Geopolitics

Chronicling The Syrian War Through Art

Syria Deeply looks back at some of the history and evolution of the country’s revolutionary art over the past five years of war, including political graffiti, digital art and other mediums that have become part of the uprising’s language and culture.

Bashar al-Assad graffiti
Bashar al-Assad graffiti
Zuhour Mahmoud

DAMASCUS â€" On Feb. 16, 2011, 15-year-old Bashir Abazid and his friends painted several walls of his hometown of Daraa with revolutionary slogans: "The people want the fall of the regime" and "Your turn is coming, doctor," in reference to President Bashar al-Assad, once a practicing ophthalmologist. Syrian security forces made an example of the children, detaining them and torturing them for more than a month.

News of the detention and torture of the students shocked the country, and is now widely considered one of the main events that sparked the Syrian uprising. Shortly after the incident, street artists all over the region started painting the walls of their cities with similar slogans.

Over the past five years of war, political art has become part of the landscape of the conflict, both on the ground in bombed-out cities and in the digital world, where different kinds of battles are waged.

Digital art, for example, which doesn't require workshops or studios to produce, and can be distributed across various online platforms that reach millions of people, has become increasingly popular in Syria and other post-Arab Spring countries.

Abdalla Omari, a painter and filmmaker from Damascus, has also become famous for his series of war-inspired portraits. His portrait of Nayef â€" a young boy who was killed in 2013 after having survived the deaths of 40 of his family members â€" paints a powerful reality of millions of Syria's children. For Omari, the act of revolt is a form of art in itself. "Art is rebellion against rules and norms, and an attempt to construct new rules and norms," he says. "That's why the documentation through art began from the moment these kids in Daraa wrote the slogans on the walls."

The act of creating art, for him, is directly linked to the revolt, and his work as an artist is merely a reaction to "the bigger masterpiece, which is the revolution."

The Syrian crisis, Omari says, has put Syrian artists under a spotlight, giving them exposure and pushing them to work harder to deliver their messages. "In my opinion, voices of artists reverberate louder than others," he says.

Abdalla Omari's "Bashar Al Assad"

Artistic point of view

Sedki Alimam, a young graphic designer who fled his hometown of Aleppo in 2012, began publishing posters as events escalated in his country. For him, art became a tool to express the overlooked reality on the ground: "There are no innocent armed men in Syria," he says.

When it comes to using art as a documentation tool, he believes that the focus should be on all sides in the conflict. "I am with the Syrian Revolution, and anyone who sees my work can easily tell," he says. "However, I am against considering the involvement of foreign parties as a solution to the Syrian regime."

Syria's problem, Alimam says, is greater than Bashar al-Assad's government. "The regime we are fighting is not Bashar al-Assad. We are fighting an entire system … Assad is just a puppet.”

In Alimam's recent project, titled "Kingdom of Hyenas," he replaces the heads of leaders on all warring sides with vicious-looking animals.

"Kingdom of Hyenas" by Sedki Alimam

"It shows all fighting factions as monstrous creatures, mercilessly killing innocents and stealing everything they lay their hands on," he says. In today's Syria, human concepts such as morality, justice and dignity are unheard of, he says.

Documenting war

Fares Cachoux, a Syrian artist and graphic designer from Homs, is perhaps one of the most internationally recognized names in the Syrian visual arts scene. He was dubbed the "Designer of The Revolution" for his series of simple, yet powerful posters that offer a timeline of the country's journey from civil uprising to bloody civil war.

Cachoux's works have been showcased in numerous art galleries and exhibitions in Europe, where he hopes the world will see the heartbreaking story of his people and his country.

His striking artworks capture everything â€" from the Syrian government's crackdown on activists, the Houla massacre, the rise of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front and ISIS, and the Russian government's support of Assad.

Cachoux is a strong believer in the vitality of imagery in today's digital world and the power of art and visual forms of communication in documenting war. "What we are witnessing today is a reinforcement of the image," he says. "We live in a society of pictures, of videos, of screens."

"Al Houla" by Fares Cachoux, depicting the Houla massacre, when government forces killed 108 people, including 49 children

Cachoux believes that the war in Syria, which has claimed more casualties than any other war in the 21st century and has produced more refugees and displaced people than World War II, is a "turning point in the history of war documentation."

"For the first time, we have millions of pictures and millions of hours of recordings depicting a conflict from the very beginning," he says.

Unlike World War II, when events were covered solely by print and state media and often took the form of propaganda, information from Syria is reaching the world in a faster, more direct and sometimes more reliable way. "It's as if the world is able to watch the war live as it happens," Cachoux says.

Visual art also plays a vital role in sending out a message to the world using a universal language. "You don't need to be a Syrian or an expert on Syria to understand a simple poster," he says.

The job will not end with the end of the conflict, he says. "The role of Syrian artists is, and will be, telling the story of the Syrian Revolution," Cachoux says. "Today, and years after the war is over, we will see hundreds and thousands of artworks, each showing the conflict in its own way. From Daraa's children in 2011, to the final solution to the crisis, we will see a very clear timeline consisting of works of art."

Despite the fading memory of the peaceful revolution, Syrian artists believe that years from now, the artistic memory of Syria will bear witness to the uprising turned civil war turned multi-pronged proxy war that has torn the nation apart.

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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