Hundreds of thousands of people are dead
Millions, nearly half the population, are displaced
No human being can go unaffected by the story in Syria, being inside the conflict, or watching the horrors unfold from a distance. The nature of Bashar Assad’s indiscriminate violence against his own people is simply unbelievable. The lack of any possible end is mindboggling. The situation can only be described as anarchy, at best. The war in Syria has fundamentally and profoundly changed us all, as one simply cannot avoid the emotions.
In 2011, parallel to the Arab Spring, thousands of Syrians poured into the streets in peaceful demonstrations seeking to end the Assad dynasty.
A Civil War Begins
From day one of the Syria conflict the Assad regime staged pro-government rallies for the international media to cover. Unfortunately, when the same media sought to reach out to activists and cover anti-government rallies, the path was very difficult and the difference witnessed was startling. One had to drive in utter silence, while activists constantly checked if they were being followed. Dissident demonstrators had no choice but to place lookouts for security forces. With a signal the street erupts into activity, only to be short-lived as government forces raided the areas and forced demonstrators to flee.
Peaceful Protests Make Room for Armed Conflicts
For months peaceful protests were seen across Syria, where people would chant down with the regime under a rain of gunfire. Demonstrators acted peacefully, rallying and documenting their activities. Yet the death toll surmounted until protesters began picking up arms, defending themselves and fighting back. This set the entire country of Syria on a devastating path to war.
Extremism Spreads Like Cancer
Early 2012 Syria witnessed a definite shift as the conflict morphed into a militarized struggle, allowing extremists to seek their own objectives, and Iran to ignite sectarian perspectives and emotions. The rebels began to grow in size and the world witnessed how radicals from all corners of the globe pledged to groups such as the Nusra Front, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. At a time when the international community failed to act, extremists were able to gain the upper hand on the ground. This is how the Nusra Front and ultimately Daesh (the Arabic acronym for the self-proclaimed Islamic State) began to fill in the vacuum.
Flying into Hatay Airport in southern Turkey in late 2013 the high volume of foreigners entering this region, and smuggling into Syria, left one in awe. Such a sight was quite frankly staggering. Many of those arriving were heading for the border into Syria. Smugglers picked up potential fighters from the airport, taking them to various safe houses around Hatay, and nearing the fence where foreign jihadis were delivered directly to al-Qaeda linked militants gaining grounds in Syria’s anarchic northern regions.
The extremist groups at times seemed more organized, yet definitely more ruthless, than moderate rebel groups who at first struggled to unite under a specific umbrella. Today, the Free Syrian Army represents the Syrian people’s thirst for democracy and human rights.
Young men and all ordinary Syrians were immensely effected by the killing ravaging their country. As the bombardment intensified the more it radicalized people in Syria. If we had been subjected to such atrocities, witnessing our loved ones killed in cold blood, tortured, where would we go? What would we do? Would we embrace anger and hatred?
Daesh completely changed the dynamics in Syria as it entered the battlefield. They were able to take over massive swathes of land, enjoyed control over resources incomparable to any other major fighting groups inside Syria. They were completely brutal and ruthless, embracing a level of evil that completely destroyed what we knew of Syria, changing the very fabric of everything in this country in a very fundamental way.
The rich heritage and artifacts of ancient Syria were completely destroyed and leveled, and the international community chose to do nothing as the onslaught continued.
The War’s Victims
The city of Homs was besieged for such a long period that ordinary civilians were barely recognizable, as they literally had nothing to eat. People were forced to eat leaves, and the best of such leaves were found in a graveyard, of all places. After more than two years of hunger, grown women weighed only 34 kilos, or around 65 pounds.
This is an indictment of all humanity, of the entire international community. The Syrian people have taken their toll, more than enough, and those looking from abroad may simply feel helpless, and at times useless. Witnessing how children suffer in such circumstances is the most difficult part of this atrocity.
Small children were seen actually targeted by sniper fire. Where in the world does a sniper find it in himself to target an innocent child? Snipers in Syria are everywhere, providing a sense that the war in their country has left no one safe. A child dying destroys a family, providing an image of the harsh reality that the entire Syrian community is facing, day in and day out.
Sheer Brutality and Bloodshed
No other conflict can be described as a battle between “David and Goliath” as the one we are witnessing in Syria. No town in this country has been spared of the lethal and horrifying airstrikes. People on the ground literally have nothing to defend themselves and nowhere to find refuge in the face of such massive air bombardment. The fierce destruction and the stench of warfare and death has moved us. Reporters on the ground have actually learned different words in Arabic for the various methods of torture systematically implemented by Assad’s security apparatus. Imagining how far this war has driven people may actually be described as insane.
The truth is that Syrian security forces reserve a particular amount of violence against doctors, yes doctors, who have been providing medical care for protesters. These physicians and their medical staff were literally tortured worse than others. The hatred Assad has found for his own people is probably best described as insurmountable.
