In March 2011, a popular uprising began in Syria against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The protests were violently opposed by the Syrian army, leading to the seven-year war which, according to UNHCR figures, has seen nearly 500,000 people killed and over 11 million displaced.
The war in Syria has, among other things, destroyed the most precious aspects of people’s lives – their families, their homes, their dreams and ambitions. Some areas and cities have suffered destruction on an enormous scale.
In the Ruins of a Dream features five Syrians who’ve been internally displaced or sought refuge in Europe. They reflect on the devastation wrought on their homes, some of which took years to build.
“Syrians go through a lot to build a house, especially because of the economic situation like the high cost of construction materials,” says Shahoud al-Jadou, from the town of Kafr Zita. His father built the family home but was killed by the Syrian air force, so Shahoud and his family were forced to leave.
“When the revolution started, we took part in the protests,” says Ahmed Dabbis, from the small town of Kafrnbodeh. “We thought it would succeed quickly, like in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. During this time, the regime was absent in our areas. So we started to build the house and homeland.”
But eventually, bombing reduced Ahmed’s home in Kafrnbodeh to a pile of rubble littered with broken toys and furniture.
“It’s where my wife and I felt safe and comfortable and where we started our family, had our kids and planned for the future,” says Ahmed, as he looks at his destroyed home. “I wasn’t enraged by the destruction because I was grateful for my family’s and my own safety.”
Muhammad al-Obaid is a singer who performed songs for the protesters during the 2011 revolution. He used to live and work in Beirut, doing manual jobs, to save enough money to build a family home over the course of 12 years in al-Lataminah.
One day he rushed home and found his house levelled after a helicopter had dropped two barrel bombs. “It had been completely demolished. Nothing was left, not a single brick. My heart was broken. It had taken me years to build it,” says Muhammad.
Human rights activist Mohammed al-Abdo’s Idlib home was commandeered by the army who then burned it down. “I became targeted by the regime because of our intensive activities”. Sifting through the rubble and old stacks of papers, he says “I wasn’t upset by the destruction of the house. I just felt sad for my books. It took me about 25 years to collect them all. I had some very rare books.”
While those who actively took part in the 2011 anti-government protests were targeted, others like Um Hisham became victims simply because their homes were in the wrong place. “A large military patrol was always deployed in our neighbourhood. They stayed in the shop next to my house,” says the 70-year-old widow from al-Kadam area of Damascus.
When the military action increased, she says, “I went to my daughter’s house in al-Yarmouk refugee camp, and it was the same there. So we went back home.” Um Hisham now lives with her daughter in a tiny apartment in Worms, Germany, after her Damascus home was burned and robbed.
The monumental loss of her family home is still very painful and has worsened her heart condition. “My house is always on my mind… It’s very difficult to see your own house burned…All the trees in my house were burned. We went inside the house, and everything was burned. You could even see the iron girders in the ceiling. I hope no one ever sees what I saw,” says Um Hisham.
“I told my daughter I’d just like to see our home in Syria one more time, to see our family. Unfortunately, there’s no one left there. All my neighbours have died.”
After seven years of war, the conflict shows no signs of abating. A World Bank report issued in July 2017 estimated that the Syrian civil war has damaged or destroyed about a third of housing and half of medical and education facilities; and led to significant economic loss.
The destruction of physical infrastructure, though, does not capture the full human impact of the war. The World Bank report called the visible impacts only “the tip of the iceberg.” More than three million homes have been destroyed, and millions of lives have been disrupted.
Filmmakers: Hisham al-Zaouqi and Maher Jamous
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