Aleppo: The City that we let bleed dry has been edited by Aashna Kanuga.
Every time the world witnesses a massacre, we say “never again”. The hashtags come out in full support to show that people are praying and crying for the place where these atrocities have happened. Now, as I write, “never again” is happening in Aleppo. It breaks my heart but at the same time infuriates me. I am sitting here comfortably, while an eight year old is getting pulled out of the rubble after an air strike wiped away her family. Talk about Aleppo. Cry for Aleppo. Why won’t you? Just because it isn’t New York or Paris or Istanbul? With every passing day, our silence moves them one step closer to their graves.
The Syrian Army’s operation to capture the rebel-held eastern part of the city is almost over; and as expected, reports of mass atrocities are coming in. The Syrian army is reportedly going from house to house, and executing residents on the spot. At least 82 civilians, including women and children as young as three, were shot on Monday, according to a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Here is what baffles me, though—this is not the first time that the world has looked on and done nothing. However, it is the first time we have watched it happen in real time. Yes, there was Serbia and Bosnia but it wasn’t streamed live to your laptops. With Aleppo, and with the Syrian Civil War, we have watched the country burn in real time. We have had conversations with friends and families and expressed our anger, but that is all we have done. Do their lives matter less than the lives of French or American citizens?
Residents fear summary executions, forced disappearances, torture, and rape; a grim reality of war crimes. Meanwhile, the Syrian regime and the Russian government are ignoring calls for the safe passage of civilians from war-torn Aleppo, as more than 100,000 terrified people are still trapped inside the city. Collateral damage?
We have talked about it but yet again, we don’t care about it. We justify it by calling it the “price of war”. People in Aleppo who can’t flee, are posting their final goodbyes to the world on Facebook and there is a common message that is resonating in their last words:
We couldn’t be saved. But if possible, please save our children.
If this story sounds familiar, it is because we have heard it before. We have seen it in the paddy fields of Vietnam, the now ghost towns of Iraq that have been poisoned by chemical weapons, in the mud walled compounds and opium poppy fields of Afghanistan, in the faces of machete-wielding Rwandans, the sieges of Sarajevo and Srebrenica, and the desert death camps of Darfur.
“Never again”, the world pledged in the wake of these atrocities. And yet the same horrors are now being inflicted on the people of Aleppo and we are reacting with much the same carelessness.
The ground reality is that amidst our diplomatic efforts to save the people of Aleppo, humanity arrived a little too late. The sad reality is, thousands will die in “diplomatic efforts” of rescue and evacuation. Thousands will die trying to flee. Thousands will die from air strikes. Those left standing at the end of this torturous ordeal will be left scarred for life. The rest? They will follow the restless souls of all those victims abandoned by the international community.
To say we were unaware, would be a blatant lie. We knew then, and we know now. The only question is, are we doing anything about it? Even today, five years into the war that has killed 4,50,000 people and displaced over a million, we are just watching and not acting upon it. We can watch in real time how terrified residents post their final “goodbyes” on social media.The Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, who act as first responders, issued a desperate final plea to the world: “The bombs are falling as we write this. For years our humanitarian volunteers have worked to save the lives of our people in Aleppo. Operating in underground hospitals, rescuing entire families buried under rubble and risking our lives to document what the daily war crimes committed by Assad regime and its ally Russia. We can do no more.”
The UN, truly paralyzed by Russia’s and China’s veto in the Security Council, has been reduced to issuing empty words ranging from being “very concerned” to “deeply concerned” and, lately, “gravely concerned”. However, condemning crimes committed against innocent civilians does not feed the children on the streets of Aleppo. It does not keep the elderly warm, or help the men pulling women from the rubble of the ruins of their city. Five years into the civil war, Syria has turned into the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of our time where all red lines have been crossed.
Non-intervention is not the answer to the failures of intervention. One of the greatest failures of our global political leadership has been to allow Syria and Russia to dominate the narrative around Aleppo. The US wasn’t a saint in all of this either. They supplied AK 47’s while they should have been providing food, water, medicines, blankets and books. Everyone is now a perceived or an actual terrorist. Every hospital bombed from the air is now a secret weapons storage. Every use of chemical weapons, a false flag operation by the rebels. Of course, we can take the position that Syria is not our war. After all, our appetite to involve ourselves in conflicts in far-flung places is at an all timelow. However, do not fool yourself into thinking that the consequences of a war of such scale can be contained to the borders of its country.
Aleppo has now become the ultimate symbol of anger and disillusion. It has driven more young men into the arms of Islamic State and other terrorist groups and it will continue to bring more refugees to Europe’s shores.
The truth is that full-scale interventions as seen as in Afghanistan and Iraq are difficult. So are partial interventions as we have experienced in Libya and Mogadishu. Why would you risk boots on the ground? It is a valid question if the soldiers end up asking “Why are we fighting someone else’s war?” If anything, Syria has shown that consequences of inaction must not be ignored or forgotten, for they can sometimes have repercussions even more devastating than the choice to take action.
It is too late for the people of Aleppo.
We take respite in the fact that at least we have another opportunity to reflect on how we want to respond to mass atrocities in the future.
To read more by the author of Aleppo: The City That We Let Bleed Dry, click here