Last month, for the first time in six years, the Syrian government hosted an international trade fair in Damascus. Staged at a fairground in the southern outskirts of the capital, near the airport, the exhibition was promoted as a sign of victory for President Bashar al-Assad. Russian, Iranian and Chinese companies headlined the list of attendees, which also included representatives of European firms.
The fair—last held in the summer of 2011, as Syria’s uprising was just turning into a civil war—“sends a message that the war has ended … and we are at the start of the path towards reconstruction,” said Bouthaina Shaaban, an Assad adviser who is often the face of the regime to Western media.
But the war is still rumbling on. When they arrived at the fair, attendees might have seen smoke rising in the distance in Damascus’ battered suburbs or heard the sound of shelling up the highway. Two days after the event opened, mortar fire hit the fairground’s entrance, reportedly killing six people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war. The violence went unmentioned by Syrian state media.