Syria and Turkey commentary

About this site


Young and old arm in arm in Damascus, in 2005 [DD]

This site was first created in 2013 in order to be a different voice for Syria from the usual media coverage. Since then it has broadened out to cover many Middle Eastern issues. Author, Arabist and occasional BBC broadcaster, I am a writer on Middle East culture with special focus on Syria and Eastern Turkey.

Over the course of my 30 years’ experience in the region I have written 17 detailed guide books for a variety of publishers including Bradt, Thomas Cook and the AA, covering Syria, Jordan, Oman, Tunisia, the UAE, Dubai, North Cyprus and Turkey. More recently I have become involved in writing press articles (The Guardian, The Financial Times, The Sunday Times, The Times, The Daily Telegraph) along with TV and radio work (eg BBC From Our Own Correspondent 4 July 2013, 11 August 2013, 23 September 2013, 28 March 2014, 10 July 2014, 18 October 2014, 5 March 2015, 9 August 2015, 16 February 2017, 28 April 2018, 10 November 2018) to highlight the often unreported complexities of Syria.

I am also increasingly asked to give interviews for radio and TV (BBC World, BBC World Service, BBC Radio 4, LBC, France 24, Sky News, CBS News, Euronews – (see Media contributions ) about developments on the ground in the Syrian crisis or in the wider Middle East. Very occasionally, as in Scandal in Sebastia, I write about something urgent happening on the Occupied West Bank.

My book My House in Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Crisis was first published by Haus Publishing in March 2014, with an updated second edition in January 2015 and an expanded third edition with two new extra chapters was published in February 2016.  The book encapsulates and distils my lifelong experience of the Middle East, explaining the extraordinary complexities of Syria from the inside and giving a human context to the current crisis. I regard it as my life’s work. In February 2019 it appeared as an audio book. It has also been translated into Italian and Norwegian editions.

My purchase in 2005 of a 17th century courtyard house in the Old City of Damascus enabled me to become deeply embedded in Syrian society and culture. I have returned seven times since the war began in March 2011 and my links inside the country are deep and ongoing. With Syria suffering its biggest ever crisis, with half the population displaced and massive loss of life, my aim is to provide regular blogs that will help more people understand the dilemma of the Syrian people and the choices they face. They deserve great sympathy, and as much help as possible.

A proportion of funds from the sale of My House in Damascus goes towards a special Syrian Higher Education fund, administered by the Said Foundation.

This short video produced in collaboration with the Emir-Stein Center also seeks to highlight the role played by historic Syria in shaping Europe’s cultural and architectural heritage:

How Islamic Architecture Shaped Europe

Thank you.

Diana Darke

Damascus June 2011 035

32 thoughts on “About this site

  1. Nikola M Sardelis on said:

    Dear Mrs Darke

    I am a London based Arabic linguist and Islamic Studies researcher who has followed some of your work with much interest. Although like you I too am involved with Arabic, right now I am particularly interested in your expertise on eastern Turkey.

    I myself am a dual UK-Greek national originally from Greek Macedonia, but my mother’s family are eastern Pontic/Caucasus Greeks who until 1919 lived in mixed Greek-Armenian villages in the Kars-Ardahan region.

    Some Caucasus Greek community groups based in Greek Macedonia (Kilkis and Salonika) are paying for me to study some Modern and Ottoman Turkish courses at SOAS as part of my research on Islamic law in the Mamluk and Ottoman periods. In return for this funding, however, I have to do some research and Turkish-Greek/Turkish-English translation on behalf of the Caucasus Greek community.

    This brings me to my question Mrs Darke: If it’s not too much trouble I was wondering whether you could kindly help me/point me in the right direction to establish the current Turkish names of a few former Greek villages in the Erzinjan-Erzurum region. These used to be called, Ayia Yianni, Almi, and Chiplak or Chiflak.

    We already know most of the current Turkish names of the 50 or so former Greek villages in the Kars-Ardahan region when it was part of the Russian Caucasus province of Kars Oblast, and I personally was able to establish that the village now called Yanalti (on Ardahan plateau, and currently inhabited by Kurds) was called Varkenez when inhabited by Caucasus Greeks (including one of my own maternal great grandfathers). However, most of the Greeks who lived in this mainly Armenian part of the southern Caucasus only settled there following the Russian occupation in 1878, which many Caucasus Greeks – as fellow Christian Orthodox – had themselves directly contributed to by fighting in the Russian imperial army against the Ottomans and then joining the Russian regional police force. Many had originally come from Erzinjan-Erzurum or the Tsalka region of Georgia rather than the main Greek settlements in the Pontic alps like those around Gumushhane and Chaldia, on which most studies of Pontic Greek history and culture focus.

