Tagging the Revolution in Northern Syria

By Martin Armstrong

The small town of Azaz, about 10 miles northwest of Aleppo, has witnessed its fair share of the destruction from Syria’s on-going civil war. Formerly home to a significant army presence due to its strategic position close to the Turkish border, Azaz fell under rebel control in March 2012, leading to a government counter-assault on the town in July 2012 and further, intermittent government shelling that has taken its toll on the town’s population and cityscape.

Graffiti found on the crumbling walls and facades—the majority of which are scrawled with a focus on sentiment rather than aesthetics—pay homage to the town’s experience of conflict and to the wider geo-political discourse that surrounds the Syrian conflict.



Religious epithets beseeching divine aid in Azaz’s liberation and stencilled “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) tags bisected by the unmistakable silhouette of a Kalashnikov appear alongside phrases denouncing embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his cabinet as sycophantic Iranian agents and slogans cursing the Syrian regime’s Lebanese Allies Hizbullah as the “Party of Satan” (Hizb u-Shatan). There are more visual tags as well: defaced images of former Baath party MP’s line the town’s souk accompanied by tributes to fallen martyrs. Other tags simply profess to the hope for a brighter future.

Graffiti is concentrated in particular in the vicinity of former government and military facilities and particular “scenes” of destruction such as Azaz’s main Mosque, a victim of government shelling and currently home to a couple of burnt out Syrian army tanks.



There are also pro-regime slogans penned ostensibly by regime army units retreating from the city during last summer’s clashes with FSA brigades in the town, and altogether more ambiguous messages targeting corruption and thievery. One particularly affecting tag, located beside an old olive oil factory near the town’s old Armenian quarter, reads simply: “We want bread (you) thief!” It’s a particularly  poignant sentiment compared to all the anti-Assad rhetoric, perhaps even more so in light of growing accusations of corruption and aid-skimming within certain brigades of the Free Syrian Army.

A further feature of tagging culture found in Azaz—but far more prominent in the more “front-line” conflict zone of Aleppo city itself—are the presence of brigade-specific tags that reflect the “ownership” or at least presence of particular opposition brigades in different areas of the city.

Amongst the heavily politicised and conflict-driven rhetoric it is occasionally possible to spot more mundane non-sequitors such as odes to a small Argentinian football player and the Catalan club he represents, or images of that famous American export … Sponge Bob Square Pants.

(All photos by Martin Armstrong)

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