Syrian Refugees Recreate Demolished Monuments to Preserve Their History and Culture

PHOTO: Mahmoud Hariri, 25, was an art teacher and painter back in Syria before coming to Zaatari in 2013 to escape the violence.
UNHCR/Christopher Herwig
Mahmoud Hariri, 25, was an art teacher and painter back in Syria before coming to Zaatari in 2013 to escape the violence. "When I first arrived I didn't think I would continue my work as I only expected to be here for a week or two. But when I realized it would be years, I knew I had to start again or lose my skills".

A group of Syrian artists living in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp have created miniature models of Syria's landmarks and architecture, many of which have been destroyed or currently are under threat.

Using basic tools and materials around the camp -- such as discarded wood, kebab skewers and clay -- refugee artists are rebuilding historical sites like Palmyra and the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, according to the UN Refugee Agency, or UNHCR.

"This is a way for them not to forget," Za'atari resident Mahmoud Hariri, told UNHCR. "As artists, we have an important role to play. A lot of what we know about ancient civilizations or prehistoric people is preserved through their art."

Mahmoud Hariri, 25, was an art teacher and painter in Syria before he sought refuge at the Jordan camp in 2013, he said.

PHOTO: The group of artists in front of their artwork. We chose this project to highlight what is happening in Syria, because many of these sites are under threat or have already been destroyed.UNHCR/Christopher Herwig
The group of artists in front of their artwork. "We chose this project to highlight what is happening in Syria, because many of these sites are under threat or have already been destroyed".

"I’m very worried about what is happening," Hariri told UNHCR, while building a model of Palmyra. "This site represents our history and culture, not just for Syrians but all of humanity. If it is destroyed it can never be rebuilt."

PHOTO: Mahmoud built his model of Palmyra using clay and wooden kebab skewers. Mahmoud hopes that by seeing the exhibition, residents at Zaatari will remain connected with the country and culture they have been forced to leave behind. UNHCR/Christopher Herwig
Mahmoud built his model of Palmyra using clay and wooden kebab skewers. Mahmoud hopes that by seeing the exhibition, residents at Zaatari will remain connected with the country and culture they have been forced to leave behind.

Hariri and other artists recently displayed their models at a community center and at an exhibition in Aman, Jordan's capital.

PHOTO: Damascuss Umayyad Mosque is one of the miniature replicas displayed at the community centre.UNHCR/Christopher Herwig
Damascus's Umayyad Mosque is one of the miniature replicas displayed at the community centre.

One of the artists, 44-year-old Ismail Hariri, has now been asked to run art classes for 44 children at the camp's community center.

PHOTO: The Deir ez-Zor suspension bridge is one of the miniature replicas displayed at the community centre.UNHCR/Christopher Herwig
The Deir ez-Zor suspension bridge is one of the miniature replicas displayed at the community centre.

The project's coordinator, Ahmad Hariri, told the UNHCR that he hopes the models will help educate the camp's children about their homeland.

PHOTO: Ismail Hariri, 44, began sculpting at an early age. After moving to Zaatari with his wife and seven children in 2013, he was initially reluctant to take it up again, but got involved when he heard about the project. UNHCR/Christopher Herwig
Ismail Hariri, 44, began sculpting at an early age. After moving to Zaatari with his wife and seven children in 2013, he was initially reluctant to take it up again, but got involved when he heard about the project.

"There are lots of kids living here who have never seen Syria or who have no memory of it," he said. "They know more about Jordan than about their own country."

PHOTO: Ahmad Hariri, who initially brought the group together and helps source their materials, says the project can help educate children in the camp about their homeland.
UNHCR/Christopher Herwig
Ahmad Hariri, who initially brought the group together and helps source their materials, says the project can help educate children in the camp about their homeland.

The coordinator added that the project has helped create "a sense of purpose" for the artists.

"By doing this work, they feel like they are at least doing something to preserve their culture," Ahmad Hariri said.