Scattered across the northwest of Syria, between Aleppo and Hama, are more than 700 abandoned settlements known as the Dead Cities. I visited these curious Roman and Byzantium ruins fourteen years ago, while I was living and working in Damascus. Little did I know at the time that Aleppo, the stylish and classical city where I was staying, would one day become a mirror image of these dead cities.
Watching the news over the past few weeks, I have seen images which nobody should ever have to see, of thousands of hunger-stricken people waiting desperately for evacuation, sheltering in bombed out apartment blocks, in Aleppo, a city which was once a popular tourist destination, famed for its spectacular white marble. Much of the city’s ancient heritage has been damaged, including the Great Mosque, which was built in the 8th century, and the citadel of Aleppo, considered to be one of the largest and oldest castles in the world.
But it is the images of the people’s faces which I can not erase from my mind, of the men, women and children, who have been subjected to immeasurable suffering during these years of brutal fighting,
Over the last decade, throughout the conflict, I have looked often looked at the faces in the photographs I took of Syrian people in 2003 and 2004 and felt such melancholy at the smiling faces gazing back at me, wondering what became of these innocent people – did these school children finish their education, did they escape, are they alive or more realistically are they dead?
Although a ceasefire agreement has recently been reached and it looks like the battle of Aleppo is slowly drawing to a close, it still remains that over 30,000 people are reported to have died since fighting began in 2012, and another 20,000 are thought to have been displaced from Syria’s biggest city.
The battle might be coming to an end, but some of the damage will never be mended. Areas of some of Syria’s grandest cities including Damascus, Aleppo, Hama and Palmyra are now uninhabited rubble, like the dead cities from antiquity.
Here are some of my photographs from Syria from before the conflict.
Schools out in Al-Madina Souq in Aleppo, Syria.
Taken from the British Government Foreign Travel Advice page for Syria https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/syria
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Syria. British nationals in Syria should leave now by any practical means. The FCO is not able to provide consular services, and won’t be able to help your evacuation from the country.
The situation remains extremely volatile and dangerous. There is widespread fighting throughout Syria, including in Damascus and its suburbs. Full scale military operations involving the use of small arms, tanks, artillery and aircraft are ongoing. The Syrian government no longer exercises control of large parts of Syria, notably the north, south and east of the country. Areas of eastern Syria are under the effective control of the Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL), which is fiercely hostile to the United Kingdom. Beginning on 30 September 2015, Russia embarked on a concerted military campaign of aerial bombardment, using indiscriminate weapons in Syria backing an offensive launched by troops loyal to the Asad regime. From 3 December 2015, UK joined the Coalition air strike effort in Syria against Daesh.
In Aleppo and elsewhere, the regime has been undertaking an indiscriminate campaign of aerial bombardment since mid-December 2013, using so called ‘barrel’ bombs – huge containers packed with explosives and shards of metal dropped by helicopter – against largely civilian targets. A number of chemical weapons attacks have taken place across Syria, most notably on 21 August 2013, where a major attack took place in the suburbs of Damascus. Latest estimates are of over 400,000 dead, including well over 10,000 children.