The details a quarter of a century dealt Arkadiy Vinogradov. In the past the employee of the Russian Embassy in Damascus, he was accepted into the offices and homes of top officials of the country. After his dismissal from the Embassy Vinogradov was the official adviser to three Ministers of defense of Syria. Special recognition received awards from the hands of two of its presidents. Unique, among other things, case.
And yet it is in Syria called the “main canopy”: brought in the country of Russian scientists who “caused” not just rains, and rains a whole, to overcome a debilitating drought.
All this Arkadiy Vinogradov said in an interview with “MK”.
photo: Eva Markachev
“The gallows was set up at dawn”
— Tell us how you came to Syria?
That was in 1988, I went there as a group leader for scientific and technical cooperation of the Embassy. Settled in the center of Damascus near the Embassy (diplomats meet with different entrepreneurs, government officials, and the Embassy will not!). The apartment I got the size as much as 250 sq m, because less are simply not there. After the Moscow apartments of the time of the Syrian seemed luxury — with elegant Arabian furniture, chandeliers, etc.
— What are you most struck by then in a foreign country?
Nature. Bare mountains, sand, rocks. But then we saw how in the spring everything is covered, albeit for a short time, herbs and flowers. And get used to it and then even fall in love.
Struck people. It turned out that the Syrians are very warm-hearted people, like the Russians. On the streets a lot of people walking slowly with a welcoming smile. Still amazed that there’s a conglomerate of religions, and they do not conflict. The Americans say that the alawites seized power in Syria. But whether Assad is a Sunni Muslim, he’d still be President. And in the government there were representatives of all religious denominations and parties (even Communist).
I was amazed that in Syria there were more than ten thousand young specialists educated in the USSR. Many of them before returning home married Russian girls. Having become acquainted with these families, I was pleasantly surprised that mom gave your love to Russian children.
Here’s what I saw Syria: the majority of women hid the body under the black galabiya, the stores were not familiar to us products, many goods and products were given coupons. At that time (the reign of Hafez al-Assad) into the country prohibited the importation of foreign goods: electronics, clothing, alcohol and tobacco. Could not use Fax machines, television antennae and appeared in the last years of his reign mobile phones. The smugglers were taken along mountain trails from Lebanon to Syria all these illegal goods used by the local population of great demand.
— What about public executions? You weren’t shocked?
— During the reign of Hafez al-Assad really hanged criminals, but this was quite “civilized” — no one has seen the process. Put the gallows and brought convicts 6 am in the morning while everyone was asleep. And then the morning news announced: “Hung six smugglers who killed our border guards”. State criminals were hanged in the Central square, simple bandits in the vicinity of the crime scene the Park. By the way, everything was resolved rather quickly: caught, court — and after 48 hours the offender has already hung up. Be sure to put a sign on the chest for that. Hung criminals for long, by noon they were removed, the gallows was dismantled and taken away. People around them usually is not going to, the excitement was not, but the experience was not pleasant.
In foreign embassies often was a car thief, and to the Soviet Embassy for a year has stolen six cars. To justify himself in front of foreign diplomats, President Hafez al-Assad issued a decree — for stealing cars was introduced the death penalty by hanging. And the thefts stopped!
— You returned the car?
— No, of course. They would be immediately dismantled for parts and sold. Among them were mostly foreign cars — “Toyota”, “Mercedes”, “Peugeot”. At first, many members of our Embassy went to the domestic “Lada”, but with time and they move on foreign cars.
Is hung each week?
— No, not at all. Before the arrival of the new President, I worked in Syria for 15 years and in all that time, executions were little more than a dozen. With the coming to power of Bashar al-Assad, the death penalty was abolished, but, despite this, the U.S. and the European community called the Assad regime “bloody”.
But this does not mean that Hafez al-Assad was white and fluffy. Just enough. I had one friend scientist, who without trial was sent to prison for 5 years just for the fact that he incorrectly said about the President policies. He went to prison, came out and told me then: “Since the word “policy” is excluded from my vocabulary”. Freethinkers in Syria never welcomed.
