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The Layered Graves of Syria's Douma City

Image of the layered-graves after bombardment. Source: the Civil Assembly of the town of Douma, Facebook.

Image of the layered-graves after bombardment. Source: the Civil Assembly of the town of Douma, Facebook.

This article was originally published on Syria Untold and is republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement. The story was written in Arabic by Omar Youssef Souleimane and translated by Maya Milani.

Bombs fell on the building, destroying its floors. But the building did not vanish, it transformed into floors of underground tombs, for those who once lived within its walls above. Just as population density in the city caused the buildings to grow taller, death density is now causing graves to go floors deeper. This is how the people of Douma are now constructing their final resting places. They will not, of course, fall short of building material; home rubble is aplenty.

The graveyard were soon announced full, a local council member in Douma told SyriaUntold. Even agricultural lands could no longer suffice. In 2015 alone, over 6,000 victims fell in the Damascene suburb town, according to the Violations Documentation Centre (VDC). This number is enough to destroy all the farming lands there, which the population depends on entirely for their food supply. So, the grave-digger resorted to creating sets of three-meters-deep holes, in which graves were designed in a staircase form, to occupy less surface space.

In Douma, folks may bury dozens of victims in a single day, as they did after a massacre on August 22, 2015. Over a hundred people were killed that day after the regime's airforce hit several rockets at a popular market place in a residential part of the town. That’s why people from Douma need to economize on grave spaces. It may be a luxury for some to build their homes on multiple floors, but It’s now a luxury for Dumanians to build their graves on one.

The war that started in 2011 has taught us that life and death on this planet are but a coincidence. Syrians can survive by stepping a yard away, or die for taking a right turn on the wrong day. However, Douma graves have taught us that death has its own art forms in this war. But unlike the immortalizing arts of Pharaonic mummies, in this war nihilism rules the day.

It may seem simple at first, but constructing those graves takes a great deal of precision, as any flaw can cause a cave-in. The levelling of their ascendance unto the surface is measured with a precise meter. They usually have six floors of one grave each. This invention was initiated in Douma and spread rapidly to other towns of the Damascene Ghoutah suburbs.

In this, we are reminded of what the people of Homs have been doing since 2011; turning their playgrounds into graveyards. It may be fitting to remember that several of those parks were graveyards to begin with: Bab Houd Park for instance, or Damascus Road Park, to name a few. These parks were taken back by the war to what they once were decades ago: graveyards. Some graves are nameless, either due to the absence of acquaintances able to identify the bodies before they were buried, or because they were shred to pieces.

However, the ill-fate of Douma victims was not just that some of their layered-graves are nameless, but that even those graves were bombarded. On 14 February 2016, the town graveyard was shelled, it included several layered-graves. That day Kasem Ballah, the graveyard manager in the Douma local council, was killed. He had buried his own two children, Osama and Yumna, only a few days earlier there. They had also been killed by the shelling. We do not know if it was their graves, or those of others, that were destroyed that day.

The regime usually buries those that vanquish under torture in mass graves. But respect for the victims has prevented people in Douma from burying them the same way. As for ISIS, at least they will not destroy those graves as they’ve done in areas under their control. They are not above ground level, and thus will not “undermine the monotheism of God” by ascending too high, according to their Wahhabi theology.

Perhaps one day, researchers will come to Douma, in search of an extinct civilization. They will unearth its grounds, and recall that death has its own echelons in Douma, just as life does.

 

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