In our latest blog we hear from Ida Harriet Rump, a photographer and student in Middle Eastern studies at Lund University, Sweden, who has regularly travelled through Syria since 2006.
Ida spent around one year in Damascus and, after the conflict began in 2011, Ida has twice visited north-western city Idlib with grassroots solidarity network Witness Syria – an initiative connecting activists inside and outside of the country.
Throughout her travels, Ida has seen the damage of the conflict, the pain it causes families and refugees, and has heard stories of torture along the way. In her first blog for World Without Torture, Ida uses a series of pictures to capture the fear, hope and everyday life in the city of Ma’arrat al-Numan.
Ma’arrat al-Numan is a city in the Idlib region, 200km south of the Turkish border. Before the Syrian revolution, the city was known for it’s historical mosque, the 10th century philosopher Abdul al-Ma’arri, and a small museum presenting parts of the long local history.
Immediately after Ma’arrat al-Numan was freed in the fall 2012, the heavy shelling of the city began. Today Ma’arrat al-Numan is infamous for having more than 60% of its houses and buildings destroyed by a campaign of continuous heavy shelling. More than 90% of the inhabitants have fled the area.
Despite the deaths of more than 1,000 people from the city, economic hardship, trauma, and a lack of all basic necessities such as water, electricity and heating, the citizens of Ma’arrat al-Numan struggle to build a new and better life.
For many citizens in the liberated areas, they voluntarily engage in society and participate to improve and build projects for the common good. In particular, many women volunteer in primary schools to respond the problem that many children have lost several years of schooling due to the situation.
Basmat Amal, a local relief group, is one of city’s prime promoters of sustainable projects to address some of the difficulties that citizens encounter in their everyday life. They have built a soap factory to secure independence of foreign imports, a bread oven, and a non-profit shop that sells all the daily commodities 15-50% cheaper than the general regional prices. All self-sustainable projects aim to counter the fast growing inflation that triggers growing poverty among Syrians.
Not a day goes by in Ma’arrat al-Numan where you do not hear the threatening sounds of the regime airplanes or helicopters, or the exchange of fire from the frontline of Wadi al-Deif just at the eastern border of the city.
Each time the regime airplanes approach, distant bursts of the gunfire echo through the air. Before the planes deliver their bombs, they have to dive closer to their targets, and warning shots are fired from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades to warn the airplanes not to get anywhere near their fire range. Most Syrians are against foreign interventions but request that the FSA are equipped with rockets that can keep the airplanes away from the civilian areas.
Each time the planes are in the air, citizens look to the sky and run to their houses if the planes get too close. As one citizen sardonically noted while watching a regime helicopter in the sky: “The Syrian people have developed chronic neck problems from looking to the sky.”
The most common way Syrians describe their everyday handling of the conflict is that “it has become normal”.
But in the trustful setting of the home, women often expresses the problematic side effects of the shelling. The women may not be more affected by the shelling, just more honest towards their feelings when they put in words how they have to deal with trauma. Yet the fact remains they tackle chronic headaches, overwhelming fear, planes and bombings on a daily basis.
They talk about the side effects that are not related to the destruction of buildings or killings of people – they talk of how they are struggling with stress and anxiety, and how this causes involuntary abortions. One woman told how her daughter hides under tables in the house each time she hears the sounds of the planes, and how she and her children strongly wish to leave the country but at the same time are proud about their steadfastness. After all, leaving would cause other problems and worries for their family.
In her next blog, Ida shall recount the stories of torture she has heard while travelling through Syria.
To find out more about the Witness Syria programme email: firstname.lastname@example.org