Remembering ″the Clown of Aleppo″

The last laugh

Anas al-Basha brought joy to children living through the Syrian civil war – helping them to forget the horrors if only for a short while. Now he has been killed in an air strike on Aleppo. By Dunja Ramadan

Anas al-Basha walks the streets of bombed-out Aleppo wearing a wacky orange wig, with red circles on his cheeks and bright rings of makeup around his eyes. Against a backdrop of sombre house fronts and ruined buildings, the 24-year-old goes from child to child, handing out cuddly toys in a place where there's little left to be joyful about.

A YouTube video shows him travelling through the city with a group of helpers in an off-road vehicle. Then he gets out, heaves a large bag onto his shoulders and distributes presents. The children circle him, Al-Basha hands out teddy bears, dolls, cuddly koalas. In his crazily vivid clothing, he is fun personified – amid the monotone misery.

Conjuring up a smile on children's faces

When he's out and about without his clown get-up, he is just an inconspicuous, slight student. He wears a goatee and a pair of spectacles and says: "We're trying to bring a smile to the faces of children in liberated Aleppo." He is referring to the sector of Aleppo that is still held by the rebels. Assad's army is currently in the process of trying to recapture the entire city.

Anas al-Basha has now given his life for this liberated Aleppo. He died in the Mashhad district in the east of the city last week, during a missile strike. He had just got married two months ago and is survived by his wife.

Syrian Civil Defence photographer Khaled Khatib knew Anas al-Basha. "He managed to bring laughter to children who had already forgotten how to laugh," says Khatib in an interview with Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung. It was never an option for Anas al-Basha to leave the city behind, Khatib continues, the children kept him there.

Instead of leaving Aleppo as his parents had done, Al-Basha joined various local support groups, such as the "Place for Hope" group and "A Syrian Dream". Together they looked after 12 schools, four mental health centres and around 360 children in the eastern part of the city.

His friend and neighbour Basem Al-Ajoubi tells the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that he was a quiet, unassuming man, who only donned a clown costume to bring some joy to the lives of the children. Anas al-Basha was not concerned with self-promotion, he didn't have a Facebook profile where he documented his visits to children. There are only a handful of YouTube videos of him as a clown in amongst the rubble. "But everyone knew him in Aleppo," says Al-Ajoubi "and above all the children adored him."

Dunja Ramadan

© 2016

Translated by Nina Coon

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