A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, July 27, 2012

Halabi Chalabi: Aleppo, a Great City Besieged

Aleppo's Citadel
The Citadel of Aleppo stands on a hill dominating the old town in the midst of Syria's great northern city. The place has been occupied for millennia; the city is mentioned as early as the third millennium BC, and an ancient temple was early transformed into a fortification. The Crusaders never succeeded in taking it, but the Mongols did, and Tamerlane as well; the last razed the Citadel. Like most Middle Eastern tells, the citadel hill is a palimpsest, but because the city is built over it, archaeologists have never been able to explore it fully. An ancient Silk Road city, it is known as cosmopolitan; Turks, Kurds and Armenians mingle in its suqs, not just Arabs; its cuisine is famed within Syria.

The ancient rival of Damascus, Aleppo is a major trading center and, with a population of two million, is now believed to be slightly larger than Damascus. During the first year of the Syrian uprising, it was as if Syrian cities were adhering to their popular stereotypes: Homs the most religiously fanatical city and Hama the most rebellious, both at the lead of the revolt; but Aleppo slow to rebel. Halabi Chalabi, the Syrian saying has it, "the Aleppan is a gentleman." In fact Aleppo saw violent struggle during the regime-Muslim Brotherhood battles of the 1980s. But it may now be facing its greatest ordeal since Tamerlane. (Or worse; Tamerlane may have built towers of skulls, but he didn't have chemical weapons.)

A great city is preparing for a showdown. May things end better than seems likely at the moment.


aron said...

All this "final showdown" buzz seems to be mostly rebel hype and breathless retweet reporting. I'd be cautious about endorsing it.

From what I understand, the action is mostly limited to few Sunni in-migrant suburbs, with a few hundred or perhaps a thousand rebel fighters involved in the fighting.

No doubt they'll crack down hard, and people will die, but it's not quite Stalingrad. Yet.

David Mack said...

Thanks for this post. When I went to your blog this morning, I was thinking that it was about time for Mike to do a historical note on Aleppo.