheep herd to accommodate the region’s growing appetite for meat and wool products.

Although he had little formal education himself, Hussein placed a very high value on learning and wanted to make sure that his children received the best education possible. Because there were no universities in the vicinity of Al-Qamishli, when Baba was 19 Hussein sent him to live with his aunt in Tripoli, where he attended the American University of Libya. Over the course of the next six years, in addition to his native Arabic, Baba also became fluent in French and English, a skill in great demand by American oil companies.

After Muammar Gaddafi overthrew Libya’s monarchy in 1969, Baba began to take an interest in Middle Eastern politics. However, his strong political views also earned him some enemies within the Gaddafi regime, who threatened Baba’s life and forced him to flee from Libya just before graduation. So Baba returned to Al-Qamishli in 1971 and became a secondary school English teacher while he waited for a job to open up in the Syrian Foreign Ministry in Damascus. Two years later, Baba took a fateful trip to Aleppo that would forever change his life.

In early 1974, Baba and 15 of his male friends journeyed to Aleppo to visit a man they admired who had also been born in Antakya but was now dying of lung disease. While he was visiting with Abdel Salam Damlakhi, Baba told Abdel that he wished he could be his son-in-law and asked him if he had any daughters. Abdel said yes, he had several daughters but since Nazwa was the oldest, he wanted Baba to consider her first. Unbeknownst to Baba, however, Nazwa had already been observing Baba from afar and was hoping he would ask for her hand.

Baba later asked for and received Abdel’s blessing for their marriage just two days before he died. Nazwa and Baba got married a few months later. and after their first son Alkumait was born in 1975, Baba finally landed a position with the Syrian delegation charged with negotiating a ceasefire for the 1975 Lebanese Civil War. A year later, Baba was instrumental in forging the October 1976 peace agreement that formally ended the war.

On the same day his daughter was born two years later, Baba was appointed the leader of the Syrian delegation charged with negotiating and maintaining the peace with Israel, a position he held for three decades until his retirement in 2008. I had the privilege of getting to know this man much more intimately after I received his blessing for my marriage to his beloved daughter Kinda. As a man who spent most of his life trying to establish and maintain peace, I also know the current troubles in his beloved homeland weighed heavily on his mind, his heart and his soul.

My beloved father, Fawzi Hussein ‘Baba’ Darwish, suddenly passed away on 28 July in Damascus. After living in Spain and Egypt, Baba returned home 18 months ago because he loved Syria almost as much as he loved his family. His death certificate says he died of a stroke pulmonary embolism and heart attack, but I believe what he really died of was a broken heart. So I bid you a heartfelt farewell, dear Baba. The world is a better place for you having been here.


Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas pursuing a career in public service. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011 and pursued a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy.

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