By Stephen PeirisBeirut
16 March 2016
Many people in the
East love pigeons - it's a passion that can dissolve all religious
and national divisions. Some of the finest birds were bred in until the
civil war intervened. Now Syrian birds are being smuggled to Syria , across
front lines and through areas controlled by the Hezbollah militia. Lebanon
"Five kilometres from here are the marijuana fields," I'm told as I step out of the car in front of a pet shop in
Lebanon's . North Bekaa
Darkness enshrouds us. An ape in a cage stares as I walk past. I pause to take a photo but a strong arm pulls me away.
"No photos outside. This is Hezbollah territory."
I had already worked that out. The marijuana fields are Hezbollah's too - and apparently a significant source of income. But my companions seem less relaxed than before so I put the camera away and ask if this means we're in danger.
"No," comes the answer.
"You're here with
al-Hindi. You're here for the pigeons."
My interest in the pigeon smugglers of
Syria was sparked in Amman,
the cosmopolitan capital of Jordan,
at Nasser al-Hindi's home.
He has bred pigeons for more than 30 years and the coop on his roof contains birds unlike any ever seen mobbing tourists on
London Trafalgar Square.
The breeds have poetic names - Ablak, Baghdadi, Rihani, Shikli. Some specimens are valued at $15,000 (£10,500) or more and many wear jewelled anklets on their feet.
The full collection is worth well over $1m (£705,000) and the 250-plus birds live in a style that befits their value: the coop is air-conditioned, with rows of individual cages for star pigeons, and a separate veterinary wing.