ALEPPO, SYRIA, July 27, 2015: Three stories from our Syrian correspondent in Aleppo. First he writes about the difficulties a Syrian taxi-driver encounters in travelling from one part of Aleppo to another, through 'rebel' occupied territory. The writer then describes some of the moves and countermoves between Syrian Arab Army, defending Aleppo, and 'rebels', as the rebels try to blow parts of the city up. He then inventories a number of public buildings recently damaged or destroyed as a result of these battles in Aleppo. Finally, in the section entitled, "Socially", he describes how humans have been destroyed and deformed, amputated, kidnapped, impoverished, sold into prostitution, whilst others have made strange new careers in terrorism as 'rebel's. And how such rebels contaminate peoples' homes with human faeces in order to drive them out. Candobetter.net editor: Title changed to locate Aleppo and politics on 3 August 2015.
The following reports, written on a mobile phone, from Aleppo, in English that is not the writer's first language, have been edited in some parts for clarity.
Traveling to the other part of the city:
It wasn't me, but a friendly taxi driver we know, who wanted to visit his house in the other side [of Aleppo], where the terrorists and the so-called "rebels" are in control. He heard that Syrian jets had attacked the quarter and bombed a place close to his. He made his trip during the Eid vacation (17-19th of July) with his wife, for two days.
A trip that used to take 20-30 min from one part of the city to another, took something like seven hours, because they had to go around 25 miles away from the city to make a U-turn and come back from another area, passing many villages, and entering areas under the terrorists' control, till they reached the eastern part of Aleppo city, and finally their house.
They went in a bus. He didn't take his taxi car as terrorists might have taken it from him by force. He told me that the trip cost him and his wife $70-$100 over two days (transportation, eating ...etc). He complained because it was a lot of money for him, equal to 100-150 paid trips with his taxi; he might need a week of hard work to compensate that money.
The taxi driver and his wife retrieved most of their clothes, which were still there, thanks to the only two neighbors still living in the building, who protected their apartment. The remaining apartments and houses in the quarter had been robbed or damaged because they had been turned into nesting places for the terrorists.
Some numbers and details might not be that accurate, because of my poor memory, however I thought you might be interested to know of this. Many good people are still going from one part to the other [of Aleppo]. Many people who did not deserve it, were kicked out from their homes, and it wasn't their choice to stay over there or become refugees over here or somewhere else.
Visiting each side is still possible for people, but it's dangerous, and I won't do it, no matter what.
Editor Candobetter.net: To get an idea of what Aleppo's Citadel looked like before the war on Syria, go to Peter Aaron's architectural photography gallery.
As I understand it, on the 13th/14th of July, the Syrian army - which occupies the very strategic acropolis hill of the ancient citadel of Aleppo in the middle of the ancient walled city, which is under terrorist control - knew about a new tunnel that the terrorists were digging and filling with explosives, very close to the citadel's borders. So the Syrian army made a counter attack and forced the terrorists to leave that tunnel in a rush. The terrorists set fire to the explosives before they left, however, and that explosion was enough to destroy part of the ramparts of the citadel.
I'm wondering if the army hadn't known about that tunnel, and if terrorists had drilled a longer and deeper tunnel, and armed it with ten times more explosives, maybe the whole citadel would have been destroyed.
Recently I saw some new and clear digital images showing the area of the citadel to the old city via a friend of my friend. These pictures dated to a couple of days prior to the abovementioned attack. In the digital images the few buildings around the citadel had been damaged totally or partially. Khosrawiyya/Chusruviyya mosque, the first and oldest Ottoman mosque in Aleppo (built in 1544) had disappeared. Same for Carlton Hotel which occupied a century old building as an investment in millions of dollars. Eighty per cent of the municipal building where the Mayor used to work (perhaps 75 years old and about 12 stories high) had been destroyed.
A small mosque and religious school of the Memluk or Ayyoubid period (about 700-1,000 years old) had disappeared except for its gate and the little minaret above the gate. The Traditional/Turkish Bath of Yalbogha al-Nasseri (about 700-800 years old) was still there, but some of its big domes had collapsed. Another century-old building - that I remember sitting in for three or four hours 15 years ago, manually copying some information to use in my graduation project - had been damaged so badly, especially its beautiful double mirrored spiral stairs at the entrance, they have become history with no trace.
Those buildings were all destroyed by terrorists using the same technique, within the last 4 years of war in the city. They were destroyed by digging tunnels, or depending on ancient existing networks of tunnels under the whole old city of Aleppo, and filling them up with explosives, to bomb everything above them. Whilst such a huge explosion was taking place, terrorist troops would attack another target, mostly the citadel where the Syrian army is. They have so far failed to gain control of it, but they have done a lot of damage to the citadel in this time.
Although what I have described above is horrible, and I know about other famous areas (markets, bazaars, mosques and churches) that had been sabotaged or destroyed; I was pleased that way more area and buildings of the old city are still there, as I know them, and may be even better after they had been renovated and preserved in the last decade before the crisis. Maybe they are not that famous or such masterpieces, but they are still there untouched or scratched.
The war targeted Aleppo's symbols (and the same strategy has been used all over Syria, of course). Aleppo's Bazaar, which had been there since the 4th century AD, since the Hellenistic era, was a symbol, and it had been burned totally. It took a week of continuous burning, and the smell of the fire reached every corner in the city.
The Great / Umayyad Mosque was also a symbol. Its almost 1000-year-old minaret was destroyed by dynamite and its pulpit had been dismantled (mostly to Turkey). Several walls and sides of it had been completely destroyed, and the mosque has been returned to its original and oldest land use: an Agora (Plaza) in the Hellenistic era.
And so on for the rest of the lost places.
