I would have never imagined that Aleppo would be described as a wounded place. Living this now, you actually see the wounds happen in real life. And I think for me, that’s one of the most painful things about being from Aleppo is to have that kind of shame and have that burden that we actually destroyed our country, or watched it being destroyed, even if there was no way that we could have stopped it. The wounds are extremely deep, to the point where I don’t know if they will be mended.
So the last time I was in Aleppo was in 2011. I went for a couple of weeks and kind of said goodbye to my grandmother’s home and our home and Aleppo in general. I went every single day to my grandmother’s home, and I photographed everything in it. All of the pieces, all of the rooms, the balcony, her furniture. I did feel like this was going to be the last time I was going to be with my grandmother in her home. And it was.
[explosions] [men shouting] [sound of warfare]
Watching the war happen, that was very, very difficult because you had extreme urban warfare happening in a historic city.
[people shouting] [sirens]
What happened in Aleppo is there was a resistance against the regime. There were protests. Many, many, many peaceful protests. The protests were met with bullets by the Syrian army. After the bullets came, the tanks came. After the tanks came, the airstrikes came. During the war over who would occupy Aleppo, it was separated into two halves, the east side and the west side. The east side, where the old city was, it was occupied by the opposition to the regime and the west side by the regime. It was a military divide. It was very arbitrary. And when you’re from there, it’s very, very jarring, and it’s very, very painful. And all I’m thinking about is where’s my house on this map. Where is my grandmother’s home in this map.
The regime conquered eastern Aleppo, and now has taken over the entire city. The city has been gutted. It’s almost like an earthquake to the social fabric of the country. The vast majority of the destruction happened in eastern Aleppo. And it’s in the old city, so our historic souks were burned. The minarets of the Great Mosque, it collapsed. And so you’ve lost these, sort of, icons. If you’re from Aleppo, there’s certain things there that are like your compass. And those things are gone. And I don’t even know what it would feel like to walk in Aleppo not being able to have those.
But rebuilding is a part of human nature. We rebuild after natural disasters, after wars. I hope as an architect that Aleppo will be rebuilt in a way that honors the memory of what has happened there. I do believe that we need to keep the memory of the loss visible, honoring the dead and honoring the loss of our cultural heritage and honoring our homes, that once were, with dignity.