Following the take-over of Qusair by Syrian government forces, observers of the country’s bloody conflict predict that President Bashar al-Assad will strike next at rebel-held areas of Aleppo, the Syria’s commercial center. Ahmad al-Hamadi is, by his own account, an Aleppo University employee who in this installment of Syria Witness reports about the hazards of choosing to stay in an area already controlled by government forces. Ahmad is not the contributor’s real name.
Middle East Voices’ “Syria Witness” features personal accounts by citizen-journalists inside Syria about the grim challenges of survival in a war zone. These activists are often the only available street-level information source about life in a country whose government restricts independent reporting.
Syria Witness reports cannot be independently verified and, for their personal safety, some contributors do not use their real names. Accounts may be edited for reasons of clarity and style, but no changes to content are made.
Ahmad al-Halabi in Aleppo, June 2013
I live in western Aleppo in an area controlled by governmental forces. Our apartment is close to the university. Most of the neighborhoods of eastern Aleppo are now under rebel control.
The rebels have not reached the area I am living in at the moment. They are trying to gain control of more land that is now held by government troops. Sometimes they succeed and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they enter and sometimes they withdraw.
I was living with my family in an area between the two sides where it was very dangerous to live and as a vicious battle took place there, we were confined for more than two days without even being able to look out our windows. We fled that place running because there were many snipers on both sides. We fled with our neighbors in order to be able to help each other if something unexpected happened, God forbid. I had to leave and went to another apartment with my parents. The situation there also got worse, and I went to another apartment where my aunt lives.
Bombs and snipers from both sides
This area is safe in terms of bullets but as far as rockets and bombs go it is not safe at all. No place here is safe from those bombs and mortars. We never know when a bomb or a mortar will hit the ground or a building.
“Sometimes I think living in an African country would be better than staying in Syria but I need a visa to go there which is another problem.” – Ahmad al-Halabi
There are some dangerous roads between the two sides. Those are hot spots and many times the fighting takes place at those areas. You can’t see anybody walking or moving from and to those areas.
Actually, going to some specific areas is very dangerous and also going outside of Aleppo is dangerous because there are many checkpoints, some controlled by soldiers, some by rebels.
If you are living far away from the conflict you are still not safe from the bombs, rockets and jet fighters.
Fighters jet are obviously the government’s because the rebels do not have any air force. In terms of snipers both sides have snipers. In terms of bombs, both sides have bombs. I have to expect a bomb coming at any time from the rebels and of course anybody living in areas controlled by the rebels should at all times be prepared being bombed by government forces.
AUDIO: Ahmad talks about rumors of Hezbollah, Aleppo gas stations all having shut down
Muslims fighting Muslims
I also heard that some Iranian forces are in Syria. Not only officers but fighters. I think the revolution is becoming more of a battle between two sects, Sunni Muslim and Shi’ite Muslim. This is very dangerous. Muslims are fighting each other. Now it has become clear that Irana and Hezbollah are helping the Syrian government because they are all sharing the same brand of religion. That’s why they are supporting one another, and also some Iraqis fighters that are Shia are helping the Syrian army.
Many Syrians have already left the city
Around 3 million people were living in Aleppo. It is a huge number indeed. It is the second largest city in Syria. It’s very difficult to find a place to go to outside of Aleppo unless you have some relatives or friends living there. Going alone into the outskirts of Aleppo is not recommended and very dangerous. You many never come back! Because of these deadly circumstances, some people fled to refugee camps in Turkey, some crossed into Iraq if they have relatives there. Some went to the Lebanon, others to Jordan.
VIDEO: Ahmed reportedly talks to a street-side vendor of gasoline
Be careful what you say
This is my point of view: I am neither on side nor on the other. I did not choose a side in this war. There are very few like me. I think very few.
Among family, it’s okay to admit this. Everyone has his own views. But between friends it’s quite difficult. Regardless, I interact both with government supporters and opponents.
When discussions become heated, I might withdraw from the conversation. I do hope not to lose any friends but sometimes they want you to say your opinion, to say whether you are for or against the government and that’s very difficult for me to answer. I want peace and quiet.
Even the people living in the government-held areas have different points of view but they talk to one another in secret and make sure that there is nobody listening to them because there are some people watching and wanting to hear and gather information for the government. Those are the spies. They want to catch somebody. We are afraid to speak out loudly and when we speak about the crisis, we speak in secret.
Harsh living in Aleppo
Unfortunately, I don’t see anything is getting better. Last year it seemed like things were get better, but now, day after day, they just get worse. We don’t know what will happen next.
We were suffering throughout the whole winter without fuel and sharing the same apartment with many relatives. There were many people who left their houses seeking safety and we are still seeking safety. We are not safe and we don’t know how much longer we can hold on. It is very tough living here in Aleppo.
Nowhere else to go
I decided to stay here not because of my work but because if I wanted to go to another city, I would have to pay rent and cover living expenses which I can’t afford.
Another thing I’d like to say is that the prices for basic goods are constantly increasing. We all know that the Syrian pound has lost a lot of its value and is still losing value. Regarding my salary, I was making an amount equivalent to $300 before the crisis. Now that translates to $100 because of the drop of the Syrian pound.
I sometimes think I should leave for another city or country. It would be a lot better than staying in Aleppo. Sometimes I think living in an African country would better than staying in Syria but I need a visa to go there, which is another problem.
I could go to Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey but if you don’t know anybody there, it would be hard to find a place to live and sustain yourself without having a job.
Nobody but God will solve these problems.
NOTE: To become a Syria Witness and tell your own inside-Syria story, contact David Arnold, coordinator of our Syria Witness project at syriawitness(at)gmail.com. For safety reasons, we strongly urge you to use a browser-based e-mail (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail) and be sure “https” appears in the URL. You can also invite Arnold to Skype at davidarnold70.
David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.