When popular uprisings broke out across the Middle East at the start of 2011, journalists around the world came up with catchy names to describe the series of revolutions. The most popular name with the western media was Arab Spring, but one of the lesser terms had the most interesting subtext: The Jasmine Revolution.
The phrase was meant to symbolize how democracy was blooming like a flower across Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen and Syria. Five years later, we can see that things were not so simple. In Syria, hopes for democratic reforms unraveled into a civil war that has sparked one of the largest refugee crises in history.
The Jasmine flower is traditionally known as a symbol of peace and happiness in Syria, so naming a violent and calamitous event after it is particularly ironic. But what makes the Jasmine flower so synonymous with Syria that it would be used to name a revolution?
Syria’s unofficial national flower is beloved for several reasons, but what stands out is its distinctive aroma. The sweet smell has been used throughout history as a calming agent, antidepressant and aphrodisiac. The flower can easily be found across Syria, and is an important part of the country’s landscape.
While Syria may not produce as many flowers as some other countries in Asia, its climate is ideal for cultivating aromatic flowers like Jasmine and Hibiscus. Damascus, Syria’s capital, is even nicknamed the City of Jasmine because the scent can be picked up wherever you go in the populous city. Syrians have made good use of the Jasmine flower for thousands of years, brewing tea infused with that unmistakable taste.
The flower’s delicateness is part of what makes it a key ingredient. SuraiTea’s Jalal Shikh Omar says the tea means a lot to the people of Syria. “I am from a farm originally, and we know how precious the plant is when it is harvested,” says Jalal. “It is part of our tradition, it brings us together, sitting and spending time together talking. It is part of our life.”