Aleppo is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, with a history spanning over 5000 years. Since the Syrian uprising in 2011, however, this once wondrous and ancient city has been turned into a collection of dust and rubble.
Many of the city’s oldest mosques, like the Ummayad Mosque, have either been severely damaged or destroyed. Medieval infrastructure and World Heritage Sites—like the Madina Souq which once drew tourists from all over the world—have also been ruined.
But, Aleppo’s heritage is not the only part of the city to have been affected by war. The doctors, pharmacists, farmers, and civilians, who once defined the city, have either been displaced or are struggling to live their lives amidst constant bombardment from President Bashar Al-Assad and his allies. Many have been forced to set aside their professions and take up arms, while others have become rescue workers dedicated to saving civilian lives.
Yet, others, like Hasan Monir Jakal, have become full-time grave diggers.
In an article published in Middle East Eye, Jakal, who was once a builder, talks about spending his time burying countless dead bodies, a job he describes as a ceaseless nightmare that makes him “envy the dead, [for unlike us], they have found some rest”:
Before the war, Jakal was a builder in this ancient city. Now he digs graves near his home in Bustan al-Qasr for the hundreds killed in the relentless conflict that rages around him. The graveyards of eastern Aleppo are overflowing. And the work keeps coming.
The 51-year-old has seen everything in these past few weeks of intense attacks by Syrian and Russian forces.
He has worked in the dead of night under the blinding light of white phosphorus bombs, hid as buildings around him crumbled from air attacks, and watched the families come and go, consumed by their grief for loved ones lost. And the work keeps coming.
For the gravediggers of Aleppo, there is no time for rest.
“It is miserable, hard work, which only gets harder – on many days I can barely rest, there are often 10 to 20 people to bury, every day,” Jakal tells Middle East Eye.
“During the last month we have worked as the shells fell – we could die while we are burying dead and be next to them, but we just keep working. I have a duty.”
Rebel-held eastern Aleppo has faced relentless attacks since the failure of the September ceasefire: crude barrel bombs dropped by the air force of President Bashar al-Assad, and high-tech weapons launched by his Russian backers.
Moscow has boasted of the “reliability” of its bombs. It is people like Jakal who deal with their results.
But it is not just the labour that exhausts him. The stream of dead exacts a heavy toll on the mind.
Read the full story here.