Almost two years on from the first protests in Dar’aa and Damascus and it feel today like it was all such a long time ago. Those first few months of peaceful demonstrations, creative slogans and songs of revolution grew into an armed struggle to which the regime brutally responded by striking down those that called for the toppling of Assad and the ruling Ba’ath party.
Yet there are hardly any international humanitarian aid organizations to be found opperating on the ground today. Only a trickle of the promised international aid makes it through to those that need it most, brought in by smugglers and the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Hundreds of thousands of citizens have fled to the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan and more than 2 million are internally displaced within Syria. The UN estimates that 60.000 have been killed so far.
The uncertainty is all encompassing in Aleppo, whether it’s the shelling, the dwindling food supplies or the longevity of the suffering. The winter cold is driving the people to desperation; they burn their furniture, cut down the trees in the parks and scavenge abandoned schools for wood. The price of bread and gas has risen exponentially and around every corner the battle for the city continues.
Aleppo is Syria’s second city with more than two million inhabitants. Once a bustling economical centre business has all but come to a halt as the FSA are locked in a prolonged urban battle with the regime. It is estimated that one third of the city’s inhabitants have been displaced from their homes.
Between sparodic lulls in the shelling the chores of daily life continue. Rent has to be paid, finding water for cooking is a constant preoccupation, and something as simple as standing in line for bread has become a life endangering endeavour. Not knowing when or where the shells fall creates constant dread that stalks everyone. Amidst all this is the enduring struggle for normality, people sing songs of freedom and dark humour is traded to blunt an otherwise piercing situation. The uncertainty lurks in the silences between. If you heard the blast it means that you survived.
Syria has never left my thoughts these past two years. I was in Damascus during the Great Friday demonstrations in April 2011. I witnessed how the regime literally bussed the shabiha (regime thugs) around town to crack down on peaceful demonstrators. At the time I could not make a single frame out of fear of the security forces who maintained a constant watch around me. But I never forgot the wooden clubs or the menacing eyes of the shabiha, nor the sound of gunfire that followed. Six people died on that now infamous day.
When the opportunity arose many months later for me to go back the decision was not a hard one to make. As a freelance photographer, committed to documenting and reporting on the lives of others in their struggle for justice and dignity, I knew that this was the very least I expected of myself.
For X, in deep gratitude.
Below: A fighter form the Free Syrian Army sings songs of revolution and revenge against the Assad regime to calm the mood and maintain morale as a bombardment of the town of Benizeit is underway. Filmed by Lucas Pernin.