Frenchman seeks to ‘give voice to those who have none’ in Syria’s Aleppo
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For the last three weeks, Pierre Le Corf, a 27-year-old Frenchman, has been living under heavy shelling in the Syrian city of Aleppo, driven by a desire to share the stories of the people he has met there.
“I am here to give a voice to those who have none,” Le Corf explained from Aleppo, the target of intense bombardments over the last two weeks.
Although most of the city’s residents have sought to flee the violence by any means possible, Le Corf has refused to budge – much to the ire of some of his loved ones. Yet there’s no reason for him to be in Syria, let alone on the most dangerous front in the country’s five-year conflict.
Le Corf’s journey to Aleppo began a little more than a year ago at his home in the western French region of Brittany with the launch of his project “We Are Superheroes”. The idea behind it was simple: he would travel around the world collecting the stories of the people he met along the way.
“I believe everyone has a story,” he said, explaining that he believed people grow and learn from each other.
Over the past 16 months Le Corf has travelled to 20 countries on five different continents and met with dozens of people, many from poor backgrounds. While his trip hasn’t been without danger, it was nothing like Syria.
More than 270,000 people have been killed in Syria since the start of the conflict in March 2011. Aware that his decision to travel there has been met with concern – if not outright disapproval – Le Corf defended his actions.
“I’ve spent months in extremely difficult areas, perhaps just as difficult as Syria, but in a different context,” he told FRANCE 24. “I don’t believe I will change the world, but the people who live in war zones need to feel as though they haven’t been forgotten. I want to give them hope by sharing their stories with you. It’s my small contribution.”
Aleppo, a city divided
Since the end of 2012, Aleppo has been divided in two with the east of the city dominated by rebel forces and the west under control of President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Over the years, the east has been regularly targeted by government bombardments, and as of last February, Russian strikes too. The rebels have retaliated with rocket and mortar fire, as well as barrel bombs.
Seeking to escape the violence that has ravaged their city, Aleppo’s residents have fled by the thousands, often to Turkey or abroad.
For his part, Le Corf has found himself in the government-controlled part of Aleppo, where he has taken to social media to tell the stories of the Syrians he has met there, and who have been living under a hailstorm of shelling never before seen in this part of the city.
'A short 30-second video to give you a small idea what it's like here'
An ‘incredible resilience’
Media coverage of the conflict in Syria has depicted a country left in ruin and overrun by the threat of jihad. But according to Le Corf, that is only a part of the picture.
“We never talk about the children who still go to school, the thousands of business owners who open their shops every day, and the families who continue to live, because in Aleppo, life goes on despite the war,” he said. “These people live rich lives that deserve to be shared.”
Le Corf’s goal is to do exactly that. On Tuesday, the young man was with a family in the northwestern neighbourhood of Zahraa, which has been targeted by rebel fire. They explained that the reason why so many Syrian families send their sons abroad, no matter what the cost, was so they would not be conscripted into the military.
“In Syria, if a family has only one son, he is exempted from military service. If they have at least two, they are obligated to join and are sent to the front,” Le Corf said.
Just a few days before, Le Corf went to the predominantly Kurdish neighbourhood of Sheikh Maqsoud. There he met a young woman whose husband had recently joined the ranks of the Islamic State (IS) group, taking their two children with him.
These are just a few of the stories Le Corf has heard since his arrival in Aleppo. But the young man said that these are just a handful of the hardships Syrians face.
“The thing that has weighed the most on the Syrians I have met in Aleppo are the water and electricity shortages, as well as the exorbitant cost of living. To give you an idea, a kilo [2.2 lbs] of potatoes, which cost around 15 Syrian pounds before the war, now costs 300 [around €1.19],” he said. “They’ve also told me about the pain of losing their homes and all their belongings. Because around 75 percent of the people living in Aleppo are displaced: before the war, they lived in nearby villages or other parts of Syria. They now live in the remains of houses or in tents. They often had a good life before, but now they’re living in slums.”
In observing daily life in Aleppo, Le Corf said he has realised just how much “war eats away at hope, or even worse, the desire to live”.
But he said that the residents of Aleppo “have an incredible resilience: they’ve gotten used to the situation and continue to live their lives. For example, you pick up a body or someone who’s injured on the way to work. You put them in the car and drop them off at the hospital, and then you continue on your way.”
Given the complexities of the Syrian conflict, and all the local, regional and international actors involved, it can be difficult to understand the political implications of the situation. It is for this reason that Le Corf has insisted: “I only talk about what I see, what I hear… I am here as a totally neutral observer.”