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Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012

Archaeologist blogs on human side of Syria war

Kyodo

With the civil war in Syria reaching the northern city of Aleppo, her home for more than 20 years, archaeologist Yayoi Yamazaki has been devoting her energy to creating a blog to convey the reality of the conflict based on the firsthand accounts of her friends still there.

News photo
Keeping in touch: Archaeologist Yayoi Yamazaki communicates with her friends in Syria in late November from an office in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo. KYODO

"I want to write what I saw and what I have heard," Yamazaki, 54, said of her efforts to keep in contact with the friends she left behind.

Yamazaki, whose Syrian husband died in February, returned to Japan this year. In her Japanese blog, she writes that a friend persuaded her to leave, saying, "We are now in a state of emergency." She has since been unable to return to Aleppo.

Rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad's regime have been engaged in full-scale fighting since March 2011.

Fighting intensified in Aleppo last July and a friend who had lived near Yamazaki went offline with a message saying, "I might die." Two days later, she found out that her friend had not been harmed.

"The only thing I could do was to run away," Yamazaki's blog quotes the friend as saying.

The conflict drew headlines in Japan after Mika Yamamoto, an award-winning journalist covering the civil war, died in August while accompanying the rebel Free Syrian Army. Yamamoto, 45, was killed in Aleppo during a clash between rebels and government forces.

Now temporarily based in Tokyo, Yamazaki said her communications with her friends, mainly through Internet telephony, reveals details that are missing in the daily news coverage of the conflict and she wants her friends' sentiments to be heard.

The native of Miyazu, Kyoto Prefecture, said she feels relieved every time she sees her friends come online.

Long before Syria was mired in fighting, the country was known as a crossroads between East and West.

It boasts many World Heritage sites, such as the ruins in Palmyra, an ancient Silk Road city in central Syria.

Recounting when she first went to Syria in June 1989, Yamazaki said, "The moment I got off the plane, I felt this cool, pleasant breeze."

While attending graduate school at Hiroshima University, Yamazaki conducted research on Mesopotamian archaeology. She later became a researcher at the national museum in Aleppo.

After around 8½ years as a researcher, Yamazaki continued her research in the area and taught at a local university. Her husband died Feb. 8 after falling ill in late January and losing consciousness.

Two days after his death, while preparing breakfast, Yamazaki heard a huge explosion, felt violent shaking and saw a large cloud of white smoke from her window.

One of her friends wrote a message saying, "The situation is extremely bad. . . . Why is this happening?"

Yamazaki quoted another of her friends lamenting the destruction in the wake of the government's attack on rebel forces hiding in Aleppo Castle, a World Heritage site.

"We are destroying our symbol with our own hands," the friend said, according to Yamazaki's blog.



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