Aleppo: 'We are burying people in parks and empty lots'

This garden in Aleppo was turned into a cemetery. (Photo published by activists on social media)
This garden in Aleppo was turned into a cemetery. (Photo published by activists on social media)


After more than four years of fighting in Aleppo, the cemeteries are full. Yet the recent intensification of the bombing campaign carried out by the regime and their Russian allies have left several hundreds more dead. Now, people living in Aleppo are forced to quickly bury their loved ones in parks and empty lots, according to our Observer, an emergency worker in the rebel-held areas.

About 250,000 people remain in the eastern part of Aleppo, which has been under fire by the regime since it was taken over by rebels in 2012.

In the past few years of death and destruction, Aleppo’s cemeteries slowly filled up and people were forced to seek out other places to bury their dead. There is no comprehensive statistic for how many people have died in the past four years, but they number in the thousands.

Since 2013, several parks have been transformed into cemeteries. And in the past few months, even these parks have been filled to capacity, meaning that some people have been forced to bury their loved ones in empty lots between buildings or in fields once used by farmers.

This video shows several tombs in the neighbourhood park in Bustan Al-Qasr.

This park in the al-Sukkari neighbourhood was turned into a cemetery.

"We bury between five and ten people in each grave”

Mohamad Abou Marwan is an ambulance driver in eastern Aleppo.

When we find bodies after an air strike, we always take them to the nearest hospital so that their family members can easily find them and formally identify them.

Most often, we suggest to the family that we bury their dead relative in the same grave as several other people in order to save space. Some families refuse because they feel it is undignified and disrespectful to the deceased. However, we work with local officials [who are connected with the Syrian opposition] to try and convince them.

In July 2014, an activist filmed this video showing children playing next to graves in several different city parks in Aleppo.

If the families accept, their dead loved one is buried in a communal grave in one of the parks transformed into cemeteries. Volunteers use shovels to dig these graves, because there is a shortage of heavy equipment in the neighbourhoods under siege.

Other families want to handle the burials themselves and they take responsibility for finding a site, sometimes in an abandoned lot or on their own property.

“We take photos of the small details that might help to identify someone”

Many of the victims’ bodies are burnt or disfigured, which makes it impossible to identify them. These people are transported to the forensic department [WARNING: if you follow this link, you may find some of the photos shocking]. There is only one in the rebel-held area, but it is a big building that has a big morgue that can hold several dozen bodies.

Unfortunately, the volunteers who work in this service don’t have the means to carry out genetic tests to identify the dead. However, they do carry out a meticulous process of documentation designed to preserve the memory of the dead person. We take many photos of the small details that might help identify a person, like a person’s belt or their shoes or the ring they are wearing. Then we give each body an identification number and bury them in a mass grave with other unidentified victims. We usually bury five or ten people in each grave.

The details about each victim are kept preciously in a file that is available to people who come here looking for information about a missing relative. Sometimes, they are able to identify their loved one. But such cases are unfortunately rare and dozens of families are unable to grieve properly because they still haven’t found the body of their missing loved one.

After three weeks of intense air strikes, the forensics department is starting to run out of supplies.

“Soon, we’ll be out of body bags, shrouds and surgical masks. With the intensification of the siege by the regime, we can’t have any more supplies delivered,” a volunteer told FRANCE 24.