— Is it true that in the Yeltsin era, our Embassy in Syria actually worked?
— The Embassy is always working. But Russia then focused on America, contacts with countries in the middle East were at a low level. And so for nearly twenty years, relations with Syria were pretty cool.
But our Embassy was trying to do everything possible to respect finally exploded. Thanks to him, even our musicians arrived at the Damascus Conservatory.
Rain man from the USSR
— What was the scientific cooperation?
— Despite the fact that Syria is small and not very developed country, thanks to her two dozen research institutes and scientific-production associations survived the period of USSR collapse.
— The fact that we with the Ambassador (at first, it was A. S. Dzasokhov, then A. I. Zotov) back in the mid-1990s decided that it would be possible to attract our scientists to work in Syria. We started to organize their trip to Damascus, where they signed with the Syrian scientific organizations contracts (mostly small — 100, 200 thousand dollars). And thanks to these contracts, a number of our scientific institutions managed to stay afloat in a period when there was almost no public funding.
The Embassy helped the Syrians to establish close ties with our scientists in the field of medicine, environmental protection, electronics, remote sensing, Oceanography, space instrumentation and even in the field of artificial inducing of precipitation. By the way, the last project was the largest — about $ 6 million, and it was approved personally by the President Hafez al-Assad.
— Our scientists taught the Syrians to bring rain?
Exactly. When I arrived in Damascus, water and electricity was supplied only for two hours in the morning and evening. In that period sharply lower reservoirs. Half of the turbines at hydroelectric power stations were suspended and others were on a quarter scheduled capacity. In General, a disaster.
We sent from Moscow to Syria a team of twenty specialists of the Central aerological laboratory. They flew in equipped for this purpose Il-18. They were able to cause rain, but they had at least one cloud. Waited for him for three weeks. The Syrian side, and the Embassy has already begun to doubt the success of the operation, but suddenly early in the morning our scientists reported that at 12.00 in Damascus will rain. Remember, the Ambassador went to the window, looked at the clear sky, muttered to himself something like: “how Much he had to drink to make this assumption”.
Summoned to the Embassy by the leaders of the expedition showed the computer where it was obvious what the cloud is. Scientists have explained that it is located over Cyprus and taking into account the speed and direction of movement will soon be over Damascus. By this time they would send him towards the Il-18, which will cause rain (inside it will spray silver iodide, activating in the cloud moisture).
The Minister of agriculture of Syria, he had to make a choice — to report to the President or not? There was a big risk: if to tell, and it won’t rain — he can not escape trouble, but if it’s raining, and the President in advance were not informed, the Minister will lose his post.
— And what did he do?
Trust our scientists.
Fifteen minutes before the announced time the area in front of the main entrance to the Embassy was filled with people. Everything looked amazing in the purity of the sky. Soon there appeared a cloud, and there was a muffled sound of approaching aircraft, which entered it… and a solid wall poured rain, and a real shower! Water flooded all the cellars of the shops of Damascus, the traffic stopped, the machine glohla, and the drivers climbed to the roofs of their cars and waited for help.
We were worried that the harm more than good. But the Arabs rejoiced, saying that Allah had sent them rain. Filled waters of the famous Tishinskoe HPP, located on the Euphrates river, at the border with Turkey. The water in the water flowed continuously, the electricity is stopped to turn off, and the local farmers take two crops in a year. Syria live a different life! The Syrians have a belief: if it rains, then it brings happiness. On TV and in the sermons of muezzins often heard words of gratitude to Allah for what he abundantly irrigates the land bringing life to the people. But we knew, thanks to whom enters their land this life-giving moisture. (Laughs.) Scientists were rewarded by the government of Syria, and they started calling me chief raincoat. Hafez al-Assad gave me a gold watch with her portrait, and they have served me in good stead. There was even a funny thing — once the waiter saw them in my hand, and immediately reported to all employees of the restaurant. They lined up in front of me in a sign of respect. Then another clock (but not gold) I received from Bashar al-Assad, came to the position of President after his father’s death.
