Death of Aleppo is an Al Jazeera documentary that was recorded in August 2016 showing drastic pictures of what life looks like in a war-torn city. That documentary widely focuses on the individual level of analysis of the war-torn city of Aleppo where everyone from an infant to a person in his late 60s is dealing with a lot of unfairness. Bamboozling sounds of shells, missiles, bombs, and fighter jets are common in the city since President Bashar Al Assad lost control of it and many other parts of his country, Syria. People of Syria like many others in the region had come in the streets to demand liberty and democracy during the internationally known Arab Spring. They were protesting to get rid of the decades’ long dictatorships of Hafez Al Assad and his successor. The very shackles which were to be broken down, got the state trapped in iron and blood, causing severe damage to every single Syrian in one way or the other.
Quoting the Al Jazeera documentary again, things have not changed much since. Though the reconstruction of the city is under wide discussion on vital media channels and tourists are also trying to portray a positive image of the city, but things are not as pleasant as those were before the war. For that purpose, this article will compare the pre-war Aleppo with the post-war one.
The culture of hammam was once a beloved ritual of Aleppo. People liked to take bath in hammams. Since the eruption of the civil war, there is a danger of losing the cultural values, proverbs, quotes, and even historic infrastructure of the city is how Aleppians put it. Aleppo was Syria’s biggest city of commerce and industry. It was a diverse city too, as there were up to 250,000 Christians living peacefully among Muslims there. Aleppo was also known for its scenic beauty, earning her a great number of tourists every year. The diverse culture of the city, its food, and history used to fetch a lot of money for Syria.
Jamal Kharrat, who lived in Aleppo for nineteen years (1993–2012) states in ‘The Washington Post’, “The city (Aleppo) was always crowded. Famous for good food. The city captures a lot of histories and peoples.” Another man named John Stavinoha from Texas, visited Aleppo just before the civil war broke out, states, “This was not long before the civil war began. Part of the visit was to the Aleppo Citadel. We arrived in the late afternoon and the weather was beautiful and the light was beautiful and we walked to the top where there was [a] mosque complex. It was not a large mosque, but from there you had an excellent view of the city.” Such responses show that Aleppo was a friendly place for its tourists and a lovely one for those who used to live in it.
Life in Syria including Aleppo, changed since the region was under protests. Though nations like Egypt and Tunis were able to get rid of the dictators they didn’t like, but this was not the case with the Syrians. Syrians lost the Syria the once knew.
Life in Aleppo also changed so quickly that soon after 2011, the city was divided into two parts; one held by the rebel forces and the other controlled by the government. Hundreds of thousands of Aleppians escaped the war, becoming refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced, whereas many got killed in airstrikes, shelling, and by many other lethal means. The famous child Arman was also a child from Aleppo.
Yasser, a man in his fifties, living in Boustan Al-Qaser neighborhood in Aleppo, told the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that he has witnessed the conflict since its eruption in 2011 and meeting a formal end in December 2016. He stated, “We did not have access to the basic necessities of life; the situation there was in a state of paralysis. My youngest son was always hungry as there was nothing to eat or drink. However, today he is absolutely delighted by the fact that he can now eat bread and sweets. As we were short of water and electricity, we had to go to the farm [a small area of land inside Boustan Al-Qaser used for growing vegetables] to get two kilos of aubergine. We would stand in a queue for up to four hours. Eating aubergine dipped with sweet oil used to cost 10,000 Syrian pounds. Jam was clearly unaffordable for many people. As food items were extremely expensive, we were forced to eat different kinds of lentil-based food. As a result, I lost 25 kilos.”
“We were caught between the two conflicting sides. We seemed to have been stuck between a rock and a hard place as there was no way out. I would not have wanted any human being to go through the kinds of hardships that we did.” Yasser
People were often afraid of turning on the lights at nights as the Russian jets might target them considering the presence of the terrorists they were looking for. A man who had few pigeons told Al Jazeera that he cannot fly his pigeons the way he used to make them fly as staying on the terrace is dangerous and can cost him his life. Later, that man was killed as a result of an airstrike while flying his pigeons on his terrace.
Another man named Mohammed, father of five children, who makes furniture, told ICRC that his shop is situated at the front line in the Al-Mashrqa neighborhood. The area was targeted many times by shells, and many people lost loved ones. So far, he has only suffered material damages (thanks be to God). He added, “Many people left the neighborhood. I do not want to exaggerate the percentage, but I would say that easily at least 40% of people left. I never ever thought to leave. Anyone who knows Aleppo very well — its unique habits and traditions — will never think about leaving. However, I do not blame people who fled the city: they had no choice but to leave. Aleppo used to be a safe city; suddenly it turned from a peaceful place into a precarious one. We had everything, and in a moment, we had nothing. The cost of living went up gradually, until it reached the current level.”
To conclude, it is never easy to fade the good memories, and so the bad ones. Though the conflict has ended in Aleppo, but Aleppians still miss the city they once knew. A child who has grown seeing his city burning will surely regret his spoiled time, a young guy/girl who lost his/her job will definitely find a new one but at the cost of bad memories in the head. The old ones who survived the war will miss their lost ones, as it is said, “Lives cannot be returned and souls cannot be repaired.”
Note; ‘The Atlantic’ showcases a few amazing pictures in this regard of comparing Pre and Post-War Aleppo. You can click here to watch those photos.