Ali Abdallah is paralyzed on one side, but he doesn’t want to give up. He breeds pigeons. In the camps, the rearing of animals gives comfort to the people.
MAli Abdallah is written on Ali Abdallah’s face. The 28-year-old wears a hat on his head. Ali Abdallah actually has a different name, but for security reasons it should not be mentioned here. Since his home was bombed by Russian and Syrian fighter planes, his body has been stuck in a wheelchair because of one-sided paralysis.
With his wife and four children, he fled to a refugee camp near Killi, in those areas of the Syrian province of Idlib that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has not yet been able to recapture.
But Ali Abdallah is optimistic: “Because of the wheelchair, my life didn’t end,” he says. In the meantime he has managed to raise pigeons in the camp. The breeding of the birds, he says, matches his injury. He takes care of her from the wheelchair. At sunrise and late in the evening at sunset, he takes care of the animals, spends a lot of time with them, feeds them and releases them for their daily practice flight.
Pigeon keeping gives comfort and brings a little money
The hobby of keeping pigeons is widespread among the displaced Syrians in the Idlib camps. With special care they raise the birds in groups and train them to fly together. The hobby offers variety and comfort in this war-torn country. Pigeon breeding is particularly popular among men. Some are completely obsessed with the animals that support them in their displaced life.
For many families, keeping pigeons is also a livelihood. “This is a company that generates capital for me and my family,” says Ali Abdallah. “I take pictures of the birds that I want to sell and post the pictures in Whatsapp groups for restaurant owners and pigeon dealers,” he says. “If you make the highest bid, I’ll sell my pigeons.” The demand for pigeon meat in Idlib is high. Some also buy the animals for their own kitchen at home.
Ten kilometers north of the provincial capital Idlib, in the village of Ma’aret Misrin, traders and breeders meet every Friday at a large bird bazaar. Ducks, geese, chickens, parrots, budgies and pigeons are displayed in iron cages on motorcycles or pick-up trucks over an area of one to two square kilometers. If you don’t have a vehicle that you can use as a market stall, you simply place your birds on the ground. The displaced people in the region also exhibit their birds at the Ma’aret Misrin market.
The payment Syria has a population of around 17 million. More than 6 million people have been displaced within the country, including around 2.5 million children.
The Idlib region Rebel fighters and opposition activists and their families have found refuge in the north-west of the country. Around 4 million people live in the opposition area, which includes parts of the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, 2.7 million of whom are displaced. Thousands were deliberately deported to Idlib by the government.
Camps 1.6 million people live in refugee camps that are cared for by aid organizations. Most recently, rains flooded these makeshift camps again.
Ankara’s influence In the opposition areas of Idlib, there is a counter-government that is regarded as the civilian arm of the pragmatic Islamist militia HTS, which emerged from the Nusra Front, which is close to al-Qaeda. Turkey works closely with HTS, even if it classifies the militia as a terrorist organization like the USA and the United Nations. Further north, around the city of Afrin, Ankara’s influence is more direct: Here one can speak of a military occupation since the Turkish army expelled Kurdish forces in 2018. (hag)
The buyers examine the pigeons and examine them for diseases. They look for wounds, breathing problems, or drooping wings. Each pigeon has different characteristics and shapes, according to which its value is measured. The prices of his birds are usually between the equivalent of 4 and 25 euros, says Ali Abdallah. A few animals on the market can bring in up to 2,000 euros.
The fear of new fights
In Idlib and the surrounding area, payments are not made in the Syrian currency, but in Turkish lira. This is what Hai’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) ordered last summer, this is the name of the militia that controls the last opposition stronghold in Syria with Turkish support and is also in charge of the displaced persons’ camps in Idlib. A ceasefire agreed by Turkey and Russia has been extended and is currently keeping things relatively calm, but the uncertain situation continues to worry people.
Many civilians are expecting new military actions from the regime, which has repeatedly made it clear that it wants to bring all parts of Syria back under its control. Although the large-scale offensive by the government and its Russian allies on Idlib has largely stalled last year, the fighter jets continue to air strikes near the front lines east and south of the provincial capital. Russian and Syrian warplanes can be seen constantly in the sky over Idlib.
“Nothing stands between me and my pigeons. I risked my life to get the birds out “
Muhammad al-Abrasch also discovered the hobby of breeding pigeons for himself. He was expelled from his home village of Ma’aret al-Na’asan during the military campaign on Idlib last year. Now he lives in a camp north of the village of Harbanusch in northern Idlib, where he owns more than sixty pigeons. “Nothing,” he says, “stands between me and my pigeons.”
When his village was bombed, his family wanted to leave the birds behind. You wanted to return, says Muhammad. But he sensed that a return would be unlikely and did not want to let the pigeons die from the bombs. So he took her with him. “I risked my life to get the birds out of there,” he recalls.
Syria’s pigeon fanciers like Ali Abdallah and Muhammad al-Abrasch have many customs and traditions for catching and raising the animals, adorning and caring for them. The birds wear ribbons and chains on their feet, which gives them a nice sound when they run and fly. Before the war there were special associations for the rearing of pigeons, in which the pigeon keepers exchanged training methods and competed against each other. However, after their expulsion, these associations no longer exist.
In order to be able to offer his pigeons protection and comfort in the camp as well, Muhammad al-Abrasch built three dovecotes next to his family’s tent in which he raises the animals.
He made them with simple tools from empty oil cans and other vessels. The pigeons have an area for breeding, one for the chicks and a main area in which Muhammad houses the flying pigeons. He says he feels responsible for animals as he does for his own five children.
In winter he keeps the pigeons warm with blankets and tries not to lose a single bird.
If one of the birds gets sick, it’s his job to get medicine. If he’s short of cash, he sells the sick bird for a bad price. The more you take care of the birds and the more beautiful they are, the more money they bring in.
The price of Muhammad al-Abrash’s pigeons is between 15 and 25 euros. They are in demand at the market in Ma’aret Misrin. And because the living conditions in the camps are poor and there is hardly any work, pigeon breeding is not only a hobby for Muhammad al-Abrash, but also ensures the livelihood of his family.
“Most of the birds I raise and sell are of a species called al-Zajil,” he says. This species, the carrier pigeon, has the ability to return to its home loft even from distant places, for which it uses the earth’s magnetic field as a kind of compass. In Idlib, the pigeons accompany the displaced Syrians and share with them their tragedies, which they witnessed from the sky far above the camps.
Looking at his pigeons gives him satisfaction, says Muhammad al-Abrash. He finds just watching the birds comforting. The pigeons bring back memories of his village and his house, which is only 15 kilometers away on the front line.
“I don’t feel despair. I want to earn money myself without my children looking down on me “
Ali Abdallah also finds solace in pigeon breeding: “I don’t feel any despair,” he says. With his one-sided paralysis, he is a role model for other injured people. “I show them that they are not helpless in the face of the rigors of life. I want to earn my own money without my children looking down on me, ”he says. It seems as if pigeon breeding has brought life back to the sky over Idlib, a sky from which only bombs fall on the earth.