Love, goes the song, is a battlefield. Couples in Syria are finding that the conflict has undermined traditional marriage ceremonies.
For most couples, the conflict has created severe economic hardship. This, combined with the death of family members and the displacement of millions of people, has transformed traditions surrounding courtship and the pursuit of love and marriage. Many have also had to adjust their expectations and priorities when it comes to the wedding ceremony itself.
After saving up for several years, the day had finally come for Emile, a 33-year-old English teacher from the countryside near Damascus, to buy a ring for his fiancée. Much to his dismay, Emile found that the price of rings in his local shop had skyrocketed.
“The prices of gold, clothes and properties have soared. Wedding rings now cost what used to cover a year of apartment rent,” he told Syria Deeply.
The monthly rent for an apartment used to be about $30 or $40, but today it ranges between $100 and $120, he said.
The couple were forced to lower their expectations, but still wanted to celebrate their engagement.
“We didn’t want to have an engagement party at home and then post our picture on Facebook like others have been doing, so we decided to go with a cheap place and a simple engagement party with few snacks to save for the wedding.”
However, four months after the engagement party, Emile and his fiancé Caroline found themselves in a financial bind once again, when Caroline got sick.
“I had a health issue and had to have a simple surgery, but it cost me 100,000 Syrian pounds ($400) instead of the pre-conflict price of 25,000 S.P. ($100), in addition to what I lost because I had to stop teaching and tutoring for two weeks,” she said.
Unfortunately, the couple’s troubles increased when they tried to buy an apartment and found that property prices and rent had nearly tripled due to the large numbers of displaced people fleeing to the relatively quiet cities in Syria.
“Buying an apartment of 80-100 square meters in Damascus used to cost between 800,000 ($3,200) and 2,000,000 S.P. ($8,000). The same apartment today costs between 2,500,000 S.P ($10,000) and 5,500,000 ($22,000),” Emile said.
“The money I had was now barely enough for a year of rent. Buying or even getting a loan was impossible.”
Emile and Caroline finally abandoned their wedding plans and used the money to fix his parents’ house so they could live there.
Although less tangible than the physical destruction of war, the effect on the people’s psychological well-being of the erosion of shared traditions is profound. Tradition and culture not only bind people together, but also promote resilience and a common identity and purpose.
Samir, 28, a party photographer in Sahnaya, south of Damascus, confirms that people have no choice but to scale back on their weddings.
“Weddings are not less frequent than they were before. There are plenty of them,” but he adds that people’s approach to weddings has changed.
Most people, for example, don’t book a video recording service any more. They only use professional photographers at all because it is cheaper.
“The fact that people don’t book video recording any more has decreased my profits. I chose video initially because I don’t need any additional materials to do my job and it pays well.”
“Now, people video record the wedding using their own cell phones,” Samir says.
“I used to have five weddings at the height of the summer season before the conflict, now there is no season and I have three weddings a week approximately. We also used to print out a beautiful photo album for the couples, but no one can afford that any more.”