Can life spring out of death, can history be reborn out of its ashes, and can heritage be restored? Can a city reduced to debris and melted concrete rise again? Can archaeology exist without archaeology because it has either been looted, bulldozed or annihilated? Never the less, newly devised archaeological sites, masterpieces of devastation caused by relentless bombardment by every known weapon, except the nuclear, are being created under our very own eyes, and will be created as long as the war goes on, as an indictment to our ambivalence and ethical disintegration. There are miles and miles of them: horrific skeletons of the annihilated Syrian cities and towns. Yet I ask: are the old cities of Aleppo and Homs going to be rebuilt in the future as edifices made of the infamous concrete of which our memories have retained and will retain the most nightmarish images of a substance widely used throughout the world, yet destined to natural disintegration and degradation, even without disasters or wars?
The disintegration of concrete upon impact to piercing skeletons of rubble heaped upon rubble has become the bane of Syria now and it will be in the future. I am thinking of Old Aleppo crafted out of dressed stone and of Old Homs crafted out of basalt and white stone I am also thinking of the old walls, gates, hammams, souks and houses, of the traditional styles of building, of crafts handed down in uninterrupted chains of durability and of memories of lives stored in houses and quarters hundreds of years old. Is the living history of the ancient cities, towns and villages of Syria, annihilated by the massive brutal power of the war machines which are being wielded mindlessly by the killers of man and civilization, is this history to disappear without a trace so that the archaeologists of the future will find only horrendous featureless mounds of debris and rubble? What earth moving equipment, what diggers, winches and gigantic cranes will be able to lift the debris and dispose of it. Dispose of it, how and where?
I am having something akin to metal fatigue. Call it spiritual fatigue if you wish, but my own edifice is falling apart as I sink into the quagmire of destruction in order to document our historical and heritage losses, while at the same time invoking them as they were and giving them life in order to resurrect them and offer my readers a glimpse of their past bustling richness and vitality. Yes, I have been doing this since the terrible annihilation started and I have been publishing all in my blog. Although, it is required to maintain a certain measure of detachment and objectivity when attempting to document and compile records of destruction to historical monuments, nothing approaching that kind of neutrality is fitting for me. I am an artist and a writer recording the destruction of my people’s heritage. I am involved and it is with this involvement that I shall mourn the beauty of pattern, form and well-wrought stone, marble and wood, the intricacy of ornament and well designed arch, facade and courtyard. In the beginning I mourned the people and their children. Now I mourn what they have created over thousands of years.
“The dehumanization, depopulation, destructuring, detexturing, and most of all the decivilization of Syria, is taking place under the very eyes of either a silent, indifferent, uncaring world, or it may be, a calculating, scheming world that measures its reactions and actions by self interest, geopolitical ambitions and plain undiluted egoism. Syria is being decivilized to the extent that its history of civilization stands in the gravest peril of writing some of the bitterest and most tragic chapters it has ever written,” I wrote not a very long time ago. A Whole stratum of the layers of civilizations that Syria has played host to is being systematically insanely removed, i.e. that of Arab Islamic civilization, in addition to the modern and contemporary urbanization. Once all traces of this top layer of the civilizations of Syria is removed with all its landmarks and cultural edifices, some of them surviving monuments of older civilizations; once a state of uprootedness is meticulously and thoroughly accomplished in a waste land of debris and rubble, the Syrian regime, if it survives, will start rebuilding its brave new world with the help of the Russians and with the help of the Iranians, as it has already planned and is planning.
The Russian architects will step in and continue the tradition of ugly tasteless blocks of perishable concrete that was started during the reign of Assad the father. Only this time, the opportunity is limitless. And Syria will have its mini Russia of jungles of concrete, springing over the graveyards of the Syrian cities, towns and villages, while the Iranians who cannot boast one decent original great contemporary monument will drown Syria in cheap, fake Safavid decadent glory, thus adding a veneer of historical kitsch to the jungles of concrete. A new generation of contractors and war opportunists will come into being, forming the army of manipulators and designers of this brave new world. The question is whether the homeless, penniless poor of Syria who lost their traditional homes or their slums will have a place in this brave new world?
Therefore, before the axe of rebuilding falls, creating the promised land of urban featureless soulless jungles of cement and concrete; or before you get used to the annihilated monuments and cities of Syria, forming permanent desolate wildernesses, let me once more dwell on the horrors and disasters of concrete, dead and alive, its imperishable perishability and mutability. In this context, I would like to quote the following extract from Alice Freidemann:
“Why try to rebuild our infrastructure and create vastly more greenhouse gases? Cement is the third largest source of CO2 after autos and coal-fueled power plants. Large amounts of energy are required to produce cement, around 450 grams of coal per 900 grams of cement produced, according to the World Coal Association. Limestone is heated with fossil fuels up to 2,642 degrees Fahrenheit and causes 7% of global carbon dioxide emissions per year… A wasteland. There will be absurd amounts of concrete rubble — what the hell are people in the future going to do with 300 billion tons of concrete? Build sheep fences?
The writer was not thinking of wars, bombardment, shelling and Scud missiles, unleashed on concrete and stone alike. It did not occur to her that it is not time alone that renders concrete into disaster areas of melting, weeping, fluid hideousness and indispensable rubbish. Had the writer seen the shredded, torn rivers of concrete that were the Syrian cities, she would have dedicated her life to writing nothing but that which preaches the dark hidden evils of concrete. I am not an expert, but I think recycling the debris of concrete will only be a recipe for great many disasters to come.
Credit: Images are shot by Syrian activists.