Coming back to the rains in Syria, I note that some countries, they were not to the liking.
— How exactly and why?
— Turkey has accused Syria that it artificially takes away from the clouds that come to them from Syria, all the moisture — and supposedly it is harmful to agriculture in nearby countries. Our scientists made an official refutation. They explained that when applying the technology of artificial precipitation from clouds falls not more than three percent of its moisture, and country, where then a cloud comes, it may retry the operation by bringing rain, if it has such capabilities. However, the technology on artificial increase in precipitation had only four countries: USA, France, USSR and Israel.
— What about the rain now?
— Because of the war, alas, Syria is in this sense back to the past. The terrorists destroyed the locators, and implementation of the program of increase of rainfall has been indefinitely postponed. In the country the drought, water became shallow. Near Aleppo there were ICARDA involved in the development of agriculture in arid regions, which was constantly assisted by our specialists from the agricultural Sciences. Unfortunately, this place turned into the headquarters of ISIL (banned in Russia organization. — Approx. ed.) and on fields with rare plants is fortified buildings and heavy military equipment. The Syrians hope that as soon as territory will be liberated from the ISIL militants, Russia again will help with the rain.
photo: Eva Markachev
Watch gift from the President of Syria, Achard Jr.
— How did you become an Advisor to the Minister of defence of Syria?
— My trip officially ended, but the Syrian side has asked me to be Advisor to the Deputy Supreme commander, the defense Minister of Syria Mustafa Tlas. In addition, he was also a Deputy Prime Minister, was responsible for scientific and technological development of the country and the protection of the environment, and my contacts with Russian scientists and specialists were very useful.
This post (I took it 15 years) helped maintain relationships with Ministers, with deputies of Parliament. They mainly concerned the scientific and technical relations and military cooperation. And when the President was Vladimir Putin, and relations with Syria have once again become friendly, it is still my position helped to break through bureaucratic obstacles on both sides and to expedite the resolution of many issues.
— Close that just does not tell you. Some experts believe that the impact he had at times more than the President. Who is that person?
— Tell two stories, the witnesses of which I was. At reception of the Minister of defense sat the Colonel, who’s daughter fell seriously ill. The girl needed to go for treatment abroad, military and requested financial assistance. Tlas took into his hands a written request, thought for a minute, then pulled out a checkbook, wrote out 20 thousand dollars from his personal account and handed over to the officer. Then he told me that getting through the financial part of it would be a very long time, and be performed without delay.
The second story is even more memorable. Once we met with him at the restaurant on the border of Lebanon and Syria in the Bekaa valley, where now is located the camp of Syrian refugees. The Minister came accompanied by security and a little frightened and dirty girl in her arms. It turned out he was in Beirut, was another clash of Christians and Muslims, and saw that just about ruins of destroyed houses little girl sits and cries. It turned out that her parents were killed by the bombing, houses destroyed. Searched the family, did not find. And he took her into his family. Brought up, taught, was given in marriage with dowry.
Tlas was the only one at the time, the Minister of defence, my whole life, who gave the army and served in the army for fifty years. He was Hafez al-Assad with great respect and only thanks to him that Bashar al-Assad became President.
— How did this happen?
When Hafez al-Assad died, he was buried on the same day, as it should be for Muslims, before sunset. And the next day had to announce who will perform the duties of the President. The Constitution is the current Vice-President. But he came to the defence Minister and asked: “Remember our country is called? Her name is Acadia” (even at the border at all border crossing points were posters: “we Invite you to the country Acadia”. So it was implied that a President should be that Assad, and the people stood for it).
photo: From personal archive
The defense Minister of Syria Tlas often invites his Russian adviser with all his family.
Initially in the successor on a post of the President prepared the eldest son of Hafez al-Assad Basel, but he died tragically in a car accident, and the father was forced to call from England to his second son, Bashar. He was educated in England majoring ophthalmologist, married — and politics was not going. But after the death of the older brother he was forced to return to Damascus, and his father was hard to cook in their successors. He graduated from the military Academy, received the rank of officer and began to take an active part in all the Affairs of his father.
