Ralph Mathekga

A bleak Christmas

2016-12-26 08:47
Syrians evacuated from the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo during the ceasefire arrive at a refugee camp in Rashidin, near Idlib, Syria. (AP Photo)

Syrians evacuated from the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo during the ceasefire arrive at a refugee camp in Rashidin, near Idlib, Syria. (AP Photo)

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This year's Christmas has been quite depressing for me, and probably for most people who did not find much to celebrate. 

Firstly, it was tragic waking up to the news that a Russian military jet that was flying from Sochi to Syria crashed in the Black Sea, leaving all 92 passengers and the crew dead. 

Being the news junkie I am, the crash just revealed that it has been a bad year all the way to Christmas. I know that some might say the crashing of the Russian jet was karma paying a visit to Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in assisting President Bashar al-Assad to hold on to power in a civil war-ravaged Syria.

Whether or not one support Putin ‘s intervention in Syria, the crash of the jet brought to the fore pictures of what was happening in the Syrian town of Aleppo which has seen most intense fighting in recent weeks. Through Russian military intervention, Assad’s army retained control of Aleppo from the rebels. 

The humanitarian crisis in Syria is unpalatable; even to warmongers. 

I remember flying near the Black Sea on my way to Germany. I had taken off from Doha in Qatar, which is in the Middle East. The flight path we took from Qatar to Berlin showed that the pilot was flying around the Black Sea. This resulted in the trip becoming slightly longer. Had the pilot flew right over the Black Sea, we would have reached Berlin an hour or so earlier. 

The reason why we had to go around the Black Sea is that the area is partially a conflict zone between Ukraine and Russia. This is the conflict that has resulted in the shooting down of passenger aircraft MH17 in 2014. Since then, commercial airlines have been avoiding the Black Sea. 

Of course, at this point, no one knows yet what actually caused the Russian military jet crash.  

Conflict in the Middle East and unrest in Ukraine affect the airspace and time it takes to travel around the world. A flight path from the Gulf States, including Qatar, is a long negotiation through a conflict zone, which significantly extends travel time as airline pilots are making their way through the conflict-riddled airspace. It’s like walking on landmines. 

Take for example Turkey, which shares a border with Syria and Iraq. If you are flying from South Africa to Turkey, for example, the flight would have to go around Syria and Iraq shortly before entering Turkish airspace, slightly extending flying time. Flying over Syria and Iraq would be a direct and quicker way to enter into Turkey, but it’s not a good idea given the intensity of military conflict in the area.

Be that as it may, flying remains the quicker and safer way of travelling. However, military conflict in the Middle East and some parts of Ukraine have increased the cost of travelling exponentially. This affects everyone irrespective of whether one lives in a conflict zone. 

The dire humanitarian crisis in Syria has somehow shown that the word is increasingly becoming desensitised to fellow human sufferings. For those in the Syrian town of Aleppo, the human casualties from the crash of the Russian jet are ordinary tragedies compared to what Syrians have experienced throughout the year. 

For Syrians, whether Muslim or Christian, this could not have been a good year at all. Even more uncertain for them is the future. 

- Ralph Mathekga is an independent political analyst and author of the book When Zuma Goes. He writes a weekly column for News24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    russia  |  syria  |  travel
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