“And what is Aleppo?”

by Syahirah Anwar

“And what is Aleppo?” These were the words that were uttered in September 2016, verbatim might I add, by Gary Johnson, the Libertarian presidential nominee for the 2016 United States Presidential elections, when MSNBC reporters asked about his actions, if he was elected, on Aleppo.

This statement, though absurd as it may be coming out of the mouth of a United States Presidential candidate, is now poignant, because today, we ask, what is Aleppo? What has become of it? What was once a historically beautiful and thriving city, is now a shell of its former self, destroyed and flattened by barrel bombs, with lifeless bodies of its people trapped beneath the rubbles, and their red blood staining the streets.

For four years, the government of Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian opposition had been locked in a battle for Aleppo, resulting in tens of thousand deaths, many more injured, and an obscene number of people displaced. In December 2016, the Syrian Army claimed victory, when it announced that is has recaptured Aleppo, with the assistance of the Russians.

But that ‘victory’ came at the expense of endless bloodshed for the people of Aleppo, which had been divided into two parts, east and West Aleppo. The rebels controlled East Aleppo, while West Aleppo was the government’s stronghold.

Towards the end of Aleppo’s fall, reports from the United Nations stated that there were at least 100,000 civilians trapped in East Aleppo; a piece of land that was fast shrinking as the Syrian Army forces were quickly pushing forth, taking advantage of the never-ending barrel bombs that were raining down upon those in East Aleppo and the destruction of almost all infrastructure needed to survive.

Many civilians had begged the world through social medias to intervene and put an end to the gross injustice that they were suffering from, but alas, the help that they were seeking was slow to come. A ceasefire deal, which was brokered by Russia and Turkey, to allow civilians and rebel fighters to leave Aleppo had its hurdles, with reports of blasts being heard during that period. Reports emerged that the forces had shot at some civilians who were trying to escape, some men had gone missing, and buses trying to leave East Aleppo with civilians were turned around, back into the hellhole they were trying to escape from. To say it was a catastrophic nightmare would have been understating it.

The people of East Aleppo were saying their final goodbyes on social medias, not knowing if they were going to make it to the next day, or if a bomb was going to drop on them and their loved ones in the next minute. In some of the videos, one could even hear the bombs dropping in the background.

They were reminding the world of how the international community had failed to help them, when they needed help the most, how they were just forgotten, left for dead, because intervening did not suit the international community’s own personal agendas.

Food was scarce, and even if they were available, it was exorbitant, that most families could barely afford the basic necessities. Shelter was scarce, with hundreds of people cramming into small spaces to avoid being killed by the indiscriminate bombs, and hospitals were no longer functioning, as they had been destroyed. The Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, were rendered helpless as they shared on social media that they had no resources to save those trapped under the rubbles and at time, had to just remain on the sidelines as the bombs kept dropping.

In a video, a teacher and activist, Abdulkafi Alhamdo, had said: “Many people now are being killed and are just kept in the streets and their buildings. No one can help them. No way, no hospital, no cure.” Evacuations of the dead were deemed impossible, as there was no way for those who are still alive to help carry their bodies out for burial.

The worst victims of this senseless war in Aleppo are the children. For some of the young ones, all they have known in their short lives was war and bloodshed, having been born into this tumultuous time in Syria. It is utterly devastating to see images of little boys and girls, lifeless, their bodies ravaged by the war. But yet again, there was no swift action that was taken by the international community to put an end to the violence in Syria.

The United Nations did hold an emergency UN Security Council meeting in mid December to discuss the ceasefire, evacuation and humanitarian crisis that was happening in Aleppo. It was during this particular meeting that the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, lashed out at the Syrian government, and its allies, as she said: “To the Assad regime, Russia and Iran, three member states behind the conquest of and carnage in Aleppo: you bear responsibility for these atrocities… 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?”

“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. Are you truly incapable of shame?”

And it does seem that the Syrian government and its allies are truly incapable of shame, as despite the siege in Aleppo ending in a bloodbath, and those who were remaining in Aleppo evacuated into Turkey and the surrounding areas of Syria, such as Idlib, the deaths and military bombardment across Syria still continues. People are still dying, innocent individuals still fear for their lives, and infrastructures are still being destroyed, all in the quest for power and control.

The reality is this: tens of thousands of Syrians are dead, millions have lost their homes and the lives they led, many more are now suffering, with no proper shelter in the blistering cold winter, malnutrition, illnesses and injuries, of which many may cause lifelong disabilities, and the number of orphans is alarming.

But what is to become of Syria? Is the international community going to let this war go on till the day we have a politician say, “and what is Syria?”

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