The inhabitants of Aleppo leave their homes every morning not knowing if they will return at night, whether they live in the east of the city, still held by rebels but devastated by aerial bombardments, or in the west of Aleppo, where hospitals still function. A Syrian doctor, who studied medicine in France and today works in one of the city’s hospitals agreed to meet, on condition of anonymity, Mária-Dominique Illés from euronews’ Hungarian service, and share with her his daily life.
This doctor, among others like him, is doing everything he can to treat the wounded. According to him, it is false to presume that it is only the inhabitants of eastern Aleppo that are in danger. Although western Aleppo is spared from the shelling of the Syrian army and the bombings of Russian war planes, residents there are still very much in harm’s way. They are threatened daily by artillery and missiles used by ISIL and by Islamic militants of al Nusra, positioned in the eastern quarters of the city. As for humanitarian corridors, as soon as someone approaches them, they are often strafed.
Do you feel you are in danger?
Every day when I leave my home, I ask myself if I will come home at night alive. We have just, for example, received wounded civilians hurt by mortar fire. One of the two was immediately operated on. I am not saying there are no injured civilians in the east, but there are just as many, every day, in our western neighbourhoods, adults, children, babies. We are exhausted. Several churches and schools have been bombed. Someone who is at school, in a market, in the street, working in their store, can receive a bomb coming from the other side of Aleppo. We have lost parents and friends. Here, however, we are in favour of the culture of life and we are tired of years of war. It is hell in eastern Aleppo but here, it’s also hell. When we kill one person over there, one person is killed here.
The humanitarian corridors spoken of for the delivery of food and medicine, do they actually work?
No! Recently, a despairing uncle of a nurse who works with me at the hospital tried to leave with this wife and their two children using a humanitarian corridor, and they were gunned down just as quickly. Civilians are used as human shields. As soon as someone attempts to approach these corridors, he is killed. We have been waiting for days for the army to open two humanitarian corridors with the Russians, but, I repeat, as soon as someone comes near, al-Nusra group executes them.
Describe the conditions in which you work in the western part of the city.
Aleppo was divided in two by the war since 2011. We treat war injuries but also common pathologies. Those injured from the war are treated and taken care of for free, even in private hospitals. All of the establishments take them in for free as the injured are taken to the nearest hospital. We treat a lot of injuries caused by bombs, gun wounds and those from missiles, but equally we treat common ailments: bronchitis, infractus, and diarrhoea. For the moment we have not had resupply problems for common medicines, but we have problems with our electricity. It has been roughly two years now that rebels have cut off electricity to the city. We thus work with electric generators. Sometimes, when they decide to cut off the water supply, we don’t have water for months. Water is life, and so far the army has always managed to keep water flowing.
Why do you stay?
My friends too ask me why I expose my life every day to danger, but I am a doctor. In this job, we have very deep human relations. It is our mission to help. I have a project here, I have patients here, I am attached to my patients. After so many years, it is not easy to change and here, I am needed. Money is not everything in life, there is also human generosity and the requirement to serve the population.
The war stated five years ago, but you arrived here long before that, yes?
Yes I wanted to build a hospital. I succeeded. I work with 60 to 70 doctors and surgeons in an atmosphere of friendship. In my team there are Kurds, Muslims, Christians and Atheists. Before the war, 5 million people lived in Aleppo. Many of them left even if they didn’t really want to. We were happy here, we lived well, [Syria] is a beautiful country with a good climate. The population is amicable, welcoming, we live together with mutual respect. We didn’t bother ourselves with questions to know if someone is Muslim or Christian.
And your patients, how are they reacting psychologically?
Unfortunately today, we are seeing post-war traumatisms developing. Children and adults are suffering psychologically, they are terrified. With a few friends and colleagues we are thinking of how to take charge of civilians suffering from such trauma. Physical trauma of the body is visible, but fractures of the soul are not. Even if they appear unseen, it must be taken care of. We have to bring peace to this country.
What do you think the solution is?
We have to go to the source of these attacks, find those who have come from Afghanistan, from Chechnya or from Saudi Arabia, who have been brainwashed and who have an attitude of death. We have to get rid of those people and work with those who are more moderate to find a solution. Unfortunately, when fanatics want to impose their culture, this culture of intolerance ends in conflict and this conflict ends in a culture of death. They impose a law, they forbid women from leaving their homes, they force them to wear the veil, they treat them like slaves. People like those who attacked the Bataclan in the French capital, here there are one hundred thousand. Why are these people not criminals when in Europe they are? We cannot live alongside these people.
Are you scared?
Yes I am scared. When ISIL sends its combatants who start lobbing bombs and who scream that they’ll eliminate all who do not think like them, yes, I’m scared. The army has managed to defend Aleppo with a lot of courage, but when we see arriving these fanatics who come to die, we are scared because they are scared of nothing.
Do you have hope?
This fanaticism is coming to Europe. I think you will not be happy if this situation spreads to your cities. I have hope because for example in France or in Belgium, you can’t agree between the Right and the Left, or between the Flemish and the Walloons, but that does not mean you will start killing each other. The culture of democracy is alive in Europe.
According to fanatical terrorism, all forms of democracy must be eliminated. I think we must make aware that this very dangerous culture is spreading throughout the world. We have to unmask the hypocrisy. Here, whether in east Aleppo or west Aleppo, people have the right to live, but for geopolitical interests we are killing an entire people, we kill and entire country, we kill the city of Aleppo which has 10,000 years of history.