On 17 October 2019, it will be two years since the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) declared victory over Islamic State (ISIS) in Raqqa, which since 2014 had been the capital of the self-proclaimed ‘caliphate’. Tens of thousands of people who left the city before the final battle have now returned. But life is far from easy: most of the buildings are in ruins, there is no electricity and IS sleeper cells still pose a threat. Crucially, a lack of international recognition of the city’s civilian administration is hampering reconstruction.
The predominant colour in Raqqa is grey. Grey is the colour of destruction, the colour of bomb-blasted walls and of collapsed roofs that hang suspended like curtains. Anything that had colour in the destroyed buildings – carpets, furniture, personal belongings – are covered with a layer of grey rubble and dust.