(Aleppo, Syria) 67-year-old Muhammad Muhyiddin Anis “Abu ʿOmar” still keeps his classic car collection. He chased auctions his entire life, spending everything he had to buy an old model whenever he had the chance. The man sees no value in money compared to the historical and artistic merit of these cars. “Money isn’t everything,” he says.
When you enter Abu ʿOmar’s house, you feel as if you had travelled to a different time. He likes living the old fashioned way: he dries his vegetables and makes tea on firewood to have it in his backyard, surrounded by piles of auto parts.
Abu Omar has twenty classic cars, seven in the regime-held ash-Shahba’ neighbourhood and the remaining thirteen in the ash-Shiʿar neighbourhood, controlled by the opposition. The latter are parked inside his backyard and in front of his old house, which dates back to the 1930s. With all the stacks of tools and spare parts, the place rather resembles a car museum. Abu ʿOmar is still waiting for someone to save his precious collection from destruction without having to sell it, so that he finally gets the chance to reaggregate and repair the cars.
According to Mr. Anis, most of these cars date back to specific Syrian and international historical periods, such as the 1947 Cadillac that was initially bought by ʿAli Watfah, the Chief of Staff of the Syrian Army at the time. The car was then passed along the presidents that followed him in parallel with the successive coups, until it was added to Abu ʿOmar’s unique collection.
The collector also flaunts his 1951 Buick that used to belong to Adib ash-Shishakli, who led the third coup in Syria on December 19, 1949. Ash-Shishakli then became president for six months between 1953 and 1954 until he resigned, pressured by popular protests, and left Syria as a political asylum seeker.
Another item in Abu ʿOmar’s collection is an exact replica of Adolf Hitler’s Mercedes. The collector was so fond of the Nazi leader that he named one of his children Abdullah Hitler. “Recent books and movies are trying to defame Hitler,” the man told Good Morning Syria.
Mr Anis’ cars were severely damaged by the regime’s shelling of the neighbourhood with barrel bombs. One of the air raids with machine gun rounds broke the windows of many of the cars. As for the ones kept in his garage, they were shelled with mortars.
The seven remaining cars are parked outside his house in regime-held ash-Shahba’. One of them was badly damaged when a soldier lifted it with a tow crane to move it off the street. Abu ʿOmar considers this a barbaric act, likening the soldier to the Mongol and Tatar fighters who destroyed everything that was in their way without realizing its value in the history of the Islamic world.
The collector treats his cars well and flirts with them. To him, each one has teeth, lips, eyes, and even thighs sometimes. You can see him gently patting a broken headlight, saying with sorrow: “They took out your eye, but your teeth still look good.”
Nonetheless, Abu ʿOmar would not replace the broken parts with new ones. To him, this forges history and distorts the fine taste that these designs are known for. According to him, new cars are nothing like classic cars, since “their designers were true artists, and each car was like a woman, but modern cars are merely a pile of metal.” He also reproaches those who replace their classic cars’ broken parts with recently-made ones, saying that they do not realize the importance of what they have.
On numerous occasions, the collector refused offers from residents of Aleppo, the Gulf or European countries to buy his cars. “The native Americans who refused to sell their land used to say: ‘We borrow the earth from our children and cultivate it.’ Just like them, I borrow these cars from my children,” he explained.
These old cars have been parked on the street long enough to become an important part of the neighbourhood. People are used to seeing them whenever they are passing by and the children are even used to playing around them. “As long as your generation is here for me, I won’t grow old,” Abu ʿOmar said, speaking to a child who visits him every now and then.