By AFP – Sep 14,2017 – JORDAN TIMES
This handout photo provided by the Russian defence ministry on Wednesday shows Russian and other foreign journalists during a press tour in the ancient Great Umayyad Mosque in the old city of Aleppo (AFP photo)
ALEPPO, Syria — Flicking through before-and-after photos of Aleppo’s Umayyad Mosque on his phone, the city’s mufti Mahmoud Akkam said he initially wanted the celebrated landmark to be restored by fellow Syrians.
But when Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman chief of Russia’s Chechnya region, offered to repair the damage that the ancient mosque sustained in ferocious clashes four years ago, Akkam felt he could not say no.
“He was very persistent,” Akkam said, “and since we are of the same religion and he understands us, we accepted”.
Kadyrov is a fierce loyalist of Russian President Vladimir Putin, but has also sought to present himself as an influential figure for Muslims worldwide.
A fund named after his father Akhmat has already transferred the estimated $14 million needed to fund the mosque’s restorations.
If it is not enough, “they will transfer more”, Akkam told journalists on a tightly controlled tour of Aleppo organised by Russia’s military to tout the city’s resurgence.
Syria’s second city was battered by four years of fighting between rebels in the east and government forces in the west, until an evacuation deal at the end of 2016 brought it under regime control.
One of the bloodiest frontlines was Aleppo’s Old City, a UNESCO-listed world heritage site featuring the ancient covered market, centuries-old citadel, and famous Umayyad Mosque.
Clashes in April 2013 reduced the mosque’s minaret, which dates back to the 11th century, to an unrecognisable pile of blocks.