Mr. Saad Fansa is a Syrian writer, photographer, researcher, excavator, and specialist in the ancient civilizations of Syria. He worked for nearly 30 years in the archaeological field as a keeper of the archives and as director of the Photography Department in Syria’s General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums.
Among his many accomplishments, Mr. Fansa has worked in the Lebanese and Arab press since the mid-1980s in addition to his work as director of archaeological photography and documentation at the National Museum and as a lecturer at the Institute of Antiquities. He has published many books and research papers, participated in many exhibitions, and given archaeology lectures.
Mr. Fansa has also filmed and directed two documentaries on Syrian antiquities and received a variety of awards and patents of appreciation from various Arab and international centers and organizations in the art of photography.
Currently living in the US, Mr. Fansa is the founder and owner of the Washington International Publishing House where he published two books related to the modern history of Syria and the Levant region.
Recently, SYRIAWISE spent time catching up with Mr. Saad Fansa at his home in Washington DC.
You are descended from a family with a history of political activity and some of your ancestors were closely related to decision-making centers after Syria gained its independence from the French colonialism. Did you follow the same path during the era of Hafez Assad and his son Bashar?
No, absolutely not! Because even those who were older and more experienced than I in the history, national and political heritage of our country were ostracized from all political and scientific aspects of Syrian society — first by the Baath regime, and then even more so by the dynastic rule of Hafez Assad and his son who succeeded him as heir to their sectarian rule.
The worst effects of their Mafia-style rule have been the extermination of the middle class to which most segments of Syrian society previously belonged and the displacement of the great national human symbols of Syria with Baath party slogans. For half a century they have also been subjecting the Syrian people to all manner of impoverishment and looting of the national wealth.
What is the importance of archaeology in strengthening the concept of citizenship?
Archaeology is the study of the physical evidence of the evolution of humanity on this earth and its cultural heritage — without chauvinistic slogans. It is the early detection of the expanding human role in the Levant region which provided humanity with great innovations that changed the culture of the world in conjunction with other civilizations in different parts of the world. As a researcher, excavator, and specialist in the past civilizations of Syria, I see it from a different angle. Archaeology is much deeper, wider, and more important than the issue of citizenship.
Do you think the contemporary generations in Syria comprehend the reality of Syria’s history and ancient civilizations as they should? Or has their perception of their homeland been perverted by the constant “bombardment” of political propaganda in Syria’s educational institutions?
The problem is the slogan-oriented “backward” system of the controlling Baath party which deviates from real scientific and historical concepts in favor of promoting political myths or religious chauvinism and building new myths that are accepted by the usurped mind.
Today we have a Syria that has been deliberately destroyed, intellectually as well as physically. It is my opinion that this mentality that fought to achieve the illusion of victory in Syria has contributed to a large extent in the destruction of Syria, its present, and its future. Especially its archaeological heritage which has not, and will not, be restored, unfortunately.
Historical references mention a lot about the theft and smuggling of Syrian antiquities throughout history. Can you shed light on the crimes that were active during your documentation work in this field?
Saad Zaghloul al-Kawakibi, head of the Al-Adiyat Association in Aleppo and grandson of the great Syrian thinker Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi, once said: “The people whose legacy and generation are not connected to inherited memories are an alien people, and they are far from protecting that heritage.”
I am sad to say that many Syrians are not aware of the value of their nation’s heritage and priceless antiquities.
I say this with pain in my heart. There is no willful or deliberate ignorance in my opinion, as was the case with the ignorance practiced by successive governments in Syria since 1963. Such destruction has not occurred in the archeology of a country as happened in Syria. That is what I reported and published during my work in the press many decades ago.
What happened in Syria shows the deliberate establishment of this mentality, and that is why different factions of the conflict on all sides participated in the looting and destruction of Syria’s antiquities
These are archaeological and historical scandals and crimes: to steal the memory of a people in front of their eyes and to get rich from the account of their national wealth.
My testimony — as I always say — I leave it to be told in full before an international court that holds accountable the system of corruption and whoredom that traded everything in Syria just to further their own personal agenda.
This corrupt regime traded in blood, organs, drugs, prostitution, oil, gas, and basic wealth. It has sold ports, airports, and impoverished people. Thus, archaeology is but a small circle in the large picture of crimes being committed in Syria under the rule of the Baath party.
Were you able to take your documentary archive from Syria when you came to America?
The archive of the National Museum, and other museums for which I was responsible, belong to the Syrian people so they were not mine and are not owned by anyone. Like those who preceded me, I preserved them until the moment I left Syria. I don’t know what has happened to them since.
As for my private archives, and my father’s archives — his extensive library, books, and manuscripts, I know nothing about them except that some were stolen and sold on the sidewalks which depressed and frustrated me. Because these things were the legacy of my father, my uncle, and my mother to me and I desperately needed them to complete my documentary project about the region after establishing the Publishing House.
