“After three years struggling for the better Syria I dreamed of, I eventually was forced to leave with my family, psychologically bruised. I am not sure I can return to a Syria that now has worse human conditions than when we started in 2011, where the price of a word is death.”
With the fall of Aleppo and other parts of the country to the Syrian regime, half the country’s population remains forcibly displaced internally or abroad. Wishes and questions about return and access to home arise. What are the conditions that could allow for return, and what are the threats and obstacles created by the Syrian regime and other actors that are preventing repatriation?
The Shattuck Center invites you to its fourth annual session. This year’s question is return. What constitutes return? Who are those who left? And how did they leave? What guarantees do they have for their safety? How has return been dealt with by the regime’s security arm?
A recent study published by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung examines how the Syrian conflict has transformed Aleppo, by deepening previous socio-economic divisions and setting-up preconditions for a new balance of power between the North and Damascus. Consulting with regional experts (like former Aleppo Project fellow Armenak Tokmajyan) and utilizing data collected from structured interviews conducted within Aleppo, Lebanon and Turkey, author Kheder Khaddour explores the fragile interdependence that existed between eastern and western Aleppo with the northern part of Syria. Khaddour further analyzes how the destruction of Aleppo goes far beyond destruction of the city to reshape domestic power structures. Ultimately, it has also changed the structure of Northern Syria, of which Aleppo was once the main economic, political and administrative hub, but now risks falling under the dominance of Damascus.
Deftly maneuvering through historical ties and allegiances, Khaddour exposes how the current ruins of Aleppo (the east depleted of the majority of its population and the west of its mechanisms by which it used to function as the administrative, economic and political hub for northern Syria) are in fact the “cleansing of an urban population unprecedented in the history of the modern Middle East”.
The Fall of Aleppo City* (October – December 2016)
Dead End for Kerry-Lavrov Negotiations
The clouds of war started gathering after the fall of Lavrov-Kerry agreement that aimed to cease hostilities in Aleppo. The fall of the
Changes in areas of control in Aleppo City from October 1st, until December 13, 2016 Red: Government. Green: Rebels. Yellow: YPG
ceasefire agreement was followed by intensified bombing on eastern Aleppo, and periodic attacks towards western Aleppo. Blames exchanged between Russia and the United States diplomats for breaking the agreement highlighted the fragmentation and fragility of this agreement and the lack of leverage over their allies on the ground. The resumption of violence caused a mass scale damage and deterioration of living conditions in Aleppo and gave a space to armed opposition forces especially Jabhat al-Nusra to carry out further attacks.
Although rebel groups managed to break the siege in eastern Aleppo earlier in August 2016, which allowed food and ammunition to come in the eastern part, the humanitarian situation deteriorated, and the level of deprivation inflicted upon inhabitants of eastern Aleppo increased till the fall of the city in December 2016. In continuation of the regime’s strategy “Surrender or We Wipe You Out,” bids for an urgent intervention to stop the annihilation of eastern Aleppo and its people went in vain.
In an interview with Australian national radio, Aleppo Project fellow AlHakam Shaar said the return of resident displaced from the city is an important condition for a successful reconstruction of Aleppo.
Images showing recent severe destruction in Raqqa, following the expulsion of the Islamic state bring to memory the severe destruction Homs and Aleppo faced and still face. The defeat of the Islamic State in Raqqa brings the conflict in Syria closer to an end, but this on its own is not enough. The end of the fight in Raqqa and Deir Azzor marks the end of intense fights in these cities. Without a process of reconciliation, sustainable peace building, and inclusion, these cities would suffer from a permanent division, not only in terms of the physical structure but also in terms of its demography.
Aleppo has been known for centuries for its food. Like many gastronomic centers, the city was blessed with a set of circumstances: a location on key trading routes, a diverse population, a prosperous middle class, and a place amidst the most fertile farms in Syria.1 This created a diverse cuisine that blended elements from its various ethnic and religious groups. Unfortunately, war has put all of this at risk. Much agricultural land is cut off, restaurants are closed, food is in short supply, and destruction has nearly halted food production. With many of its people scattered around the world, there is a risk of the loss of knowledge and skills. Not only is there a need to preserve food ways, but Aleppian cuisine is an important aspect of identity that once bound people together and might do so again.
DIASPORA: “Emigrants and their descendants, who live outside the country of their birth or ancestry, either on a temporary or permanent basis, yet still maintain effective and material ties to their countries of origin.”[i]
Diasporas are increasingly seen as powerful agents of economic and social development, crisis first-responders and post-conflict partners. They invest in their countries of origin by sending remittances, starting businesses and providing medical and other services.
In 2015, The Aleppo Project interviewed Omar AlJaloud, who was part of a volunteer group providing Syrian children in Turkey with educational training that would provide them with novel tools of expression and expose them to different perspectives. Since this group of volunteers specializes in Architecture, they wanted to conduct their training in a simplified way to the children in order to get their perspective on the future of Syria after the war. The students were Syrians from different backgrounds in Mersin. For five months, the class met weekly to learn the basics of architecture, design and drawing. By the end of these sessions, children were required to submit designs of their own imagined buildings.
With the participation of The Aleppo Project, Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam held a series of events that brought together Syrian and European researchers and city lovers in discussion about the future of the devastated city of Aleppo. Aleppo Project fellow AlHakam Shaar took part in the keynote panel and co-organized a workshop on identity, ownership and agency in defining and re-visiting cultural heritage.
With a reference to the Aleppo Project’s survey on the possibilities of reconstructing the city and restoring private ownership, Edwar Hanna poses different questions on the mechanisms of reconstructing Aleppo. In an article published in AlNabad.net, he stresses the need to have an interactive and inclusive approach that guarantees social justice and equality for all.