Syrian snapshots: A life in ruins

In her second blog for World Without Torture, photographer Ida Harriet Rump details the destruction in the Syrian town of Ma’arrat al-Numan, which has a target of heavy shelling and conflict since 2011.
 
In this blog, Ida – a student in Middle Eastern studies at Lund University, Sweden – recounts the fear of shelling from the Syrian regime, how people escape the danger, and stories of torture encountered throughout her trips to the country.

 
It is striking that almost no houses in Ma’arrat al-Numan have glass in their windows – it has all been smashed by the shockwaves of the fallen bombs.

Around 60 per-cent of the houses and infrastructure in the city is destroyed and very little has been rebuilt over the three-years of the conflict. All the time it seems as if the citizens are evaluating what seems worthwhile to reconstruct. As one activist I met noted: “You never know when it will be torn down again”.

The abandoned destruction stands not only as a very visual testimony of the recent history of extreme systematic violence, but also as a symbol of the town-dwellers’ approach towards their city, to their general life possibilities and mental state of mind, as they seek to resume a life as full as possible amidst the mess.

 

Picture of the Wadi al-Deif, where the regime keeps a military base.

Picture of the Wadi al-Deif, where the regime keeps a military base.

The city is shelled on an everyday basis and the Syrian regime has a military base in the eastern outskirt of the city from where they attack Ma’arrat al-Numan with rockets. Certain areas of the city near to the frontline are covered with wreckage and are deserted of people. The streets in the city that are being actively used are continuously cleared from rubble and the remainders of fallen houses.

In some of the busy streets the tempo is high, cars, motorbikes and pedestrians fly across the roads to avoid being sniped or shut at, which is an ever-remaining danger from the nearby front, and to a certain extent an internalised habit.

 

Where to go?

Though most families have spent long periods in the surrounding villages, and in some cases Turkey, the everyday movement is severely restricted to the extent that many citizens nearly never leave their houses.

The movement between the different cities is limited. It is dangerous to driver on the bigger roads and every day cars are hit by the regime, whether from shooting or in a car accident. It takes much local knowledge to navigate the roads and since many roads are blocked, it is of life saving necessity to avoid the regime-controlled areas. Besides the risk of getting hit from the air, the fear of getting kidnapped or robbed prevent many people from traveling.

 

The sunset in Ma'arra.

The sunset in Ma’arra.

Kidnapped by the regime

During my trip, there were relatively calm periods in Ma’arra which opened the possibility for relatives to visit the remaining citizens. Many visitors pass from one house to the other to drink coffee and exchange news from the regions of Hama, Aleppo and Idlib.

One of the visitors was a young doctor from Aleppo. Recently released from one of the regime prisons, he would pace the yard without the ability to relax. It transpired his story was a painful one, but one which is not rare. Arrested for unknown reasons, as he has never interfered with politics of the military, he was released on thanks to a bribe and suffered no ill-treatment at the hands of his captors.

But while he would recount his story without torture, he could remember the  other prisoners being tortured. When he spoke, his face was twisted and he became visibly uncomfortable talking about what he witnessed.

 

Street life at sunset

Street life at sunset

Tortured by the regime

Another time, I met Jamila – a Syrian-Palestinian woman who came to visit dring the period of calm. As soon as she entered the rooms she began to cry.

Her brother – who lived in the Palestinian refugee camp Yarmouk in the outskirts of Damascus but worked in a bakery in the central part of the city – was arrested alongside his cousin during their daily commute, despite being in possession of a special paper documenting the purpose for travel.

Why were they arrested? Again, that was unknown. But only three days before I met Jamila, her cousin was released from prison. In his possession was the ID of Jamila’s brother – sent out of the prison as a proof of death.

They did not say it but everybody knew he died of torture. Another person in the group – a lady named Im Tariq – consoled Jamila by explaining that it is better that he is dead than still under the instruments of the torturer

Im Tariq knows the pain herself. Two years previously her son was kidnapped by the regime and she has heard nothing of him since. She does not know if he is dead or alive.

All pictures reproduced courtesy of Ida. For more information on the Witness Syria programme which aided Ida in her journey email: witnesssyria@gmail.com

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