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posted on 09 September 2016

What Is Aleppo?

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Libertarian candidate for president, Gary Johnson, committed a big interview faux pas Thursday morning (08 September) when he failed to recognize the epi-center of the Syrian civil war in a question asked by journalist Mike Barnacle on the MSNBC 'Morning Joe' show.

Before we go on to attempt to answer the question that was asked, a brief political comment. Many have suggested that Gary Johnson disqualified himself for the presidency by not knowing that Aleppo was one of the most important hotspots in the world over the past 3-4 years. But let's give a little perspective. How many Americans have any idea what Aleppo is?

When I was in a restaurant for dinner last evening I, as is often the case, paid attention to what is being discussed at neighboring tables. I noticed Aleppo in the conversation 'sound tracks' from two of the tables, one a table of 5, the other of 6. At both tables only one person appeared to know what Aleppo was, and the others also seemed unaware of Gary Johnson's errant interview from this morning. If this observation is representative of America as whole (I expect it isn't, this sample was probably better informed than a random sample) then Johnson's ignorance is probably not that damaging among the electorate.

The real damning observation, based on this admittedly non-statistical sample, is that not only are 2 of 11 middle class or upper middle class voters oblivious to current world news (and news over the past few years) but also unaware of one of the most sensational news stories of the day about the presidential campaign.

I would offer a guess that far fewer than 18% (2/11) of people on the street (or even people sampled in political polls) would know either Aleppo or Gary Johnson. And that is a tragedy regarding the current state of American awareness.

But these observations pale in comparison to the tragedy that is Aleppo, and let's get to that story now.

What is Aleppo Today?

News media has had a flood of articles in the hours following Gary Johnson's unfortunate interview lapse. USA Today presented a series of photographs (one shown below).

CNN reported on the reported gas (chlorine) attacks on civilians in Aleppo within the past few days. In the same article a street scene of a bombed area is shown with the dust still settling.

Martha MacCallum at Fox News said the question was one that the entire world needed to answer. She pointed out that Aleppo has been at the center of violence which has seen nearly 30,000 Syrian civilians killed in the last 20 months (for the last five years the death toll for all of Syria is 400,000), with the suffering there illustrated by a five-year-old boy pulled from a bombed building last month whose picture appeared on almost every print and online outlet. See video below the graphic.


Aleppo today is a city that is extensively destroyed, has had an estimated 500,000 people flee or get killed. The eastern part of the city, which has been in rebel hands since 2012, has sustained the worst damage. Below is a video taken by a drone in 2016.

What Was Aleppo Before 2011?

The following video was taken from a rooftop in Aleppo in March 2011, before the start of the civil war.

Aleppo was a city of with an official population of 2.1 million people in 2004 which may have increased to as much as 2.5 million for the metro area by 2011. It was the largest city in Syria and the capital of Syria's largest governorate (state).

Aleppo is an ancient city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities, with settlement estimated to have been in the 6th millenium BC. It was a major city through the period from about the 10th century AD to the 19th century as the western terminus of the silk road and the mercantile gateway to Europe. It began a gradual declihne with the opening of the Suez Canal which diminished the importance of overland trade routes.

Before trade developed with the orient Aleppo was the key city between Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean Sea, being well situated between the Euphrates River and the coast at Antioch (now Antakya, Turkey).

Aleppo is the home of Aleppo University (pictured below in 2005 and below that in a 2013 video), founded in 1958 as the second major university in Syria. It was a highly regarded institution in the Middle East and grew to a student body of more than 60,000 before the war. (Editor's note: My personal physician was born and raised in Aleppo, graduated from the University and then the Medical School before coming to the United States for residency, after which he remained and became a citizen. I last asked him about Aleppo in January and he was extremely worried about many close family members still living there.)

Some of the ancient sites in Aleppo have undoubtedly been destroyed. Below are a few of the pictures from prewar Aleppo and finally a video describing what has happened. The first picture is the ancient gate to the city.

Below is the massive citadel of Aleppo.

The Great Mosque of Aleppo built during the Silk Route Trade period and now partially destroyed in the war.

The labyrinthine souk, a version of today's mall from centuries ago, only much bigger. A structure of stone arches covered this business and residential complex which extended over 20 miles. State of repair today is not completely known to Econintersect, but some areas are damaged (second picture below) and some partially destroyed (third picture below) .

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