    I appreciate that right now your main focus is on Syria, but we would be extremely grateful if you could help with this information on our all too often ignored community and distant outpost of Greek culture in the Caucasus.

    Thank you

    Kind regards

    Nikola M Sardelis

  2. Dear Nikola

    Thank you for your very interesting comment. I have checked through all the reference material I have collected over the years on Eastern Turkey, but I only have detailed information and maps on the Kelkit Basin, that is, the Gumushane/Giresun/Tokat and Sivas regions, so a little too far north and west of the Erzincan and Erzurum areas. The information I have was produced by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism using the archives of the various municipalities, so maybe the Erzincan and Erzurum municipalities would be able to help. Another possibility is to ask on the H-Turk academic website, which is seen across the academic world. Anyone can subscribe to it, and the chances are someone, somewhere in the world will know the answers to your queries.

    Good luck in your quest, and I’ll include some of your information, if I may, in the new second edition update of my Bradt Eastern Guide.

    Best wishes

    ps. if you are interested in other small Christian communities, the BBC is tomorrow broadcasting my piece on the Syriac Christians of the Tur Abdin on Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent programme at 11.30am. It will also be on their website.

  3. Nikola M Sardelis on said:

    Dear Diana

    thanks ever so much for your response, it was extremely helpful, and so I will consult those municipalities and the H-Turk website.

    Thanks also for the offer to mention our community in the next edition of the Bradt guide to Eastern Turkey. Absolutely, I would be very happy for you to use my info for it – unlike the Islamic theology pieces I am currently writing nothing I do for the Caucasus Greek community is for academic credit. In fact, I was also asked to write a brief wikipedia article on the history of the Caucasus Greeks to help give the community more of an publicly accessible profile in the English speaking world among non-academics.

    Please dont let this stop you mentioning Caucasus Greeks in your book Diana, but because I ref to Greek conversions to Islam I decided to use a pseudonym for the Wikipedia page, since in the past I have had a few brushes with Golden Dawn, who are vehemently against that kind of info.

    Thanks also for the tip on your BBC 4 show, which I’m just about to listen to.

    Kind regards


  4. Estelle Smith on said:

    Dear Diana,
    I am reading your book about your house in Damascus. It is wonderful. My husband and I travelled to Damascus in 2008, we were encouraged to go by Mr Michael Portillo who had had an extremely interesting time in Syria and so did we. We can hardly watch the news now. Everyone was so very kind to us. Reading your book brings back so many very happy memories and explains many things I didn’t understand at the time. We had a wonderful guide and driver and we hope they are safe. Thank you again for your book.

  5. Thank you for taking the trouble to comment and I am very pleased you have enjoyed the book. It is also aimed at those who have never visited Syria and are just confused about what on earth is going on there, to help them understand it differently and more sympathetically. As you know, since you saw for yourselves, Syrians really do not deserve what is happening inside their country. I will be doing a tour of literary festivals in the autumn trying to promote the book and its message, as Syria is in danger of slipping off of people’s radar.

  6. Dear Diana

    I used your guidebook when travelling through Syria in better days and was interested to come across your new book more recently.

    I am part of a volunteer project to create a non-political blog platform where Syrians can share stories about their lives. Rather than focusing on the divisions, we are focusing on inclusive themes such as food, art, music and professions.

    The challenge for us is sourcing stories from ordinary Syrians. Based on the number of people you reference in your book, and the many more I am sure you have encountered over the years, I wondered whether you might be able to help us at all in terms of passing on this call for stories.

    If this interests you at all, please let me know and I can explain the aims of the project in more detail

    Many thanks


  7. Oliver Nicholson on said:

    Thank you for your detailed and interesting reporting. I wonder if Nikola Sardelis has tried getting from the library the relevant volumes of the ludicrously expensive four-volume guide to the monuments of Eastern Turkey by T.A. Sinclair. I am fairly certain that he records the Turkish names which have been imposed on most villages of Eastern Turkey in the past few decades as well as the traditional ones. For Pontus there is also of course the monumental study of Antony Bryer and the late David Winfield.

