Saturday, December 17, 2016

Dust and Ashes

"How many battles has it [the ancient city of Aleppo] provoked, and how many white blades have been drawn against it?"
"The town is old as eternity yet new although it has never ceased to be . . . Oh city of wonder! It stays, but its kings depart; they perish, but its ruin is not yet decreed."
Ibn Jubayr, 12th Century Andalusian

"It was really the Ottoman city, the last mixed city, where relations were very good."
"Over the course of my research, I have only found one inter-communal conflict in 1940 and one in 1919, but that was a smaller riot."
Philip Mansel, historian, author of Aleppo: The Rise and Fall of Syria's Great Merchant City
Ancient City of Aleppo (Syrian Arab Republic) © Silvan Rehfeld

A city as ancient as civilization. Where, in fact, civilization made its very initial statements of certainty for the future. The very city that civilization doomed, leaving its fate in the hands of a mass murderer who had been tutored only too well by his father, a mass murderer before him. This was a city that had endured countless invasions, and many sieges over thousands of years. But it was the siege that its 21st Century president, Bashar al-Assad imposed on the sectarian-divided city that irreversibly maimed its eastern, Sunni-residential portion.

In the process destroying many of the ancient and world-esteemed buildings that were regarded as a global inheritance of great significance. Neither that global heritage status, nor the presence of a million vulnerable men, women and children, citizens of Syria, would prevent the Syrian tyrant whose massive ego could not absorb the insult to his honour that opposition to his rule represented to him, from his determined efforts to destroy the lives of his opponents.

Without the considerable assistance offered him first by the Aryan Iranian Ayatollahs in support of minority Shiite conquest-and-command of the Sunni-majority Arab Middle East and the later aid of Russia's military might in sending warplanes to bomb the Sunni districts where the Syrian citizens labelled "terrorists" could be found cowering helplessly against chemical weapons and barrel bomb attacks, could Assad have succeeded.

The ancient trade emporium of Aleppo, resilient over thousands of years, and resistant to destruction proved a poor match in its ability to continue its fabled existence, to the rigorously relentless attacks mounted by sophisticated Russian war machines and the Syrian military's equal resistance to honouring the concept of protection of civilian lives during conflicts in theatres of war -- for the civilians had been named terrorists and they were given no quarter.

The city that had seen early Muslims arraying themselves against Christian Crusades, defending itself against the wars and pillage of Mongol marauders, the sacking of Aleppo in the 1400s by Tamerlane where mass slaughter and rape saw its streets that "stank with corpses", had Timur stack a mound of thousands of skulls outside the gates of Aleppo as a distinct message that he had come, seen and conquered.

But still Aleppo endured over the ages with the distinction and pride of an ancient heritage where though the majority of its residents were Sunni Muslims, Christians and Jews had their own communities there, along with Turkmen, Kurds, Armenians and other less numerous ethnic groups. An exotic mixture of humankind living among themselves and with others; a universal diversity of coexistence.

Destroyed, an utter ruination, the proud achievement of a man who likens the result of his scorched-humanity policy as a triumph of pride and power. Investing in him a historical legacy he equates with the birth of Christ and the revelations of the Koran.

 Ancient City of Aleppo (Syrian Arab Republic)
 Jean-Jacques Gelbart

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