Booming Business is Tragedy for Gravediggers of Aleppo

BY Toby Muse  November 5, 2012 at 4:00 PM EST


Video shot and edited by Toby Muse.

For those resting in Aleppo’s cemetery, Syria’s violence is now over.

The graveyard is a rare spot of peace — as if both the rebels and the army see the futility of fighting over the dead.

On a recent day, the only sound was the wind rustling through the trees that are dotted among the thousands of tombstones. The only people — a small team of gravediggers.

“There’re about 40 more dead every day. Most of them are women and children,” said a gravedigger — in Arabic — who gave his nickname of Abu Abdul. Like many civilians struggling to survive the violence, he feared giving his real name would lead to retribution.

“Every day we’re working all day trying to keep up with the dead.”

One family of nine was killed in Aleppo in a jet strike that exploded a four-story building, he remembers. But with the fighting in Aleppo dragging on, there are more tragic stories than one can count.

Walking through the rows of tombstones bleached by the baking sun, it’s striking just how many have been buried since July, when the violence exploded across Aleppo.
In some parts of Syria, the army has attacked the funeral of government opponents, slaughtering mourners. But so far there hasn’t been a direct hit on the cemetery in Aleppo, a city where mortars, jet rockets and heavy shelling rain down every day.

“The planes come, they circle over the cemetery and scare everybody,” said Abu Abdul.
While the war hasn’t moved in to the graveyard, it’s reached its outer perimeter. Just outside, pickup trucks packed with heavily armed rebels race along the highway towards the city’s frontlines. Just minutes away stretches a solitary highway, a no-man’s land that connects government territory to rebel-held zones.

When asked whether the violence will end anytime soon, Abu Abdul answers with a quick “no”.

“This will only end when Bashar al-Assad falls,” he said.

Opposite the graveyard, tomb makers’ stores line the street. Some have closed up shop, fleeing the violence. Those who have stayed behind are inundated with work.

Another gravedigger in another graveyard took a break from digging up the earth. In this cemetery, pneumatic drills break up the stone ground to make more graves. Ten empty graves stood empty.

“It’s not just me that’s sad, everyone in Syria is crying. The killing of children, women and civilians make all of us cry,” said the gravedigger who gave his name as simply Khaled.
He’s more unsure when the violence may end. “When Allah decides. We don’t know”.

Asked if he’s scared of dying in Syria’s indiscriminate violence, he replies:
“It is scary, because the soul is precious but if we are killed it is God’s will because he created us and he will take our life.” He added: “We are made from dust and to dust we will return.”

With that, he returned to dig the needed graves.

Toby Muse is a freelance video journalist.