  8. Dear Diana,

    My name is Ashlee. I’m the co-founder of the Youshare Project, with the mission to connect people around the world through stories. I recently came across your website and am fascinated by your stories about Syria. I read, among others, your story entitled “Schizophrenia in Damascus.” It’s incredibly compelling and beautifully written. I think it would make a wonderful youshare, because it offers a glimpse into a place and situation that not many people see, and certainly not from this perspective. This hits the very core of youshare’s mission.

    Additionally, all youshare contributors are able to include a profile (which appears at the top right of the article) and link back to a personal website and/or social media page. The idea is to not only provide compelling stories, but also to ignite a respectful conversation in the comments section (defamatory, obscene, abusive, and threatening comments will not be tolerated, and these sections are monitored), and to provide additional resources for curious minds.

    If this sounds interesting to you, I would love to email you directly with more information and formally invite you to share your story with the project. You have my email address and website (although please note the site is still under development). I hope to hear from you soon.

    Warm regards,

    • Dear Ashlee

      Many thanks for your kind interest. I will be delighted to be involved in your project and will email you direct to reply fully.

      Best wishes


      • Dear Diana,

        Thank you for your reply to my comment. I am excited to have you join the project, and I look forward to receiving your email!

        Warm regards,

  9. Luca Savelli on said:

    Dear Diana,
    I have enjoyed the updated version of your book – and I am impressed (and envious despite the circumstances) that you get to go back to Damascus!

    About 8 months ago I asked you for advice on going to Urfa/Gaziantep/Mardin etc: I didn’t end up going (I went to Iran instead which I loved). Annoyingly now it is considered off limits by the overly cautious FCO though I would like to go (with my mother)- would you advise against it ( I am Italian )however ? I am more worried about the spill over from ISIS than historical Kurdish problems etc.

    I wistfully flick through your E Turkey guide book every now and then!

  10. Dear Luca, I agree that the FCO is overly cautious about the Urfa/Gaziantep/Mardin area. I do not think there is anything to be concerned about, and in Mardin in April there is even an EU-funded tourism promotion event. Of course it is up to you, but I know that the residents of Mardin say all is peaceful. Another friend has just been touring all round the Urfa/Gaziantep/Mardin/Midyat area by bus with his girlfriend and said all was fine.
    Happy travelling,

  11. Dear Diana, I know you are probably way to busy to read this, but I have decided to award you with the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. If you are interested in reading more about it, find it here: http://craftsandtravels.com/award/
    I am not dissappointed if you do not fetch your award, but I would just like to let you know that your blog is very interesting and mind opening to me.
    Thank you for your great work. I am sorry for all your heart must be going through.
    Best regards,

    • Thanks, Mandana, for your very kind words and support. I’m delighted you have found the blog interesting and hope it continues to inspire you. I will never give up on Syria, as it deserves so much better. All best wishes, Diana

  12. Hi Diana,

    How can I contact you about doing a talk? I’m from the University of Winchester.


  13. Dear Diana,

    I’m sorry if you received this yesterday already, however, it didn’t look as though it successfully sent, so I thought I had better try again.

    I am currently writing a book aimed at 9-12 year olds, which although is a work of fiction, a key part of it is about a young Syrian girl, who having escaped a gang of traffickers, finds herself in the UK without her family. I am currently in touch with an External Relations Associate from the UN Refugee agency to bring in as much fact as possible about the real experiences of refugees from Syria, however something I am struggling to find, is how a young Syrian who has already studied English in Syria, would speak. (ie, the verb usage, words that are often missed out, etc etc)

    In my search for a language specialist, I came across your name and page, and wondered if you had any thoughts on where I might find that kind of detailed information. I know that you don’t state that you are a language specialist, however I expect it was the LinkedIn title that brought your name up: ‎Syria specialist and Middle East cultural expert.

    I would be very grateful for any ideas you may have.

    All the best,

    Rachel Tetley

    • Dear Rachel

      I can probably help with that as I did start out as an Arabic language specialist. I can ask some Syrian friends whose children have only studied English inside Syria for some examples of how they speak. They are now mainly in Beirut, and have never been out of the Middle East. Give me a few days and I’ll get back to you – if you don’t hear, give me a nudge. Good luck with the book. All best wishes, Diana

  14. Hi Diana,

    I’m currently working on a piece about My House in Damascus (I loved it, by the way!) and have an odd question. Would you mind contacting me? Thank you!


