It is hard to imagine what a city riven by war looks like. For those who do not know, the FSA nominally controls about 1/2 of the city, and the government controls the other half. People go about their daily lives as best they can. In most areas people fill the streets. And so does the trash. There are no city services. Electricity comes only from generators. But life is suprisingly ordered. It did not have a chaotic or anarchic feel. But the closer you get the front lines, the more empty the streets get. The front lines shift, but in the area of the old city the line was clear while I was there. Wide avenues are littered with burned out cars and trucks, and you cannot cross for fear of the snipers at the other end of the street. In some areas cloth has been strung across to provide concealment. Instead of the avenues you move in the old city’s narrow side streets. These streets are still populated, with children playing soccer, fathers grilling meat, and women going shopping. This is within several hundred meters of the front. Sniper rounds crack overhead periodically.
At the front, apart from the damaged and destroyed buildings, the thing I noticed was that the floor of the city was covered with the litter of war. I step over spent cartridge casings, burnt wood, destroyed weapons, food wrappers, shattered stones from the buildings, and collapsed roofing. In the old souk (market) small alleys are choked with collapsed corrugated roofs, and shops spill their contents all over. In their haste to show me a china shop damaged by a mortar shell, one of the katiba fighters knocks over some china, and is sternly rebuked by the others to pick it up and be more careful. It crunches underfoot as we tramp through to make the photo.
In Azaz the city is recovering and commerce thrives. It’s right on the border and new buildings are going up next to destroyed parts of the town. The government still shells the town, and when the weather clears the residents look up at the sounds of government jets. When you hear the rockets or bombs hit you feel safe, but guilty that someone else may not be. I visit one neighborhood near the center where an airstrike destroyed an entire block. More than 40 people had been killed there. It’s as desolate a landscape as I had ever seen. I made my panorama and moved on. Tanks destroyed by the FSA during the battle for the town are peppered throughout the area. I meet a farmer who’s garage was run over by a tank, and who’s house was pierced by several tank rounds during the fighting as he and his family hid in the boiler room. They milk the cow and serve me warm sweetened fresh milk as we watch rockets from a helicopter strike a few miles away.
I am not sure I captured it the way I wanted. But here are my images showing the effects of the war on the cities and towns it is fought in. People still live here.