Home / World / Russian Spring Break 2016: Syria’s Front Lines | Siobhán O’grady
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Syrians evacuate victims following air strikes on the town of Douma in the eastern Ghouta region, a rebel stronghold east of the capital Damascus, on December 13, 2015. At least 28 civilians were killed in heavy bombardment of the besieged Syrian rebel stronghold, including near a school, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.  AFP PHOTO / SAMEER AL-DOUMY / AFP / SAMEER AL-DOUMY        (Photo credit should read SAMEER AL-DOUMY/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - GRAPHIC CONTENT Syrians evacuate victims following air strikes on the town of Douma in the eastern Ghouta region, a rebel stronghold east of the capital Damascus, on December 13, 2015. At least 28 civilians were killed in heavy bombardment of the besieged Syrian rebel stronghold, including near a school, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. AFP PHOTO / SAMEER AL-DOUMY / AFP / SAMEER AL-DOUMY (Photo credit should read SAMEER AL-DOUMY/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian Spring Break 2016: Syria’s Front Lines | Siobhán O’grady

While much of the world desperately searches for a solution to the nearly five-year civil war in Syria, Russian travel agency Megapolis has a different idea in mind: send Russian tourists to the front lines to make a profit off the deadly conflict.

Starting in 2016, Megapolis plans to sell what it has coined as “Assad Tours” — prepaid vacations to bring Russians to Syria for four- or five-day trips, all for the low cost of just $1,500. The name of the expedition is neither surprising nor original — a Russian airstrike campaign has for months bombarded rebel strongholds in an attempt to bolster Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  

But according to Anatoly Aronov, the president of the First Patent Company, which reportedly helped file Megapolis’s licensing application with Moscow, there are a number of “advantages” for Russians to travel to Syria right now. (According to a report in Interfax, a Russian news agency, a spokesman for the federal tourism agency said he had not yet received the company’s application.)

But Aronov told Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta that Russians would likely enjoy their experience because Syrians are used to the presence of Russian troops, some of whom proclaimed in October that they have “been there since the beginning and will stay to the end.”

And the large number of Syrians who have studied in Russian universities, and therefore speak Russian, means tourists won’t have to worry too much about interpreters.

Plus, Syrians are so cash-strapped they may even want to house the tourists for a small payment.

Never mind that the conflict has forced millions of refugees to flee to neighboring countries — including hundreds of thousands who have braved the dangerous trip to Europe — or that the U.N. estimates more than an additional 7 million people who have been forced from their homes remain in Syria. Or, even, that Assad’s regime, Russia, France, the United States, and others are regularly dropping bombs on the besieged country.

Megapolis is reportedly already in negotiations with hotels and transportation services in Syria, and Aronov said it is currently awaiting approval from the appropriate government officials in both Moscow and Damascus.

And if any company knows how to organize such an insane endeavor, it’s likely a Russian one. Last year, a Russian company by the name Megapolis Kurort announced a similar trip to war-torn eastern Ukraine. According to pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia, the trips were advertised as lasting around four days and costing upward of $3,000 — about double the price of the Syria trip. It wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday whether the two were the same company. 

Even Aronov questions the mentality of those who are willing to pay to visit some of the most dangerous places in the world.

“You’re asking how many crazies will show up? All tourists are crazy — they pay money to see things they could watch for free on television,” he said.  

SourcE: http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/12/15/russian-spring-break-2016-syrias-front-lines/

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