  15. Neri McGinley on said:

    Dear Diana
    My husband and I were very impressed with your talk at Richmond Library last Sunday. I am enjoying reading House in Damascus at the moment. I would be grateful if you could let me know about your December talk at sixth formers schools; which schools are these please?My daughter is in Waldegrave School Twickenham and I wonder if it is one of these three schools maybe? She is 18 soon and intends to study International Relations at Nottingham and would very much be interested in following your work. I would also be very grateful for your advice on what extra information/activities she should follow during her studies. She is interested in Middle East as we lived in Damascus between 2001-2004 and in Jerusalem between 2004-2006 when she was little girl. Thank you. wishing you very best in life and career.

    • Dear Neri
      Thank you for your email and I’m glad the talk made an impression on you. My December schools’ talks are outside London, at Hurstpierpoint College in West Sussex and at Beechwood Sacred Heart in Tunbridge Wells. If your daughter’s school in Twickenham is interested, just let me know and I’m sure I could come and give a talk there. Twickenham is easy to get to for me. My advice to your daughter is to follow world affairs through many different media sources – British, American, Russian, European, Arab – to get a good range of angles.
      With best wishes to you and for your daughter’s future.

  16. This is a comment about your recent article in the BBC News – The Return of the Cat Man to Aleppo. I’m amazed at how many ginger cats there are. It this some sort of Syrian strain of cat? Ginger cats are fairly rare here.

    • It’s not a Syrian strain, but ginger cats seem to be commoner across the Middle East generally. In the Middle East it’s tabbies that are rarer, which is why Maxi is special and was chosen as the Marketing King!

      • Thank you. I was surprised and curious about the ginger – rare here. I loved the story. He’s a wonderful man. It is inspiring to read about people like him. Em

  17. Dear Diana,

    I just wanted to write to say how much I’m enjoying your book , My House in Damascus.

    Wonderfully insightful, beautifully written, a heartfelt piece of work for a country , culture and people you love.

    Your book is certainly in the top three
    ( the other two, by the way are Return of a King by William Dalrymple & The Epic City by Kushanava Choudhury) of the many I’ve read during this whole lockdown period.

    Great books help make the world a better place .
    I look forward to reading more by you.

    Best wishes ,

    Bernard .

  18. Jennifer M on said:

    Hi Diana,

    Very much enjoying My House in Damascus. Thank you for sharing such a vivid rendition both of the place and people and the realization of your dream. The suffering and destruction that this beautiful country of tolerance and our shared human history has faced in the past decade is a tragedy beyond comprehension.

    I also enjoyed becoming aware of MECAS. Having studied in Arabic language centers in Fez and Cairo, I can imagine the colorful cast of characters you likely encountered then. In fact, I stumbled across a small book documenting exactly that and the history of MECAS, published by Oxford University Press. You may enjoy it if you haven’t already read it.

    I hope I can someday visit some of the monasteries, shrines, and mountain villages you wrote about. In my twenties, I was fortunate to travel over land in a circuit from Beirut to Byblos, Damascus, Amman, Jerusalem, Eilat, Dahab, and back to Cairo. It was a fascinating and memorable journey and I fell in love with Damascus, always intending to return. I hope I will be able to in my lifetime, and this time venture to points north.

    Many thanks to you for the wonderful book and for continuing to give voice to the country and its people.

    All the best,

  19. Mohammad Abdul Motalib on said:

    Hi Diana, My house in Damascus is one of the finest book I have ever read . You never get tired of reading this book. Just wondering if you have any recent update or whereabouts of those human beings you encountered and mentioned in your book on Syria?

    • Thank you Mohammad, that is very kind of you and very touching for me to know. The book suffered many rejections from publishers, and I’d almost given up, when Haus suddenly accepted it – one of the happiest moments of my life. As to your question, yes, I am in touch with the people in the book. Some have died, tragically, some have emigrated, and one family has made it to Canada after waiting 8 years in Beirut to get their asylum application accepted. Only a few are still inside Syria, struggling, but managing, and always putting a cheerful face on things, in spite of the challenges. They are amazing people. Thanks again for your interest in the book and in the people. Best wishes, Diana

      • Mohammad Abdul Motalib on said:

        Hi Diana, I just finished your book for the second time. It was great. Just wondering have you been able to recover your house?



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