Twenty three years ago, I visited Syria. In Aleppo, I took these photos of the people and shops that I saw. Note the appointment to HRH on the glass to the left of the grey haired man. These shopkeepers spoke Arabic, French, English, Italian and of course, Russian. I worry about them now. How do you sell crystallised fruit when the streets are full of guns?
Outside Aleppo, to the west and north, we found apparently abandoned piles of rock, but they were the remains of ancient cities, and held inside their walls, early Christian churches. Their keepers, a few families, hung washing over the pillars, and drank water that came in trucks. How they could scrape their livings in this strange emptiness – I never understood. The man with the gun, for example farmed goats amid the ruins of Kirk Biza, a huge ruin that only warrants a weather forecast on the internet. There was no-one to sell to, no one to buy from.
We found the children in Qalb Loza, painting their hands with henna in the ruins of a 5th Century church. They painted our hands too.
The schoolboys came from Sednaya, a small town in western Syria. Sednaya was the scene of a prison massacre, in which 25 defendants were murdered by police in 2008. If the boys are still alive, they would now be in their early thirties, just the right age to bear arms.