Interviews

Greetings from Aleppo ‘The war hasn’t destroyed us’

Blue sky and fluffy clouds spied through a hole in the ceiling. The apartment is coated in a thick layer of dust. Issa Touma tells his parents not to touch anything. A bomb fell from that same blue sky, straight through the ceiling, into the living room. Without exploding. “Luckily, that happens too sometimes.”

By Dore van Duivenbode 

Issa Touma, who was born in Aleppo and is a photographer, curator and filmmaker. He left Syria in 2012. His recent film Greetings from Aleppo follows him as he returns to his friends, his destroyed apartment and that of his parents. 

A few days before the hole in the ceiling and the bomb in the living room, Touma was on stage in a dinner jacket accepting the European Short Film Award in Wroclaw, Poland. “The morning after the ceremony I returned to Aleppo. But in war time, you can never be certain of your plans.” He rented two taxis so it wasn’t clear who was in which. The road had banks installed to protect against snipers. At the end of the trip, Touma grabbed his mobile and filmed a cab manoeuvring through a narrow street. Mattresses had been stacked on the roof. Touma’s neighbour got out. 

“It was an emotional moment. He had lived away from the city for five years. Now it was cold and he was returning to a home with no windows. Another neighbour came back with a new door. The day after, another neighbour, another door. They don’t wait for international aid or someone to tell them what to do. They spend their last penny buying a door somewhere to show: we’re back and this is my home. They return from safe cities in Syria, Lebanon and Armenia to demonstrate that the war hasn’t destroyed us yet. Because that is what the soldiers want, whichever flag they fight for. When I heard the first bombs years ago, I decided war wouldn’t win. The Syrians will be back to rebuild their country.”

Issa Touma made 9 Days – From My Window in Aleppo (2016) and Greetings from Aleppo (2017) in collaboration with filmmakers Floor van der Meulen and Thomas Vroege