Now Is Not a Good Time to Vacation in Damascus

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A Russian judge recently thought it would be a good idea to take his holiday in Syria and pretend to be a war correspondent. And guess what happened: he got shot in the face and almost died. The whole thing is on YouTube.

The sad and inevitably absurd tale of Sergey Aleksandrovich Berezhnoy was brought to light on Thursday night by The New York Times's Lede blog, who explored all avenues to figure out why the judge was in Syria. Berezhnoy's brush with death actually happened on Monday, but the story's been bouncing around the web all week, sometimes arriving at very curious conclusions. Although his wife said that Berezhnoy went to Syria "on a charity mission," his boss in the Russian city of Belgorod said it was a vacation. As soon as Berezhnoy's name appeared in the press, however, everyone quickly realized that he spent years working as a Soviet intelligence officer, leading to the suspicion that he had been embedded with the Syrian army to spy on them. More reports said that it was a sniper that shot him in the face as well as the leg. Was it an assassination attempt? Is it a conspiracy? Motherland? Who the heck knows. Berezhnoy on his way to a miraculous recovery and said on Thursday that he was just a tourist in Damascus and "not military intel, not saboteur, not spy."

Which brings us to the moral of the story: Do not even think about vacationing in Syria right now. One would think that this is a given, that the citizens of the world would see the photographs of bombed out streets in Damascus and watch the firefights in Aleppo and think, "Hey, maybe Croatia would be a better destination this year." (Croatia is very beautiful this time of year, much less crowded than the summer when all the dang Brits invade.) Believe it or not, though, war tourism in Syria is really catching on lately. Earlier this month, the AFP told the story of Toshifumi Fujimoto, a Japanese trucker with a photography hobby and a thrill-seeking disposition. He also went to Yemen at the height of the unrest there as well as Cairo. His next stop is Afghanistan, where he wants to hang out with the Taliban. Good luck with that, Toshifumi.

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But what you going to do? If people really want to spend their days off dodging bullets on the front line, well, they are adults, and they are free to make whatever bad decisions they want. And if they survive, just think of how exciting the look-at-our-vacation-pictures ritual would be, not to mention the cool points you'd get down at the pub. With that scar and that story Sergey Aleksandrovich Berezhnoy may never have to buy his own drinks again.

Watch the video of Berezhnoy's shooting at your own risk. It is graphic.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.