Michel Boutros, the Christian elder of Syria’s northern city of Idlib, has become an icon for patriotism as he chose to remain in the war-torn city ten years after the Syrian crisis.
At 90 years old, Boutros is the only Christian who insisted on staying in Idlib after all Christians left the city in the past years.
Despite his old age, Boutros lives alone in his home in Idlib with the company of a band of pigeons which he has been raising alone for years.
Although Boutros never got married, he had great family memories and spends most of his time reminiscing about them by opening his family's photo albums.
Located at Idlib’s city center, Boutros' house has its walls decorated with models of crosses and Christian religious images, the only house of its kind in the city that has been deserted by its Christians.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Boutros said he is loved by his neighbors who nicknamed him "Al-Hajji".
“The name ‘al-Hajji’ makes me happy,” Boutros said.
He noted that none of his relatives with whom he was in touch is currently alive except for a brother who lives in the United States with who he lost contact.
Asked about how he supports himself, Boutros said he lives on church donations and philanthropists in his country and was thankful that he has never gone hungry.
Boutros takes care of his house chores such as cleaning and cooking without anyone's help, noting that his sister, before her death, used to visit him regularly to help him with all the housework.
One of Boutros’ neighbors, Abu Ahmed al-Kurdi, told Anadolu Agency that he knew his Christian neighbor throughout his life. “We nicknamed him ‘al-Hajji’ because he grew up with us throughout our life,” al-Kurdi said.
"The residents of the neighborhood love Boutros. We are the children of one culture, and we did not witness any harm from him. He shares our worries, sorrows, and joys, and we help him when he is sick."
Boutros gets up early every morning and reads Christian supplications. Once he eats his breakfast, he visits one of his friends and returns home in the afternoon to feed the pigeons.
In the evenings, he goes to another friend who owns a grocery store, drinks tea with him and stays with him until ten o'clock in the evening, and then goes back to sleep.
"I am a very frank man and do not favor anyone, hence, all people love me, and no one has put pressure on me or put obstacles in front of me,” Boutros said. “Everyone appreciates me and asks about me."
He was optimistic that the war in his country would end, the infrastructure restored, and the migrants and displaced would return to their homeland, Syria.
Boutros said he has always lived in Idlib except for a few times when he went to Aleppo where his nephews live. However, he refuses to reside with them because he does not want to burden them.
Syria has been mired in a vicious civil war since early 2011 when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.
The city of Idlib has witnessed one of the bloodiest regime atrocities.
In May 2017, Turkey, Russia, and Iran agreed to establish a de-escalation zone in Idlib, as part of the Astana meetings on the Syrian crisis. The Syrian regime forces and their supporters, however, continue sporadic attacks, in violation of the agreement./aa