Diana Darke

The merchant of Syria

(Understanding the recent history of the region through one man’s life journey)

Diana Darke will give an illustrated talk on The Merchant of Syria, her latest book, the result of four years’ research into the socio-economic history of Syria through the life of one man, a textile merchant from Homs (1921-2013). 

The talk will provide an accessible way to help understand the last hundred years of history in Syria and the Middle East, through the real merchant who lived through it all himself.

The talk goes well beyond an intimate view of the merchant’s extraordinary life, to explore Syria’s long and multicultural mercantile tradition, and to contextualise the turbulent backdrop against which his life was lived. It considers his business ethic and motivation for wealth creation. 

The war economies of the current and previous conflicts are reviewed, along with the various social dynamics that have driven and continue to drive so much of the country’s entrenched corruption. In conclusion it looks for clues from the merchant’s life that may provide pointers for the future as the country seeks to extricate itself from its greatest ever tragedy.

Diana Darke studied Arabic at Oxford University, before beginning her professional career with GCHQ in Cheltenham as an Arabic linguist. She went on to spend over twenty years working in the intelligence and counter-terrorism world, with both the British government and British industry, whilst living in a range of Arab countries, including Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Oman and Dubai. Along the way she authored 15 guidebooks on the region, including five on Turkey, most recently Bradt’s Oman, Eastern Turkey, North Cyprus and Syria.

In 2005 she bought a semi-derelict courtyard house in the Old City of Damascus, restoring it with the help of local craftsmen, a process which enabled her to become deeply embedded in Syrian society, and also led her back into the academic world to take an MA in Islamic Art and Architecture at London’s SOAS. The outcome was her widely acclaimed book My House in Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Crisis (3rd edition 2016). Her work on Syria has been published by the BBC website, the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent, The Sunday Times, The Times, The Guardian and the FT. 

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