The Vice President said, according to the Syrian Constitution the President can only be a General and his age may not be lower than forty-one years. But it turned out that thanks to the efforts of Tlas Bashar urgently was awarded the rank of General, and the National Assembly at an extraordinary session adopted the law on lowering the voting age for the presidency from 41 years to 36 years as Bashar was at the time!
Why Tlas supported the President’s son? He was perfectly aware that the Vice President will align our policies with the U.S. and Syria will lose its independence. By the way, some time after the arrival of Bashar al-Assad to power, the Vice President went to the USA for treatment and more to Syria has not returned.
— What Bashar then had a relationship with Trasom?
— In Syria it is customary respect for elders, and especially towards the elderly. Bashar was called Tlaca father and his children — my grandfather. Once a month the President came to visit them. Tlas was a very hospitable host.
— I wonder how he lived? Than treated you to lunch?
— He lived in an ordinary apartment Arab. Big library, where he kept the gifts, rare books, paintings, samples of weapons. His wife was from a wealthy family, was active in charity. On holidays, she was in the old district of Damascus, al-Hamedia and gave poor people money. Tlas was a very welcoming home. On weekends for lunch he always invited someone from acquaintances, friends and children and grandchildren. Often invited, and me and my family. Lunch was always a feast. First makebest — snacks, then a kebab, kebabs (always with freshly baked bread). And despite the fact that Syria is still a Muslim country, on his Desk was the wine. He always gave my children chocolate and Oriental sweets. After the war began, Tlas left to his daughter in Paris. For him to be in Syria became too dangerous.
— What about you?
In his place came a new Minister of defense Hasan Turkmani, and he asked me to be his adviser. I agreed. Then there was another Minister. So in total I was an Advisor to three Deputy Supreme commander of Syria.
Place of Cain and Abel’s fate
— When the President was a young Bashar Assad, educated in England, a lot has changed?
— In a country flooded with foreign goods, began to build modern shops, opened commercial banks, several times declined the duty on imported cars and on the streets there were brand new cars. Girls removed black galabia, dressed in jeans and light blouses, and found that they have a very beautiful figure.
The nation was ready to wear for all of this young President on his hands. The country has experienced throngs of tourists. But in Syria there is something to see. There is a place of the first crime on Earth — a cave, a stone with which Cain slew Abel. Rock in which, according to legend, were the handprints of the Archangel Gabriel. The grave where buried Abel. However, it is in the territory of the military unit, but even there you can get on Fridays. In Syria, in the small town of Ugarit, near the Turkish border appeared first on Earth writing system — cuneiform. In the Eastern part of Damascus is a small shelter in which he was hiding from the persecution of Christians the Apostle Paul. And fifty miles from Damascus are two Christian villages whose residents still speak Aramaic — the language Jesus spoke. Well, about Palmyra, and say nothing: about it the whole world knows.
— Is it true that if Syrian presidents have always been Russian doctor?
— Not always, but came quite often. I brought two famous doctors — Pytela and Lopatkina, experts in the field of renal diseases that for a long time watched the President’s health. Americans are very interested in the condition of the Syrian President and for 13 years was periodically throwing in information that tomorrow or the day after Hafez al-Assad dies. But he lived and lived.
Ophthalmologist Svyatoslav Fedorov was a friend of Hafez al-Assad. When he came to Damascus, in the presidential cars even drove through al-Hamedia — the old market in Damascus, where go only on foot. Fedorov was welcomed in Syria and generally in the middle East. He had the ship “Peter”, who went to the Persian Gulf. On this boat Fedorov himself was doing operation Arab patients. Fedorov near the city of Latakia, where our airbase, has allocated a huge area for construction of eye care centre, but the Soviet leadership somehow never done so — and from the construction of the centre had to be abandoned.
Cooperation in the field of medicine was one of the most important in recent years. Syria has become a country where quality was treated. But the war on terror all threatened.Related posts: