Thursday, 6 October 2016

SYRIA: Is Aleppo War-ravaged Aleppo A Travel Destination?

In the next instalment of its increasingly bizarre strategy to woo tourists, Syria’s Ministry of Tourism has released a new video spruiking war-ravaged Aleppo as a travel destination — using the Game of Thrones theme song as a soundtrack.

In the video, sweeping, panoramic scenes of Aleppo — a peaceful, green and thriving Aleppo — are presented against an acoustic version of composer Ramin Djawadi’s theme for the HBO series.

The one-minute clip shows off the city’s wide boulevards, impressive buildings and lush parks, and ends with the words: “Aleppo: Will of Life”.

It’s likely the scenes in the video were filmed quite some distance from the eastern, rebel-held areas of Aleppo, where air strikes are daily and whole neighbourhoods have been destroyed due to the five-year conflict, according to the United Nations.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last week “even a slaughterhouse is more humane” than the humanitarian crisis crippling Aleppo.

Elsewhere in Syria, all six of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites have been destroyed or badly damaged, including Palmyra’s 2000-year-old Arch of Triumph, a former tourist hotspot destroyed by the Islamic State terror group last year.

Given Game of Thrones is centred on a bloodied, years-long civil war in fictional Westeros, Syria’s decision to use it in its latest tourism promo seems a little odd. But it’s just the latest attempt by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to brag about Syria’s worth as a holiday hotspot.

In August, the Ministry of Tourism released a clip portraying the Mediterranean city of Tartus as a glamorous, sun-drenched luxury resort, packed with expensive speed boats and happy beachgoers.

Earlier this year, Syria’s tourism minister Bushr Yazedji talked up his country’s potential as an international travel destination, saying: “After the liberation of some of our cities, which once used to be major touristic highlights, we noticed that their residents were willing to revitalise local tourism.”

And just last week, Syria’s state news agency tweeted a picture of locals enjoying Aleppo’s “thriving night-life” despite the city’s dangerous reputation.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade strongly advises Australians against travelling to anywhere in Syria, in what is the highest travel advisory level issued by the Australian government.