Domicide: Architecture, War, and the Destruction of Home in Syria

By Ammar Azzouz

On the 21st of August 2012, a bread line was hit by a bomb from a helicopter in Bab al-Hadid, Aleppo, Syria. It killed at least 23 people and wounded more than 30. With the fights spreading across the country, and the siege of many parts of cities, bakery shops had closed, and people waited for hours to get their basic need. In this waiting, for their bread, they were targeted. But it was not a coincidence or a one-off attack. In a report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in August 2012, just over a year since the start of the revolution in Syria, it was noted that the ‘Syrian government forces have dropped bombs and fired artillery at or near at least 10 bakeries in Aleppo province over the last three weeks, killing and maintaining scores of civilians who were waiting for bread’ (Human Rights Watch 2012). HRW noted that all the ten bakeries were in neighbourhoods or towns where no fighting was taking place before or during the attack. Another report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, published in 2021, documented 174 attacks on bakeries since 2011. Of them, 149 attacks were by the Syrian-Russian forces (The Syrian Network for Human Rights 2021).

When we hear about wars, destruction is often labelled by the destroyers as ‘legitimate’ military target. They often claim that the destruction was part of ‘collateral damage’. But as seen in these two reports, the bakery shops and the bread lines are the target, deliberately destroyed in a system of violence. It is a war strategy to starve or kneel where food become weaponised, and bakery shops become targets to destroy peoples’ ability to survive.

But it was not the bakery shops only. Cities in Syria, from Aleppo and Raqqa to Homs and Idlib have had their architecture destroyed deliberately, to make them inhabitable, to kill their people or displace them. This deliberate destruction of peoples’ material, built and social environments have become to be known as domicide; from the word domus, home in Latin. Domicide is the deliberate killing of home.

As someone who has been displaced from their home for thirteen years, I felt the urgency to do something as a response to the destruction of cities in my country. For me, finding a way to make sense of loss and trauma was through research and writing. So, I have published my first book Domicide: Architecture, War, and the Destruction of Home in Syria (Azzouz 2023). The book, focuses on Homs, Syria, a city that became known as the Capital of the Revolution, for the wide spread of protests and the courage its people have shown from the early days of the revolution. But it is also a city that became the target of the Syrian Government, where over half of the neighbourhoods have been heavily destroyed.

In Domicide, I wanted to bring the mass destruction of cities closer to the suffering of the people. When we hear about destruction of cultural heritage, or the bombing of residential buildings, we rarely hear the accounts of civilians who find themselves at the heart of battlefields. Sometimes academics, or journalists, focus on stones, and not the people. In this process, wars are turned into faceless, abstract wars. Therefore, I wanted to re-centre the voices of the people whose lives have been broken by wars. By doing so, we can understand that destruction, is not only about erasing the material culture, but it is deliberately targeting people, their presence, their achievements and way of living. You could learn more about domicide from an earlier project I worked on a film that includes interviews with Syrians based in the UK, and also with academics who research the destruction of cities around the world and across different times in history.

Arup Community Engagement: Domicide. Destruction at the Time of War. © Arup.

The book includes a foreword by Lyse Doucet, the BBC Chief International Correspondent. Doucet, has reported on several wars and conflicts in different countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Ukraine. In her foreword she said

“Wars of our time, sometimes fought in our name, are not in the trenches; they’re fought street-to-street, house-to-house, one home after another. Why does a hospital, a kindergarten, always seem to be hit in every outbreak of hostilities? After nearly four decades of reporting on conflict, I now often say: civilians are not close to the front lines; they are the front line.”

Azzouz 2023, p. xiii

The book is structured around five chapters. In the first chapter, Domicide: Slow Violence and Destruction, I explain how destruction in Homs has started decades before the revolution. Through architectural projects led by political leaders, the city was losing its identity and cultural heritage in the name of modernisation and development. In the second chapter: War on home: In search of a place to call home, I examine the role of local and international charities and organisations to support internally displaced persons accessing shelters. I also interview people who lost their homes to humanise and individualise the struggle in Syria. Hanan, a Syrian-Palestinian architect based in Germany told me in 2021:

“I hold home with me wherever I go; the news, the thoughts and the memories are a part of my daily life. I had to see the pictures once, twice and repeat to understand that this is the place I used to live, that under the rubble is what I still, up until this moment, call home. I am a third-generation Palestinian refugee. My grandparents endured the loss of home and have lived the tragedy of exodus and refuge. They and my parents have worked for years to build a home away from home, and always had Palestine and the return in their minds and hearts.… We now are mourning Palestine, Yarmouk and Syria. … It is all gone. The place I call home is no longer the same, and even if it was restored to its original status, who could restore the lost lives and the ones who escaped the country for their lives?”

(Azzouz 2023, p. 66)
Figure 1: Destruction of Homs, Syria. Source: provided to author with request of anonymity (2022).

