The Syrian army, backed by Russian and Iranian allies, has recaptured Aleppo, a major victory for Syrian President Bashar Assad in Syria’s six-year-long civil war. However, it is not the same city the rebels and regime were first fighting for.
It has dramatically changed.
Much of it is in ruins. Much of it has been lost. Most of its people have been traumatized as thousands have died and many more detained or displaced. Nothing seems to be real for the people in Aleppo except the sounds of war.
Aleppo, as it was before the civil war, has become a memory.
Demonstrations erupted across Syria in April 2011, turned into a civil war in some areas by the end of that year, and then exploded into Aleppo at the end of summer of 2012, when rebel fighters took over the east of the city.
On one hand, the rebels hoped their march into Aleppo would be the beginning of the end for President Assad.
On the other, the regime vowed to swiftly drive them out of the city. Neither side achieved their goals. Ugly, violent transgressions on both sides have become commonplace in Aleppo, while civilians have been the ones to pay the price every time.
“Aleppo was liberated thanks to a coalition between Iran, Syria, Russia and Lebanon’s Hezbollah,” said Seyed Yahya Rahim-Safavi, one of Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei’s military commanders. “Iran is on one side of this coalition which is approaching victory and this has shown our strength. The new American president should take heed of the powers of Iran.”
Addressing an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Syria, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power has accused Syria, Iran and Russia of carrying out barbaric “crimes” in Aleppo. Using very strong language, Power told the Security Council that the Assad government and its allies Russia and Iran bear responsibility for killing civilians in Aleppo.
“To the Assad regime, Russia and Iran, your forces and proxies are carrying out these crimes, your barrel bombs and mortars and air strikes have allowed the militia in Aleppo to encircle tens of thousands of civilians in your ever-tightening noose. It is your noose.
Three member states of the UN contributing to a noose around civilians. It should shame you. Instead, by all appearances it is emboldening you. You are plotting your next assault.
“Is there literally nothing that can shame you? Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin? That just creeps you out a little bit?” she asked. “Is there nothing you will not lie about, or justify?” Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin responded by accusing the US of creating Islamic State (ISIS) as a result of US-UK intervention in Iraq.
In the same vein Russian officials negate Power’s allegations.
“We are tired of hearing the lamentations of our American colleagues... that the hostilities [in Aleppo] should stop and that Russians are willing to do so only after having an agreement on corridors [for opposition fighters to leave],” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said, “All of the statements by high-ranked Western officials, which cite so-called ‘reports by the activists,’ as well as ‘flicks,’ showing alleged ‘Russian bombardments,’ ‘executions’ and other stuff are staged videos, produced by special film crews formed by militants.”
Rejecting claims that 250,000 civilians (100,000 children) were trapped in eastern Aleppo, Konashenkov asserts that “the Syrian troops’ operation to liberate the eastern parts of Aleppo is successful and humane in every sense in regard to civilians.
“Don’t ever fall for terrorist propaganda,” he advised.
Messages have been sweeping the Internet from inside the besieged eastern part of Aleppo pleading for the international community to save non-combatants from what are described as arbitrary executions by Assad forces.
Head of the White Helmets (Syria Civil Defense, an anti-Assad political organization) Raed Saleh sent this message: “For the past four years, we the Syria Civil Defense have saved thousands of lives in Aleppo. In the last few days we can no longer even count the dead.
“About 100,000 civilians are trapped in besieged eastern Aleppo in a rapidly shrinking space – less than a few square kilometers. On Tuesday [13 December], they went through hell - people were shot on sight and hundreds of children were trapped in the crossfire. Hundreds of people remain crammed into small spaces, meaning any new direct strike will hit dozens if not hundreds of people.
Bodies are lying on the ground where they have fallen or trapped under the rubble.
Civilians have been sheltering underground for days. Without a safe passage, death or detention seem to be the only way out of this nightmare.”
The Syrian regime and its allies, claimed Saleh, have been systematically targeting journalists, teachers, doctors and nurses for years, and these are the first ones to face detainment or execution.
“Aleppo’s humanitarians are calling for safe passage for all civilians, and those that serve them, out of Aleppo,” pleaded Saleh.
On December 13, 2016, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) expressed outrage over the unremitting violence directed against civilians in Aleppo and the unresponsiveness of those who can stop it.
“This is one of the worst crises MSF has witnessed in years,” said Teresa Sancristoval, head of MSF’s emergency unit for Aleppo. “We remind all sides that even war has rules. It is paramount that all parties allow people to flee to safety, allow the evacuation of the sick and wounded, and facilitate the protection of, and humanitarian assistance to, those who are caught on the front lines.”
According to MFS, “All negotiations to secure access by the United Nations (UN) and other groups – including MSF – to provide humanitarian assistance in the besieged areas of eastern Aleppo have failed. In most cases, people were not provided the chance to flee.”
Before Syria’s civil war struck Aleppo, it was one of the most vibrant centers in the country, full of ancient landmarks.
Great sections have been destroyed in a shameful struggle for territorial power. “Sections of the medieval souq, or market, have been ruined or burnt down, and the 11th century minaret at the Umayyad Mosque was destroyed three years ago,” according to various reports.
Now Aleppo has turned into a symbol of action and inaction.This article first appeared in the Mashreq Politics & Culture Journal. The author is a political scientist who lectures on politics, Middle East culture, intercultural communication and journalism at the Fulda University of Applied Sciences and Phillips University Marburg, and is the editor-in-chief of the Mashreq Politics & Culture Journal.