Arwad is unique for being Syria's only inhabited island, located off the coast of Tartous province. As part of this ongoing series about ordinary life in various localities in Syria, I interviewed Dr. Muhammad Jamal Ahmad Basso. A dentist by training, he was previously the head of the Arwad municipal council.*
This interview was conducted on 29-30 July 2019. It is slightly edited and condensed for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: Can you tell me a little about the history of the locality of Arwad? And can you tell me a little about the locality in a general sense in the present time? How many martyrs has Arwad offered in defence of Syria during the crisis?
A: The area of the island is 20 hectares and we live on 13 hectares. As for the remaining hectares, they are rocks surrounding the island and built by the Phoenicians to protect the island from the waves and cover against the enemies. And these rocks are known by the name of the Phoenician walls. The island is at a distance of 3 km from Tartous. The number of resident inhabitants is around 10,000 and there are around 5000 living in the towns of the Syrian Sahel [coast] in Tartous, Banias and Latakia and also in Tripoli in Lebanon.
Its most prominent ruins: the central fortress and the coastal fortress, known as the Ayyubi tower and the Phoenician wall.
Its people work in professions related to the sea, so they are skilled fishermen and accomplished sailors. And among the professions they are known for is making wooden boats that are considered the prettiest and strongest in the Mediterranean Sea. There is also the trade of sea molluscs and making fishing nets etc.
The island has offered 5 martyrs in this crisis.
On Arwad there are a health centre, post office, foundational and thanawi education, harbors and a police station.
And we should note that for the first time we held the first Arwad tourism festival on 29 September 2018. That was supervised by the Minister of Tourism the engineer Bashr Riyadh Yaziji and the governor of Tartous the lawyer Safwan Abu Sa'ada.
Q: How is the current situation on the island in terms of services like electricity and water?
A: The electricity comes to the island on a cable line that comes from Tartous through the sea in addition to the phone and Internet line and likewise the water.
Q: The national grid electricity comes for how many hours a day? And the water is always available from the state network?
A: The electricity in Arwad lasts continually and likewise the water, but the electricity can be cut off in it like any neighbourhood in Tartous, for it is considered one of the neighbourhoods of Tartous in the time of rationing, and currently there is no rationing.
Q: Can you tell me a little about the municipal council? The number of members, the main offices and the greatest accomplishments of the municipal council recently etc. Are there any development projects on the island currently?
A: The municipal council is composed of 12 members, and the executive office composed of 5 members. The most important of its accomplishments was its definitive signing of the organizational plan in November 2017. The organizational plan has made plans for the building of a number of tourist projects like the diving club and the mall in addition to the lighthouse restaurant and the boat restaurant. And among the accomplishments is giving a permit to build a four-star hotel and all the necessary agreements have been given and we are waiting for the work to begin. And agreement was obtained recently and two days ago to permit filling up the sea in the designated area to establish a sea industry area in Arwad.
Q: What are the main challenges that the locality is facing right now from the realm of services?
A: The most important of the challenges that the locality is facing: it is to be rid of the garbage, and this issue was partially resolved in 2018 by transferring garbage to Tartous and that was through the directives of the governor of Tartous the lawyer Safwan Abu Sa'ada. Then help came from the Minister of Local Administration and Environment- the engineer Hussein Makhlouf- at a value of 1,000,000 Syrian pounds for matters of cleaning. And now the current council is working on distributing these sums to make use of them in purchasing containers, baskets and vehicles, as well as building a big vessel to gather and transport the garbage to Tartous more actively. And we should note that Minister of Local Administration and Environment sent to the island a Bobcat as it comes to Arwad for the first time, facilitating work on the island.
(Update 31 July 2019): Interviewee's bio slightly altered at his request. Also some insertions at his request regarding titles of ministers.