Adnan runs the Instagram account Syria before 2011 to keep the memories alive through photos from before the war. 
In the picture you see Aleppo in 2008. Photo: JH Wu


The images of Syria before the war

In Syria, the war has now been going on for ten years. Millions of people have been forced to flee and the disaster is a fact. Without forgetting this cruelty to which the country's population is exposed, it is important to remember the country that existed before the war, thinks Adnan Samman, creator of the Instagram account Syria before 2011.

Adnan Samman was born in the city of Hama in Syria in 1993. He remembers his childhood as a relatively quiet period in the country. He himself gained access to good education thanks to the fact that his father had gotten a job abroad. This gave the family good financial conditions compared to many peers around him. Adnan also got the chance to travel around the country and meet people with different backgrounds. Through this he gained an insight into the everyday life that many Syrians lived in at that time. He describes this everyday life as waking up, working and sleeping to make ends meet financially and that only the financially privileged had the opportunity to send their children to school. During this time, political parties were not allowed to be created and people were only allowed to gather after obtaining permission from the security police or in the church and mosque. 

- We did not receive much support from the state and most could not afford to travel outside the country, or even leave their hometown. This combined with the fact that social media was not allowed made the country very isolated. 

Despite the many challenges that the country went through already during Adnan's childhood, he has many fond memories from his upbringing in Syria. He says that Syria at that time was, after all, very safe and that he feels lucky to have grown up during the country's first glory days after the devastating coup in 1963, which Adnan believes is one of the worst events in Syria's history. He goes on to say that Syria is a unique country in many ways.

- I have been to many countries around the world, but there are few countries that give the same colorful picture with so many variations and very interesting things to see. 

Adnan moved from Syria in 2010 and has not returned since because only a few months later violent protests erupted in connection with the start of the Arab Spring in 2011. After two years of protests, the conflict escalated and Adnan chooses to call 2013 the year of despair. The country's future prospects became darker and darker and in the end the country was in the middle of a civil war. 

- At that moment, and many with me, I felt total hopelessness, says Adnan. 

In 2015, Adnan accidentally found a photo album from a traveler who had been on a tour of Syria in 2010. In a time of despair for his country, these images became therapy for Adnan. Every night he sat down to look at old pictures from Syria. This album was also the starting shot for his idea of ​​collecting pictures from the country before the war. One night, Adnan was struck by the thought that there might be more who, like him, need to see these pictures that he has collected. He then decided to start the instagram account Syria before 2011

- The idea of ​​the platform is to keep the memories of the country alive through images from before the war. 

A wedding in Raqqa 1983. Photo: Karin Pütt

He also believes that it is important to give a different picture of the country to those who only see what is painted by the media as a war zone. Adnan wants to give Syria the more humane face that the country deserves, he says. He also hopes to contribute to curiosity from the outside world and highlight the great potential that the country had, but which was lost thanks to 50 years of dictatorial leadership. 

- Many outsiders often forget that Syrians had a home and a life in the country before the war. Through the pictures, I want to remind you that "at home" and "everyday" can be very fragile. 

It is also important for Adnan to show the country's rich cultural heritage. He believes that it is this heritage that makes a place a civilization. 

I ask Adnan if he dares to have hope for the future of Syria and what it takes to get back this country that he describes with love. 

- I do not think it is about getting Syria back to what it was before the war, but finding a way to take us further from where we stand today. A post-war Syria will look very different and this requires a new approach to the country. 

The now destroyed Qadriyyeh building in the city of Hama in 1980.
Photo: Werner Forman

Adnan believes that the reconstruction of the country would require taking advantage of all the experiences and lessons that Syrians have brought with them, including Syrians like himself, who lived these years in Europe and gathered new, useful perspectives. But it is not just a change in the attitude of the population that is required, says Adnan. A new constitution must also be drawn up and this needs to take into account civil rights such as political and personal freedom as well as the implementation of increased women's rights.

Adnan still chooses to see the light in the tunnel when it comes to Syria's future and emphasizes that he believes that these years can bring something good after all.

- I usually say that it is true that the suffering of Syrians has been long-lasting, but that this may be for the better, because we learned a lot during this decade. More than we have learned over the decades. 

However, he wants to emphasize that he does not see a change happening in the near future. 

- At present, this feels like a distant dream. I want to believe that we Syrians will be able to benefit from this long, hard road we have walked, but the future will show. 

Aleppo 1982. Photo: Brian Harrington Spier

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