I was in Aleppo, Syria twelve years ago. I was there when the view from the impressive citadel wasn't one of devastation but of gorgeous kids playing football in the streets; of two million people living peacefully in the ancient city with the white roofs and the beautiful mosques.
I loved, loved, loved Syria and Aleppo. They crept under my skin and stayed there for more than a decade as memories, humor, scent - a sudden explosion of jasmine, olives, saffron. I was crazy about the cafes in the shade with their huge selection of water pipes, the dusty alleys, even the moody donkeys that would stare you down.
"Welcome," most Syrians would greet you from sweet shops, street corners, and mosques, including the odd five year old. They were warm, friendly, cordial, and eager to help. Now the people of Aleppo have been reduced to victims, statistics, and front pages that drip with the blood of Muslims and Christians. Aleppo has become a symbol of the insanity we humans create with our intolerance, perverted belief systems, and our lust for power. It's not just Assad, Putin and ISIS that are hovering over Aleppo but our collective darkness with its need for retaliation that we pass on through our DNA, our stories, and the imprints on our souls.
One of the places in Aleppo that made the biggest impression on me in 2004 was the 13th century insane asylum close to the suq, but now all of Syria has become an insane asylum where today's inmates are treated worse than in the medieval ward. Thousands of people are dying of hunger; hospitals are satanically bombed while the world watches the genocide in the most dangerous city in the world.
But one day Aleppo will rise again. One day all of Syria will reincarnate into peace and prosperity because in the long run hell never wins, even though it may be hard to believe in the middle of this insanity - an insanity that wasn't created by religion or God but by the human ego.
You can help the Syrians in need by donating money to organizations like Doctors Without Borders (Medicines Sans Frontieres, Læger uden grænser) or The White Helmets, http://syriacivildefense.org/ who have rescued 62,000 Syrians from the genocide in Aleppo.
All photos by Peter H. Fogtdal, except number two of the Arghun Al-Kāmilī hospital in Aleppo by Nasim Hasan Naqvi and the above picture of the boy and his cat (unknown)