Earlier today CNN published an in-depth feature on the return of football to the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo.
The city, once a thriving cosmopolitan enclave, is now a shadow of its former self after years of relentless attacks by military forces under orders from President Bashar al-Assad. The siege, part of an ongoing civil war in the country, came to a head in December when pro-Assad forces bombarded the city, killing hundreds of civilians and aid workers and rendering the city all but uninhabitable.
In an effort to spin the attacks as a liberation and peacekeeping mission, the Assad government has been trying to convey an image of life returning to normal in Aleppo. And nothing says “rhythms of everyday life” quite like sports.
CNN was on hand for the return of professional club football a few weeks ago, documenting a major derby clash between rivals Al-Ittihad and Al-Hurriya. As the stunning photographs in the article show, it creates a compelling image of a city and a community rebuilding from amidst the ashes and trying to recapture some semblance of joy from before the civil war.
Of course, those who have had to flee the country see it another way. A Syrian journalist, who is currently living as a refugee in Turkey, believes this is all a sideshow.
”This is a media war, to show the regime has gotten Aleppo back and made it safe. They forced half of Aleppo’s resident out of their home. They made them refugees all over the world. These are lies. It is very upsetting to see, after all the bloodletting and all the martyrs that died, the regime is acting as if nothing happened. They are playing football on the ruins of Aleppo.”
The piece also includes accounts from those at the match. Omar Hamidi, a squad member for Al-Ittihad, described the game as “... an indescribable, unnatural feeling to return to the pitch, in the stadium in Aleppo, after five years.”
The whole piece is remarkable and definitely worth a few minutes of your time.