Early on doctors launched underground secret clinics to provide care for the people, and remain loyal to their oath. This network of medics struggles to save lives, 24/7, while always running short of supplies. One such group called themselves the “Damascus Doctors.” These field hospitals were prepared in tiny rooms and their supplies, basic at best. These clinics played crucial roles as people were terrified to go to government hospitals. They refused to seek care in such facilities, knowing they would be arrested and if killed, their families would not be able to retrieve their bodies for a decent burial.
Many such physicians died, either tortured to death, caught in crossfires or killed under the rubble of leveled buildings. These brave doctors symbolized the true nature of Syria and its people, how they sacrificed their all for others.
Is There Any End In Sight?
The streets of Syria across this once beautiful land are pockmarked with recent airstrikes. Roads are now flanked with berms to protect vehicles from attacks from either side of the conflict. The only road leading into Aleppo has become a dangerous journey for those who dare. Snipers are known to prey for anything that moves. Arriving in the once glamorous city of Aleppo the scale of destruction leaves one in utter disbelief. Not much life is left in Aleppo. Carpet bombings have targeted civilians and opposition forces in this city for years now. The Syrian air force has used lethal barrel bombs that are indiscriminately pushed out of helicopters, raining down utter destruction on civilians.
Locals are continuously terrified as fighter jets scream overhead, signaling a soon-to-come hit. The aftermath of airstrikes are nothing but chaos and carnage, as volunteers desperately attempt to provide care and shout for ambulances. Once the ambulances arrive, unfortunately it is already too late for many.
Quite early on it became clear how the Assad regime used warplanes over the city of Aleppo that this warfare would be much more brutal and deadly. How does the international community respond to Syrians when their country is now left in ruins? How do we sooth a Syrian man, woman or child who has no hope in the foreseeable future, when their entire lives have been leveled, forcing them to flee? What do you say to such a person?
The Syrian Refugee: A Humanitarian Catastrophe
The sheer volume of millions of refugees displaced from their homes, whether inside the country, or those who have fled into neighboring countries, is startling. This will unfortunately define what we know of Syria today, and especially the unbearable scenes of Syrian refugees desperately seeking a safe haven in Europe. This will define our future, and how we look at ourselves. Walking in the streets of Turkey, one can never tolerate the scene of so many begging Syrian children. They were all born after the start of the Syrian civil war.
Considering the lethal nature of this violence, maybe the outflow of refugees from Syria may not have surprised us. However, shocking the most is how these innocent refugees have been treated once they arrive in Europe, or anywhere else for that matter.
Mothers are scared for their children. Scenes of refugees abandoned under the rain in countries we know as members of Europe were simply unbelievable. Once considered an easy pathway mostly for Syria’s refugees fleeing the war, was no more. Macedonia, just one example, closed its borders and left Syrians waiting in the unknown. The Syrian people, a very proud nation, never thought they would be degraded and humiliated to such a degree. In their own words, they are left homeless and treated as animals.
No Certain Future
However this war comes to an end one day, the nation of Syria will have to be rebuilt from the ground up. In the absence of millions of people fleeing the country, the engineers, the doctors, people of basic skills who are needed to help rebuild the country, the future looks very uncertain for this country.
Despite the recent push to find a political solution to end the war, experts are heard saying the violence may actually go on for another five years. The war may continue to morph and change in the years to come. Truly, let us hope they are wrong.
Understanding or visualizing a path that may lead to a longer, substantial or lasting ceasefire in Syria is quite difficult. Every time in this country where there is a sense of hope and slowing of conflict, a new force suddenly enters the scene, providing a potential for the conflict to grow into a more lethal level. The problem is how much worse the situation on the ground can get is simply hard to imagine. The sheer truth is that all sides need to make very painful decisions and compromises for this war to end. History has proven that two sides of a conflict eventually sit down and start to negotiate when there is no more blood to be shed. There have also been cases when a superpower enters the scene and forces the two rivals to talk. Many are waiting for that day to come, especially since the Syrian people have already braved such appalling circumstances in the past five years.
The Syrian conflict has been devastating, as the world witnessed a legitimate movement grow with a significant amount of hope to establish true democracy in this magnificent country. Unfortunately, this movement was crushed, and the world took a step back and only watched.
We have to understand what we have seen in Syria is only a fraction of what the Syrian people themselves have endured, and are experiencing as we speak. The lack of imagining any solution or any possible end is the most difficult part. When we look back at Syria, one becomes very sad and is left with a deep and profound sense of sorrow that such a nation was left to go through so much pain. It simply did not have to be so dreadful.
According to some reports, over 470,000 Syrians have lost their lives in this war.
More than 11 million Syrians are displaced, 4.8 million fleeing the country while 6.6 million are internally displaced.
And maybe the most difficult statistic, over 4 million Syrian children, the future of this nation, are out of school and deprived of any education.
The war continues in Syria. We, the international community have, to rise to our humane responsibility and strive to bring an end to this brutality. The more we fail, the more this war threatens our own very way of life.
The Syrian people deserve our support. We have failed long enough. It is high time to rise to our duty.