One Year Later, Aleppo’s Destruction Continues to Deter Residents From Returning Home
Aleppo was once Syria’s largest city: home to tens of thousands of Christians and the location of some of the country’s oldest churches. It’s destruction at the height of the Syrian conflict was devastating, forcing most residents to flee. A year after its recapture by government forces, the city is still largely a pile of rubble. Aleppo’s Christians are reluctant to return, particularly youth who became young adults during their displacement. They see no future as Syrians in Aleppo, and no Christian community to join in practicing their faith. Particularly for young Christian men, they are worried that their return will be greeted with forced conscription, as stories circulate of Christians placed on the front lines since they are considered easily expendable.
01/27/2018 Syria (ABC) – Aleppo’s largest square was packed with people of all ages: young men performing a folk dance, children playing, others buying ice cream, popcorn, peanuts and salted pumpkin seeds. A giant sign spells out in colorful English letters, “I love Aleppo.”
The scene in Saadallah al-Jabiri Square on a recent day was a complete turnaround from what it was during nearly four years of warfare that wracked the Syrian city. Rebel sniper fire and shelling — and a triple car bombing that killed dozens — made it a no-go zone. For much of the fighting, the square stood near the front line dividing the government-held western half of Aleppo from the rebel-held eastern half.
Thirteen months after government forces captured the east, crushing rebels, there have been some improvements in Aleppo. The guns are silent, allowing life to return to the streets. Water and electricity networks are improving. But the city has barely begun to recover from devastation so great and a civilian flight so big that residents find it difficult to imagine it could ever return to what it was.
Aleppo’s eastern half remains in ruins. Its streets have been cleared of rubble but there’s been little rebuilding of the blocks of destroyed or badly damaged buildings. Though some residents have trickled back, hundreds of thousands still have not returned to their homes in the east, either because their homes are wrecked or because they fear reprisals for their opposition loyalties.
Also, after the victory by the forces of President Bashar Assad, there’s little sign of attempts at reconciliation in Syria’s largest city or talk of how part of the city rose up trying to bring down Assad’s rule. To reporters, residents — whether out of genuine sentiment or fear of state reprisals — express only pro-Assad sentiment and dismiss the rebels as Islamic militants backed by foreign powers. Die-hard opposition sympathizers likely have not returned or keep it to themselves, and everyone is more focused on grappling with the destruction in the city.
“I feel very sad, I cry. Sometimes I cry in the morning because this was a very good neighborhood,” said Adnan Sabbagh, standing on a balcony in his building in the once rebel-held eastern district of Sukkari.
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