What are the direct reasons that forced you to leave the Syrian museums and antiquities that you grew up among and migrate to the United States of America?
In fact, there were several reasons. In summary, I am just like the rest of the Syrian people. I do not claim any honor or any acts of revolutionary heroism. I had accepted job humiliation, had accepted the corruption I saw and corrupt people being raised to the highest positions, and had accepted the corporate silence about their corruption and thefts. I had witnessed a lot of stupidity and backwardness in the administration that could not be reformed. But I could NOT accept the killing of innocent people and demonstrators demanding a loaf of bread, a job opportunity, or a better life. It was only natural that I left everything behind me to stand on the side of the people’s voice, with nothing in my hand but a pen and a camera lens. With them, I was able to paint a picture of the ominous reality that the rotten Assad regime brought to Syria with the Iranians, Russians, and other occupiers in order to keep itself on top of the putrid scene.
It was impossible for me to write the reality, or to portray it with its facts, as it was happening — even as I learned about its interior workings through close observation in Damascus. I would have been killed immediately like many of my students and fellow journalists who were terminated by the regime.
I announced my position frankly from Damascus and declared that I supported the people’s voice and their movement to end the rule of Bashar Assad and his criminal regime. And that’s why I had to leave.
Do you have a plan during your stay in America to follow up on your work by documenting everything related to the Syrian issue?
Unfortunately, there is nothing. I am without a stable job and the formal opposition institutions, which match the mentality and corrupt management of Assad’s regime have followed the same course to the point of similarity. No one is interested in what I have done or am doing. I have known a handful of opponents closely, and they are in my opinion and the opinion of independent, free people and true revolutionaries, nothing more than a group of shallow-educated beneficiaries looking for some role in the future of Syria. It is them and their failed performance that has kept Bashar Assad in power until today while he is preparing to bequeath his son, Hafez Assad, the grandson, his presidency just as it happened and is happening in North Korea.
Without Frills, the Bila Rotoush Arabic website, is an important source of documentation of the memories, life and creativity of Syrian writers and creators. Have most of your written material been published on this site?
No. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen because most of my literary and journalistic manuscripts were kept in my libraries in Damascus and Aleppo and I lost a large part of them. I don’t know what happened to my files after I left and time is passing quickly. I feel a lot of disappointment and real despair about the dark future that is waiting for the Syrian people due to their dependency on the corrupt regime and acceptance of both religious and political propaganda, poverty, and sustainable looting. Even more dangerous today is the massive demographic change. If there is no regime change, there will never be a major change in the warped mentality and corrupt political administration in Syria. Only the faces will change, and along with them will come a new rabble hungry for power. I will not regret disclosing to people what I see happening to them in the future if their condition remains as it is today. The coming facts do not bode well for them.
The website Without Frills used to publish some of my ruminations and gave me space to express my thoughts freely which no other site provided. Through the SYRIAWISE platform, I convey a salute to the wonderful friend, editor-in-chief, and founder of Without Frills, Maher Homsi, who gave me a free voice and a sky without limits through which I could express my thoughts and bold research which other sites hesitated to publish.
Having spent most of your life in Syria, you know first-hand that Syrians are not taught an accurate history of their homeland by the regime-controlled educational institutions. Through your work in documenting the Syrian civilization through American, British, and French documentation, do you believe their accounts are consistent with what actually happened in Syria?
I think this question is very important. It summarizes the value of the documentary books I produced. The research was long and impossible to summarize in a few words but I can tell you this: my knowledge of the secret and dangerous documents about the history of Syria and the region came after my arrival in Washington, DC. After learning about the horrendous amount of true, hidden secret history, I may have a more accurate vision and foreboding of coming events — much more than before.
History is a teacher, a great and superior teacher in its lessons for those who study it, dive into its events, and read it with impartiality away from personal disputes and biases.
What is the message of researcher and photographer Saad Fansa today, while we are in the twelfth year of the Syrian revolution and the Assad regime and his allies are still stealing Syria’s antiquities?
I am neither a theorist nor a jurist and I do not claim that my words carry any more weight than anyone else’s. But I am a proud writer, and my writings were widely read. I am also a photographer who documented the archaeology of my country during the course of my life. I also held many exhibitions and lectures that brought to light the most ambiguous parts of knowledge and raised questions evoking minds to escape the swamp they had been exiled to by the alliance of misguided religious leaders with criminal politicians. As for me, I was not rebellious against the murderous regime alone, but against the symbols of the society that produced it. And for that, I have paid an exorbitant price throughout my own history, not the least of which includes the loss of my homeland, exile, and poverty. Sadly, I do not see any glimmer of hope for me or anyone else belonging to the bereaved Syrian people to change these miserable conditions at this time, or even in the foreseeable future.