The last symbol left of Aleppo is the most famous one: the Citadel. I can see part of it from our balcony, but I can see it more clearly from the roof of our building. It's still there, resisting the "zombies" and their funding states. It had been injured a lot, but it's still there dominating the city scene. It's where they found the Storm God's Temple (around the 2nd millennium BC) a few years ago. It has faced many invaders, including Mongols and Crusaders. It had been damaged severely several times through history, but it had been rebuilt over and over again, as an immortal symbol to the inhabitants of one of the oldest continuous cities in history. I just wish not to witness its being totally destroyed, in the same way as its neighboring buildings mentioned above have been destroyed.
Aleppo city has shrunk to a fifth of its size, and has became very crowded with refugees who have fled from areas that have fallen into the hands of terrorists.
I walk everyday in the city. I see children and girls without limbs because of a mortar over here or shrapnel over there had hit them randomly and caused them a terrible accident and horrible memory to stay with them forever.
The girl who lost one leg is standing on the other and selling bread, while the little boy who lost one arm is selling chewing gum. Those are the "injured" people who appear in the news, in a one line report of the numbers, after each attack from the terrorists. "Injured" doesn't mean scratched or having a bleeding finger; it means someone lost his eyes or her limbs.
At night, some areas in Ramadan were still playing live music while audiences smoke their shisha and drank cold beverages. I admired the spirit of musicians over there, resisting all the harshness of the crisis.
On the other side, and because of the war and lack of income, many females are selling themselves for money. Prostitution has become so normal in Aleppo, with different ranks for each social level.
Every youth talks of immigrating and leaving the city. Everyone wants to leave for Europe, mostly to Sweden, which has accepted a lot of Syrian refugees so far. The usual trip starts from Syria to Turkey, then they go in boats to Greece, and that is a very dangerous trip because many lose their lives and sink in the sea. Once they reach Greece, they go into a long process, and end either in Germany or Sweden.
There is a new "market" for smuggling people to Europe illegally. Everyone is living on gossip that once they reach Sweden, the government will give them free houses and 500 Euros per person. I keep telling them that this amount of money might be a fortune in Syria, but it's not over there, and life is not that cheap. However, they just want to leave and work whatever over there, because they are worried about their children's future and safety.
What happened in Syria in general, and Aleppo in particular, is something like a great "shock," which people are still unable to believe.
Between 2006 and 2011 Turkey, Qatar, Saudi and most of Europe and the U.S. opened relations with Syria and funded many international investments in the country. History will have the final word if that act was a trap or a bribe or bad luck, to shower the people in unprecedented wealth, and then take it all back within few years, replacing that shower with mortars and shelling.
All of a sudden, malls began to spring up in big cities like mushrooms. Brand new cars including Porsche, Lamborghinis, and Ferraris became an ordinary sight in the streets. In my neighborhood and elsewhere, many new buildings replaced old ones. Many friends I know told me that they were distributing $20,000 or $25,000 as salaries for workers in factories and contractor firms per week! Work was amazing, everyone was happy, a lot of money, plenty of wealth, and marriages and having new kids became more than normal.
I remember when my mother and brother told me to leave America and come back to Syria in 2010 because it was booming over here.
My friend, who is an architect living in Germany, came back then to work on an architectural project for a Dutch firm in Damascus. It's like seeing the whole country and its people reach the peak of wealth, and then watching everything collapse as if it had been destroyed by an earthquake. Unbelievable tragedy.
My brother saw his previously wealthy friend selling little things (plastic, gums, etc) on the street in front of a mosque, and he couldn't believe it. His formerly rich friend told my brother that he had lost everything, and has a family to feed. His factory had been stolen and dismantled to Turkey; his land had been burned. His properties were either damaged or stolen, and he was bankrupted in no time.
Each day, there is new story, real tragedies, that reach my ears and heart. All of a sudden, everything ended.
Factories that cost $8 million and more had been stolen to Turkey, and one owner had a stroke and died because of such loss.
The worker who used to receive his salary from an architect or an investor, became a leader of a "rebellion" battalion, and now he can rape unlimited ladies and have millions of US dollars. He came back with his militia to destroy the work of this architect or that investor, out of God knows what... rage? Seeking a faster way to lust and more wealth? Revenge?
Another person I met yesterday, told me that he had been kidnapped and they asked for a huge ransom. This is what bankrupted him, after being very wealthy. He lost his factories as well, and trade, and now he is suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure and heart troubles.
You see it in each person's eyes: a type of sparkle with a light smile, whilst remembering how they were so rich and wealthy, traveling to Europe three times a year for pleasure and tourism, having the best life ever over here in Syria, and having great dreams for their children and potential promises for building the country and modernizing their cities.... Then, all of a sudden, everything disappeared.
One old friend told me that his youngest two girls, who are four and six years old, didn't know what a sea and a mountain looked like until a couple of months ago, when he managed to take his family for a trip to the coast and mountains. They hadn't left their house for four or five years, and they had only seen mountains and sea in cartoons or illustrated tales.
A neighbor's girl (who is from my generation) came back to live with her parents with her three teenage girls after the terrorists occupied her house in another "infected" area in the city. They looted whatever they could, and before they left, they sabotaged and covered whole rooms and furniture with ....... shit!
Sabotaging can be done by burning or breaking furniture, but when someone sees his rooms, beloved furniture and family pictures stained with human shit, that is so disgusting and humiliating.
I actually heard such stories when I was still in America, but I thought it was an individual act, not a common strategic way in that sector of the city, to humiliate people and push them to leave their areas.
So, my neighbor's daughter sold her apartment and didn't want to see it again, and went back to live with her parents. Others have become refugees. Others have sold their daughters into prostitution... Stories upon stories, that break my heart, and I wonder how all that happened, and who planned for it.