The lesson of the minaret: every tyrant will fall and the city remains. History has taught us that the people find a way to pick up the pieces of their city and rebuild. One thousand years from now, these years will be a chapter in history books. The future people of Aleppo will visit this sacred site and will feel the calm and peace once more. The stone will be old again. They will point to the square tower and whisper to their children the tale of this minaret that falls every few centuries when the lesson of tyranny must be taught to a people who had forgotten. Those people of the future are lucky. They will be unaware of the pain of living those years, unaware of the shame of writing this chapter. History is abstract and seamless to them, like it once was for us. It is merely a story they can recite while they trace their fingers over the stone and remember without consequence. I envy them.
Entries in Amal Hanano (11)
On the eve of the second anniversary of the Syrian Revolution, I watched a single video: footage of an early expression of resistance recorded in central Damascus on March 15, 2011. After watching thousands of videos for the last two years of protests, funerals, destruction, bombs, and countless corpses — I was surprised that this video was as difficult to watch as the horrific ones. It’s a video that accidentally recorded an act of unparalleled bravery: one voice that pierced 41 years of a nation’s voluntary silence.
On April 25, 2011, a man held up a video camera in Deraa. He was not an experienced videographer and he did not have a tripod.
He stood in front of a group of Syrian army soldiers with tanks and filmed them shooting their machine guns towards civilian targets. Each time he watched the clip on his laptop, he noticed the footage was shaky due to his trembling hand, so he would go back to his exposed vantage point to film once more.
He did this 24 times before he made this passably stable clip:
His name was Mohamed “Abu al-Nimer” Masalmeh.
On January 18, 2013 --- after 22 months of reporting as a citizen journalist from Deraa --– he was killed by army snipers in the village of Busra al-Harir
Syrian family leave Taftanaz after shelling by regime forces (Photo: Philippe Desmazes/AFP)
As I walked away, I saw a tall, elderly man with a red-and-white scarf on his head speaking with men from the neighbourhood. He gestured with his hands and repeated over and over: "This is my home, did you see it? This is my home." They tried calming him, telling him to be grateful that none of his loved ones had been killed in the strike. He responded, crying: "This is my home." Our eyes met and I was ashamed that I had embarrassed him by meeting his tearful gaze. I looked down and walked away.
Sitting alone in the car for the first time that day, my own tears escalated into uncontrollable sobs. I thought I would have felt these emotions when I crossed the border, when I saw the graffiti, when I saw the destruction, but the old man was the missing connection. These primal expressions of despair are absent from the images and even the videos. You can't imagine them from a distance. You have to be close enough to see the tears.
Manar spoke slowly through her tears, holding her small Nokia phone in her hands, clicking between five photographs: two of her son, one of her daughter, and an image of each of their small graves. She paused between the images, crying, stroking, remembering.
"I fled with them here from so far away to be safe. We fled our home in Binnish because of the shelling. They were my entire life. I don't care about my life any more. I lost my home, my children, my possessions, what's left to lose? All I have is dirt; no Diya' and no Fatima."
Once Upon a Time in Aleppo --- Video from 2006
Ruins are sold to us as romantic and poetic. As tourists wandering ancient sites, cameras dangling from our necks and guidebooks in hand, we seek beauty in the swirling dust over the remains of a dead civilization. We imagine what is was like then, before empires decayed and living objects became historical artifacts. But that kind of romanticism is only afforded with the distance of time and geography. In war, ruins-in-the-making are not beautiful, not vessels of meaningful lessons, not a fanciful setting for philosophical contemplations on the follies of men. When you witness it live, when it is real, and when it happens to your city, it becomes another story altogether.
Leadership on Syria is nowhere to be found, not in Syria nor in the rest of the world. Instead, the Syrian crisis has been reduced to these cliched statements, by politicians, journalists and pundits, that seem to create some kind of equality between the two sides.
Mass protest in Hama, 23 March 2012
Now the lows exceed the highs. Now we talk about what has been lost more often than what will be gained. And the losses have been heavy: some of the people we once spoke to daily are no longer in Syria; some have abandoned the revolution; many have died. Peaceful protests have dwindled as the bombs drop onto our cities and villages. Civilians are caught in the crossfire; thousands have become refugees --- outsiders just like us.
And everyone is depressed.
During the brief phone calls we could make when landlines were working, my mother asked my father to do seemingly mundane - yet strange - tasks: leave the curtains open but lock the balcony doors; move furniture away from the chandeliers. Fragile objects were wrapped and placed on the floor in case of shelling; doors barricaded in case of looting; valuables moved elsewhere. The house was slowly stripped of what made it a home, until the moment arrived when it was stripped of its final inhabitant.
Choosing to leave was tainted with guilt; guilt that our family was lucky, that we were the ones who could leave, the ones who had another country to call home and the ones who had not lost a relative yet. So we were ashamed to speak of trivial, material things. But we did speak of them, because it's our home.
Dr Ali Al-Hazori appeals for help from a field hospital in Bab Amro in Homs (WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES)
Amal Hanano writes for Jadaliyya:
Before we hang up, I tell Jafaar to be safe. I tell him that I’ll call him tomorrow. I go to bed only a couple of hours before morning. My head is pounding. Fifty percent of a neighborhood is destroyed, Omar is surrounded by human limbs, Jaafar is disconnected from his friends, Yousef is missing, the people of Baba Amr are asking for safe passage for the women and children before the army enters to round up the men. They are asking for mercy from a merciless regime. The number of dead are in the seventies now. It will be higher when I wake up. People will be dying in my sleep.
Jaafar is right. What you just read will not save lives. It will not stop the attacks on Baba Amr or Idleb or Zabadani or Palmyra or Daraa. It will not change what happened this morning or what will happen tomorrow. It’s just a story of what happened, in a place called Syria, while you were sleeping.