Displaced Syrians in Idlib hold classes in Roman ruins

A 16th-century Roman archaeological site in the Deir Hassan region north of Idlib has been turned into an educational center, thanks to the efforts of a displaced woman. It offers courses for children and women in the camps who want to learn new skills and benefit from vocational training.

The site, remnants of an ancient fortress, church and castle, sits amid nearly 600 refugee camps housing hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians.

Najlaa Salah Mimar, who was displaced from Maarat al-Numan in southern Idlib, called on friends to help hang the curtains, repair the floor and bring chairs and tables.

Mimar told Al-Monitor that his goal was “to help displaced children and women who aspire to find employment opportunities”. She said the center offers training in “several trades such as dressmaking, first aid, hairdressing, make-up and weaving”.

Some 20 adults have taken the courses so far. The camps don’t have schools, she said. “During the winter, we only taught 30 children because of the cold and the lack of heating. But in the summer we have about 70 children.

“We chose the castle for our project because the rent and overheads are very expensive elsewhere, and we cannot afford it because our work relies on volunteers, with 15 people joining hands to make the project a reality and dealing with management, teaching and training.”

Mimar added: “We covered the walls and the ceiling with curtains to create a more conducive atmosphere for learning. We are also looking to include more language training and Microsoft Office, but this will require funding, computers and other equipment.

Rim al-Ahmad, 19, was displaced from the southern countryside of Idlib and now lives in one of the camps in Deir Hassan. She signed up for sewing classes.

“I have to support my family,” Ahmad told Al-Monitor. “The center is the only vocational training center for women in Deir Hassan.”

“I also bought an old sewing machine to start making and mending clothes for the camp residents.”

“I would have liked to be able to continue my studies and obtain a degree in Arabic literature at university, but I was forced to drop out of school and look for work, given the circumstances,” she said. added.

Baraa Riad al-Mahdmoud, a 15-year-old who was displaced from the town of Morek, told Al-Monitor: “The center was my chance to go back to school after having to drop out due to our forced displacement. . It’s nice to have people who think of the kids in the camps and work hard to cheer them up and try to restore what they’ve lost.

Local authorities affiliated with the Ministry of Culture appear to be turning a blind eye as many displaced people pitch tents near archaeological sites in the Deir Hassan area in the northern countryside of Idlib. They don’t pay rent, like other displaced people who squat fields elsewhere.

They fear, however, that the ruins will collapse and injure people.

The province of Idlib is one of the richest archaeological regions in Syria, hosting several ancient monuments and antiquities, including more than 1,000 archaeological sites and 40 historic villages, many of which are inscribed on the World Heritage List, and trace their history in Aramaic, Greek, Roman, Assyrian, Byzantine and Islamic periods.

Saad Fansa, who worked for nearly 30 years at the National Museum in Damascus as director of photography and the museum’s documentary archive of Syrian antiquities, told Al-Monitor: “During the years of war, areas archaeological sites have been destroyed in battles and cannon fired. bombs and airstrikes” and “Massive waves of displacement have prompted many families to take refuge there instead of paying rent on private land”.

He warned: “When the camps were established, stones from these Forgotten City sites were used for construction or sold – a practice which, if continued, could lead to the disappearance of entire archaeological sites.”

Fansa continued, “But all this doesn’t mean these people should be kicked off the sites, because a child’s life is more valuable than all those antiques. However, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham could move the tents to organized camps in other locations with services and educate their residents about the importance of these antiquities, instead of turning a blind eye to theft and smuggling to the Turkey.

The Syrian Antiquities Law of 1963 states that “all immovable and movable antiquities and archaeological areas of the Syrian Arab Republic are the public property of the State, except antiquities with proof of ownership or those registered as private property..

The law also states that municipalities cannot grant construction and restoration permits in places near archaeological sites and historic buildings without the approval of archaeological authorities. But the war has made law enforcement nearly impossible, especially in the Deir Hassan area, which is under Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s control.

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