The historic city of Aleppo, Syria’s oldest and largest, dates back to the sixth century BC.
I never thought we’d kill anyone or that we'd be killed, but they shed the blood of our people and children. I don't have anything to lose anymore. I've lost everything.... Even in the World Wars, no one has ever destroyed an entire country for the sake of power.
It was a major trading hub during the Ottoman Empire, its architecture impressive and its culture vibrant and diverse. The old city, with its medieval mansions, alleyways and souqs, was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986.
For the people of Aleppo who continue to live in the city’s opposition-held areas, attacks and bombardment are a daily reality.
In late 2014 and early 2015, a group of Syrian filmmakers (whose names cannot be revealed for safety reasons) travelled to Aleppo amid the continued bombing, to meet rebel fighters, ordinary citizens, families and children who struggle to survive as their city crumbles around them.
As Syria’s civil war enters its fifth year, this poignant and vivid film captures the personal stories of those living in the prolonged conflict.
The filmmakers shot in several locations in the city and sometimes used drone footage to show the destruction from above. We meet residents of Aleppo who take us through empty, rubble-filled lanes and the decimated and burnt-out buildings that once housed families and businesses, as they compare life before the war with the present.
“The government has systematically ruined this city,” Mohammad Mahmoud, a researcher, says in the film. “It wants to destroy the revolution and erase everything. It’s the same as what happened in the city of Hama in 1982. It wants to kill the spirit of Aleppo’s people.”
We also meet Karam al-Masri, a photographer who was captured by ISIL, tortured and held for six months at the start of the war. Al-Masri has used his camera to chronicle the destruction of Aleppo and plight of the people who continue to live there.
“A camera’s role is greater than a weapon’s,” says al-Masri. “When the regime arrests someone who works in the media, they torture them more than they would an FSA (Free Syrian Army) member.”
There is Michel Abou Yousef who is the supervisor at a Christian home for the elderly where he has lived since losing his own home. “I’m 53 years old and have seen enough,” he says. “I don’t want to reach 60 and see worse than this.”
Ismail is a civil defense volunteer who works with others to protect Aleppo’s women and children. “For me this is not a job,” he says. “It’s how I take part in the revolution.”
Shihab Al Din Abou Baker is a school teacher who works in a makeshift classroom, teaching dozens of local children who have been traumised by the violence.
There is Muhammad Hubbo, a schoolboy who has lost his friends and his house. He often has to do without electricity and water – and his favourite game is playing street skittles with his friends using spent gun cartridges.
Mohammed al-Goul is an FSA member who takes us to the deserted neighbourhood where he grew up. It was “one of the oldest and most beautiful in Aleppo,” he says. Stopping by the house where he was born, he reminisces about what it was like when he was a child but says he cannot step into the courtyard. “I can’t go inside because of the pain and anger I feel,” he says.
Death of Aleppo is a film that captures the scale of human suffering and destruction in the historic city; but also the resilience of its citizens who battle daily as their city falls apart all around them.
Update: After this film was made, Michel Abou Yousef died in an attack on the city on April 11, 2015.