Syria: a bakery and a climbing frame tank

At Kilis the border is almost entirely open. After walking 4km you are greeted by casually dressed men, who are the Free Syrian Army, at best one has a badge and one has a gun tucked into his belt. I am told 5 days ago that there was no such thing as a passport stamp here, which goes to show the newness of their control in the North of Syria, to match their new 'Syrian' flag.

From here I was a guest of the FSA staying in their media head quarters in Azaz. Drawing as and when I could, which they welcome in an attempt to show the rest of the world the indiscriminate shelling and wanton destruction carried out by the Syrian Army.

The fighting, in the centre of Azaz, at least, (although the airport is host to regular fighting) stopped two weeks ago allowing the displaced to drift back in. Finding their shops had been caught in the crossfire, raided or their houses shelled. The main damage though lies on the road running to the Turkish border town of Kilis. 5 destroyed tanks, a blown up lorry, a mosque with one side missing and grenaded shop fronts, now blocked up with stones to protect what little remains inside.

Whilst I sat and drew it occurred to me that the most shocking thing, perhaps, was the children playing as they do, in amongst the tanks and the rubble - this has obviously become normal for them and with the schools now shut in Azaz this is unlikely to change.

George Butler
August 2012

Behind The Scenes

If you arrive from Kilis, Turkey this will be the third thing you see, the first is an abandoned tank, the second a petrol station blown inside out, and this the third, around the corner form the bakery and in the shadow of the mosque tanks lie half buried.

Children rotate the turret of one of them. An older kid sits in the bottom of one picking out the bolts for later use. It becomes all the more real when you stand on a pile of bullet casings in the knowledge that someone was here being shot at, shooting back... who knows what happened after that but this scene is the eventual result.

Prisoners, 28cm x 60cm
Watercolour and ink on paper

Some everyday functions have to continue as normal in Azaz and keeping prisoners at the police station is one of them. Now held, like everything by the Free Syrian Army.

It was slightly disconcerting drawing humans though a large cage. They were friendly, or as friendly as they could be - one diligently lay there whilst I drew him.

Refugees at the Kilis, border in Turkey. On Wednesday (08.08.2012) this was not an uncommon sight, 3 in the front 6 in the back.

As Syrian civilians cross the border. Either fleeing the shelling or because their homes no longer exist. Bearing in mind leaving your home and country would be an absolute last resort - a few smiled and looked at the drawings, I suppose something comparatively mundane to break up what must be overwhelmingly exhausting.

Since I first arrived in Azaz when the town was relatively empty, people have been arriving back, either from the countryside or from Aleppo.

I suppose with the same fascination that makes me draw the tanks the destruction, the people wander around examining the damage, stand on tanks, take photographs and with school now cancelled the children play in and amongst the carnage.

Goats, 60cm x 42cm
Watercolour and ink on paper

What you can't see from this drawing is Ismail, a goat herder, wandering along behind and watering his goats at a nearby tap.

In bizarre contrast to the line of shops leading the opposite direction - rearranged, permanently by the tank's cannons, occasionally a shop keeper will begin a bit of tidying up, a daunting task when the entire row needs rebuilding.

My understanding is this, there is not an extreme shortage of food here, nevertheless short enough to be only allowed 3 flat breads and short enough that two large queues form each day at the main bakery, in the background the scenes of a battle from 2 weeks ago.

Title, 28cm x 60cm
Watercolour and ink on paper

Title here
Caption text goes here, I couldn't find any for this particular image.

Omar is one of 8 brothers, 5 of which are in the FSA, one who I met speaks English and Japanese and therefore adopts the role of translator, press man driver, etc...