Friday, April 26, 2013

The Destruction of History: A Memorial to the City of Aleppo and the People of Syria

Greg and I in the Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo
Between September 2009 and May 2010, I lived in Damascus, Syria. While the goal of my time there was research, I must confess that I spent more time studying Arabic and sharing tea with friends at one of the many restaurants in historic houses in the Old City than doing actual research. In spite of this failure in productivity, I do not think this year was a waste of time. It remains one of the most meaningful periods of my life.

The Minaret of the Aleppo Mosque in 2010
Outside of academic circles, people often ask me about my time in Syria with a look between surprise and bewilderment. They are sometimes equally surprised that I found the people of Syria open, friendly and passionate about their country.

It was only a short amount of time after my return that the Arab Spring broke out and spread to Syria, but hope quickly changed to despair. Syria was not Tunisia or Egypt and  Bashar al-Assad was not Ben Ali. I have remained largely silent of this issue. Mostly because I find it hard to find the words to express my feelings. Words fail us when we watch from afar as our friends are tortured by the regime, their family members killed and many of them flee to other parts of the region or to Europe. In the end, it is easy to be left with a sense of helplessness for a country ripped apart by a callous despot.

Two days ago I woke to discover that the minaret of the Grand Umayyad Mosque of Aleppo had been destroyed. In 1986, the Old City of Aleppo was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in recognition of its “rare and authentic Arab architectural styles." The Grand Mosque, at the center of the Old City, had already been severely damaged during cashes in October 2012. The minaret was the oldest surviving part of the mosque complex dating back to 1090. For almost a thousand years, it was the most recognizable feature of the skyline of Aleppo. It survived a fire in 1159 and the Mongol invasion in 1260.  However, it fell on April 24th, 2013 to regime missiles.

The Aleppo Souq on fire.
I usually do not focus on the destruction of architecture especially when people are dying. I scoffed at those that wrung their hands about possible damage to the Cairo Museum but remained quiet as the former regime of Hosni Mubarak beat and gunned down protestors in Egypt. It reveals a lack of humanity to mourn the destruction of things and remain indifferent to the deaths of actual people. That being said, I mourn the loss of that minaret and the destruction of the Aleppo Souq by fire in 2012 and all they stand for. I mourn the destruction of a thousand years of history. I mourn for the lives lost, the women raped, the people displaced and the futures destroyed. I mourn for a country that I love and cannot help.

The destruction of the minaret is a symbol of all that the people of Syria have lost and all they will never be able to regain. I still hope for the victory of the Syrian Revolution and a democratic future in which Bashar al-Assad is brought to justice for all of his crimes against Syrian people.  

تحيا سوريا


Aleppo before:

The Grand Umayyad Mosque of Aleppo in January 2010

My boyfriend Greg, his family and I outside of the Mosque of Aleppo.

A few more photos of the way in which I remember Aleppo and its historic Souq.


The Aleppo Citadel

The City of Aleppo

This blog is dedicated to the people of Syria and all those fighting for freedom and democracy in the region.