Indifferent to the sniper fire and shelling around him, the owner of the oldest hotel in Syria's Aleppo sits gloomily in the storied property he has been forced to close. Just a few metres from the front line separating government and rebel forces in the city, Armen Mazloumian smokes a cigarette on the terrace of the Baron Hotel. The hotel was founded in 1911 by Mazloumian's grandfather, whose name it bears, and was once the fanciest in Aleppo, Syria's former commercial hub. In 1958, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser delivered a speech here. It was also at the Baron that Agatha Christie wrote parts of “Murder on the Orient Express”. But since fighting arrived in the city in 2012, paying clients have dwindled to zero and the once-glamourous building is falling into disrepair. “It's been nearly four years since the war began and I see nothing that inspires any optimism in me, quite the contrary,” says 63-year-old Mazloumian, unshaven and wearing a blue woollen hat.