The siege starts without warning

Miljenko Jergovic writes: I woke one morning 24 years ago to find a war all around me. The night before I had been at a concert for the Partybreakers, a punk band from Belgrade. I’d had too much beer and I had a headache. Bursts of gunfire were audible, along with the explosions of the mortar shells that would rain down on Sarajevo for the next three and a half years.

I don’t know what it was like when the war first came to Aleppo, Syria. Only the people still living there do — thousands of men, women and children who have now been under siege for years. From the perspective of an ordinary citizen, let’s say a 25 year old with literary and musical interests, the siege starts without warning and comes out of nowhere.

Yes, the papers and the TV have been reporting for months about how the situation in the country is growing more complicated, how conflict is brewing among political opponents, and how in the provinces there has already been fighting. But as long as a city continues to live its normal, placid life, which is the sort of life it lives up until the very last instant and the final quiet evening, war seems impossible. You look at your dog and your books, the spider in the corner of your room spinning a web that tomorrow will catch its first little fly, and you can’t imagine that the next morning all this, including the dog and the spider, will be caught up in war.

At the beginning of Bosnia’s war, Sarajevo had some 400,000 inhabitants. Aleppo, before its war, was five times larger. Sarajevo was founded about five centuries ago. Aleppo is one of the oldest cities on earth, in the part of the world that brings together Europe and the East, where the Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — were born and grew up. It was there at the emergence of our civilization. Not so long ago, just 150 years back, the two cities were under the same monarch. Sarajevo was the last great city at the western boundary of the Ottoman Empire, while Aleppo was the greatest city on its eastern side.

But none of that is important to an ordinary citizen who is just trying to get through another day of a siege. When the war began, that person probably believed that reason would never allow the bombing and destruction of such a place as Aleppo. We in Sarajevo had the same illusion. [Continue reading…]

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