In the third chapter, Domicide and representation, I look at Syria in exile, and how it has been remembered, documented and archived. Syrians, their friends and allies, have used different tools and devices to tell the story of Syria through music, paintings, drawings, literature, food and films. An example to these efforts, is the artwork of artist Deanna Petherbridge (Figure 2). Born in 1939 in South Africa, Petherbridge spent over half a year drawing the destruction of Homs in her studio in London when she was in her late seventies (Azzouz 2020). Petherbridge passed away in January this year, and I hope her drawing will one day be exhibited in Homs that is rebuilt and free. In the fourth chapter, Domicidal reconstruction, I move beyond the moments of destruction and engage with the questions of reconstruction. Even though the war has not ended in Syria, many researchers, writers and architects have been debating the future reconstruction of cities. In the chapter, I also explain why reconstruction could bring new waves of violence, destruction and displacement. The final chapter, Domicide in war and peace, brings these themes together, and suggests different ways to resist domicide.

Figure 2 The Destruction of the City of Homs, 2016, ink and wash on paper, framed dimensions1277 x 2520 x 50 mm. Collection: Tate, Photographer: John Bodkin, 2016 © Deanna Petherbridge.

It is hard to be Syrian. Look around. Look. Listen. It is hard, because even when the bulldozers have left the ruined cities, and when the bombs stopped falling, the war unfolds daily, turning everyday life into a struggle to survive. But who remembers Syria today? I don’t know. Usually, in March each year, articles would be published to remember the anniversary of the revolution that started in 2011. But it is very quiet this March. Syria has turned into a forgotten war. It is hard to be Syrian. Scattered around the world, in refugee camps as in Jordan, or in cities in Germany, Egypt, Lebanon and beyond, millions of Syrians remain unable to return to their home, and even if they can, to where they return to? Their villages and cities have been destroyed, their families and neighbours have been killed, their homes have been razed to the ground. Even for those who remain within their country, when their home is still intact, exile is their fate. Not only because they left or have been displaced beyond their homeland but because the people have left, the faces they used to know are no longer there.

We live in a world that insists to normalise the destruction of cities. Since Hamas attacked Israel in October 2023, and killed over 1200 people, Israel has killed 32000 people in Gaza. Within twenty days since Hamas’ attack, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said that Israel has hit ten out of the fifty bakeries it supplies with flour (Ahmed and Morresi 2023). Emerging reports on Gaza show the large-scale destruction of the built environment by Israel. This destruction includes Gaza’s cultural heritage sites, and its everyday architecture such as universities, schools, mosques, shops and peoples’ homes (de Hoog et al. 2024; Desai 2024). Balakrishnan Rajagopal, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, said that (United Niations Human Rights 2023): “Carrying out hostilities with the knowledge that they will systematically destroy and damage civilian housing and infrastructure, rendering an entire city – such as Gaza city – uninhabitable for civilians is a war crime.” Domicide unfolds in Gaza to make it inhabitable.

Domicide is unfolding across different geographies in the world. Since the release of my book, I have heard how scholars, journalists, and cultural heritage specialists have been adopting the concept in different geographies. Many cities today remain in ruins, but we need to move beyond documenting moments of destruction, and beyond envisioning a future of cities without ruins. We need a global solidarity to reconstruct cities in ruins where a different kind of future emerges. We need actions to end domicide and reconstruct war-torn cities.


References

Ahmed, Kaamil, and Elena Morresi. 2023. “Airstrikes on Gaza bakeries add to ‘catastrophic’ food shortages.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2023/oct/28/airstrikes-on-gaza-bakeries-add-to-catastrophic-food-shortages.

Azzouz, Ammar. 2020. “2011: Reflections on a ruined homeland.”  City 24 (1-2):178-194.

Azzouz, Ammar. 2023. Domicide: Architecture, War and the Destruction of Home in Syria: Bloomsbury Publishing.

de Hoog, Niels, Antonio Voce, Elena Morresi, Manisha Ganguly, and Ashley Kirk. 2024. “How war destroyed Gaza’s neighbourhoods – visual investigation.” https://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2024/jan/30/how-war-destroyed-gazas-neighbourhoods-visual-investigation.

Desai, Chandni. 2024. “The war in Gaza is wiping out Palestine’s education and knowledge systems.” The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/the-war-in-gaza-is-wiping-out-palestines-education-and-knowledge-systems-222055.

Human Rights Watch. 2012. Syria: Government Attacking Bread Lines: Civilian Deaths at Bakeries Are War Crimes.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights. 2021. At Least 174 Attacks on Bakeries Have Been Documented Since March 2011 to Date, 149 of Them at the Hands of the Syrian-Russian Alliance. The Syrian Network for Human Rights.

United Niations Human Rights. 2023. Gaza: Destroying civilian housing and infrastructure is an international crime, warns UN expert.


About the Author

Ammar Azzouz is a British Academy Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. His book Domicide: Architecture, War and the Destruction of Home in Syria was published by Bloomsbury in 2023. On May 15, 2024, Ammar Azzouz will speak in the EUME Berliner Seminar on “Erased City; Imagining a Future without Ruins.”


Citation: Ammar Azzouz, Domicide: Architecture, War, and the Destruction of Home in Syria, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 28.03.2024, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/50946


OpenEdition schlägt Ihnen vor, diesen Beitrag wie folgt zu zitieren:
Forum Transregionale Studien (28. März 2024). Domicide: Architecture, War, and the Destruction of Home in Syria. TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research. Abgerufen am 18. Juli 2024 von https://doi.org/10.58079/w4d8


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The Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien promotes the internationalization of research in the humanities and social sciences. It provides scope for collaboration among researchers with different regional and disciplinary perspectives and appoints researchers from all over the world as Fellows. More...

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