In old Aleppo, ancestral businesses threatened by immigration

(Aleppo) Reconstruction work has been completed on the old city of Aleppo in Sook Khan al-Harir. But businessman Ahmed al-Seb was forced to flee Syria due to the absence of his sons.

Maher Al Moons
France Media Company

Streets with elegant arcades carved in ocher stone, shops with wooden facades are covered with carved iron.

After years of devastating fighting, Khan al-Harir (silk market in Arabic) has a change in the northern Syrian metropolis, which was the country’s economic heartbeat before the start of the war in 2011.

Located in the UNESCO-listed old city, the souk was developed by the state-backed Syrian NGO Syria Foundation in association with the Aga Khan Foundation and the Aleppo Governorate.

“The alignment is over and that’s a good thing,” Mr Sepp told AFP.

Fifty sighs as he sits in front of his clothing store, “But that’s not enough: our kids need to take over these stores.”

He sends photos of Khan al-Hariri on his cell phone to his elder Nabane: Founded in Algeria for three years, he started a textile business with his two brothers.

“Extremely difficult economic situation”

Hundreds of Aleppo businessmen and wealthy businessmen fled the country after 2011 and shifted their operations to Egypt, Iraq or Turkey.

Some have gambled back to Syria, where the economy is half-dead, the majority are overseas, threatening the sustainability of trade and craft traditions in Aleppo, which has attracted traders from around the world for centuries.

“My children are in Algeria. Others’ children are in Egypt or Erbil,” Mr Sepp lamented in Iraq.

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He himself got the shop from his father, whose portrait hangs on the wall.

“Many businesses are in danger of disappearing if children continue to migrate,” he adds.

After the total recovery of Aleppo in late 2016 by the Syrian army and its Russian ally, major reconstruction projects have been long overdue, despite some initiatives initiated by individuals or organizations.

In Khan al-Harir, dozens of shops and cafes reopened. But other parts of the old city still show the scars of devastating fighting.

Under a curve adorned with white and black stones, Ahmed al-Tomlaqi, 65, greets a neighbor, some of whom he has not seen in years.

Workers unloading rolls of cloth at the shop of his brother, who emigrated to Turkey.

“It’s reassuring to me (..) but it’s not the scattered traders and their capital in the Arab world where they have started their business,” Mr. Tomlaki laments.

“The economic situation today is very difficult,” he laments, recalling that tourists have not yet returned.

“Import Restrictions”

He points to Western sanctions, “sanctions on imports and exports”.

“Until these conditions change, it will be difficult for my brother and his sons to return,” he adds.

The war, which killed nearly half a million people, deported millions of displaced people and refugees. This conflict has destroyed the country’s infrastructure. According to the UN, more than 80% of the population lives below the poverty line.

Previously, Old Aleppo was famous for its closed market, with the world’s largest 4000 stalls and 40 caravans.

But according to UNESCO, about 60% of this market was badly damaged and almost 30% was completely destroyed, with the old city Aleppo being one of the main front lines during the war.

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The rescue operation of Khan al-Harir, which has 60 stalls, took almost a year.

“We have had difficulties in contacting traders abroad, some of whom have no one to manage their stores here,” admits Jean Magmas, head of the Aleppo branch of the Syrian Foundation for Development.

His organization wants to reclaim the other two socks. But “we can’t act alone,” Mr Magames pleaded. “We need everyone’s cooperation.”

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