A rebel revolution and uprising that ended up as large-scale civil warthis is the Syria of today. Everyone well-informed in the last ten years knows about the downfall of the beautiful country, turning many cities into dead cities. What started as peaceful protests to thwart the corruption, rising unemployment and anarchy of the government has now left this homeland in ruins. Knowing what was gives us the knowledge of what should and could be. A terrain of abandoned homes lining the horizons paints the only picture of devastation and havoc. 

A ten-year-long war that has left more than 380,000 citizens of Syria homeless, lost and dead. Despite the Syrian government’s plans towards the road to recovery, around 90% of the Syrian population is below the poverty line.

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A child sitting in an ambulance after his home was destroyed by an air strike in Aleppo, Syria, August 2016. _©Aleppo Media Centre

Dead Cities of Syria

When looking at circumstances that lead flourishing cities into dead cities, it is necessary to look back at what causes these issues.  Syria has always faced the harsher end of the stick since the country’s independence in 1946, owing to the social, religious and political groups. This situation didn’t improve much under the Presidential governance of Assad and his predecessor, but rather escalated into more strife, and the tension built until what culminated into the Syrian Civil War in 2011. These continuous war riddled political scenarios led to around 22 million pre-war population fleeing Syria; and soliciting refuge with their neighbours, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey

Syrian cities were once known for their alluring ancient structures and temples, but that seems like a tale of the old times. The peaceful protests that started from the southern city of Daraa spread to Syria’s capital Damascus, Hama, Homs, Latakia and other cities. The protests caused a monumental impact on the government and caused an uproar in the Assad regime, although the outcome was much worse. 

The government retaliation against the rebel groups and cities with arms, ammunition and chemical warfare led to thousands of Syrians dead and others seeking refuge in a safer place. Although heavy bombing and shelling came much later in this civil war scenario, the primary tactic was to starve civilians out of their homes and cities.

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A picture of a wrecked Homs city centre taken in 2016_© Šafarek, G

Abandonment of Flourishing Cities

The once talked about Syrian Civil War is now old news to many people outside looking in. The picture of Syria today hasn’t changed a lot though; the Syrian government has control of about two-thirds of the country and is still trying to get control over northern Syria. War followed by death and damage to infrastructure and, all that remains of many Syrian dead cities are rubble. UNOSAT data collection revealed the damage the cities endured from September 2013 to November 2017. The Syrian cities of Aleppo, Damascus, Daraa, Deir Ez Zor, Hama, Homs, Idlib and Raqqa were assessed to compute the scale of damage due to war and abandonment.

The devastation is gauged based on damage density and damage count, with Aleppo and Raqqa having high damage count and density throughout the years. It is also critical to consider the damage caused by natural forces and the failure to act upon them due to the abandonment of large masses of people. A relinquished house is more likely to succumb to natural causes than a lived-in house. Aleppo had the highest moderately and severely damaged structure count amongst the other cities, while Hama had the maximum destroyed structures, accounting for 90%. 

With the control of most cities back under the Assad Regime, many of these cities have seen a new light of reconstruction, especially Hama and Deir Ez Zor, where the most rebuilds took place during the rebuild inception.

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Soldiers walk past damaged buildings in Yarmouk Palestinian camp in Damascus, Syria May 22, 2018_© Sanadiki, O

Syria Today

The rebels that started the war against the Dictator Assad have slowly lost control of the dead cities since the war began in 2011, with the government gaining back its control over most of its major cities. Idlib, the rebel stronghold, remains under the rule of outside forces, and the ones suffering are the civilians of Syria. The population in these parts is in the millions, with men, women and children living in camps, with uncertainty, for every so often, the Russian and Syrian forces attack.  Despite a ceasefire announced in March 2020, the Russian-backed Syrian government launched shelling and artillery fire in July 2021, killing eight people, including six children.

The decade-long war has caused severe damage of 1.2 trillion dollars to the Syrian economy. Fifty per cent of basic social infrastructure and services, including sewage, water supply and electricity, are non-functional in many dead cities. This rebuild comes as a ray of hope for many Syrians that fled the country as they return home to some degree of normalcy. All major cities destroyed and damaged in Syria began rebuilding around 2018, with an extensive rebuild focused on Homs, a once major stronghold of the rebel revolution. Parts of Syria are still virtually and physically unliveable as many rural areas and towns flattened; the road to recovery is a rocky one.

Syrians are returning from Turkey to their home towns over the border such as here in Ras al-Ayn_© Souleiman, D/ AFP via Getty Images

Dead cities based on sturdy, influential foundations are bound to bounce back in shape. The story of Syria is a heart-wrenching tale of devastation, pain, and trauma and, that is something that the coming generations of Syrians won’t ever forget. The new Syria might one day resemble nothing of the old wounds it has, but a hurt of this magnitude remains etched on the horizons. With most of Syria still displaced and divided in refugee camps and in the terrorist occupied north, a cloud of war still looms over the country.

References

Al20 Jazeera English (2021). Syria — is it a war without end? | Start Here. www.youtube.com. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_e_KpYIfZAY [Accessed 30 Apr. 2021].

Ameen Najjar (2018). Damage Caused by the Syrian Civil War: What the Data Say. [online] Medium. Available at: https://towardsdatascience.com/damage-caused-by-the-syrian-civil-war-what-the-data-say-ebad5796fca8.

Syrian Civil War – Civil war. (2019). In: Encyclopædia Britannica. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/event/Syrian-Civil-War/Civil-war.

Vice News (2018). This Is What Life Is Like Inside Assad’s Syria | VICE on HBO. YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESWCzPy7SgQ.

Vox (2017). Syria’s war: Who is fighting and why. YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFpanWNgfQY.

Author

Ketaki Lohar is an architecture graduate who is passionate about expressing the art in architecture through words. She is a perpetual daydreamer who works best as a night owl and a wistful bibliophile who is fierce about eco-architecture, clean practices, and taking notes from history.

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