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Thursday, February 2, 2023

The shameful fall of Syria’s Aleppo 6 years ago

Aleppo in 2015; Zein Al-Rifai

December 15, 2022 marked the sixth anniversary of the fall of Aleppo to the Assad regime. Difficult years have passed since the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians from the eastern neighborhoods of the city. Thousands of revolutionary soldiers lost their lives attempting to lift the siege but the battles stopped when Russia and the regime took control of all of the formerly liberated neighborhoods. Since the fall of Aleppo to the regime, many have moved into the city. In spite of the regime’s rhetoric encouraging Syrians to come back, the experiences of some who have tried have proven that it is no safer for them now than it was when they left.

Aleppo was famous for its local handicraft industries that produced such things as olive oil soap and textiles sought out by tourists and locals alike and sold in unique shops in the Grand Bazaar

Yasser Ashkar

Aleppo is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and it contains many antiquities that indicate the ancient history of this city, not the least of which is the Citadel of Aleppo located in the city center. Aleppo was once considered one of the most beautiful and productive Syrian cities. Known as the manufacturing center of the country, Aleppo was famous for its local handicraft industries that produced such things as olive oil soap and textiles sought out by tourists and locals alike and sold in unique shops in the Grand Bazaar, a sprawling indoor marketplace that operated continuously for more than 1000 years next to the Citadel before it was damaged in the fight to control the city. Along with being an important economic center for Syria, the city has historical, cultural and musical significance and its Citadel and Grand Bazaar are registered as World Heritage sites by UNESCO.

Aleppo Citadel in 2015; Credit: Zein Al-Rifai

At the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in March 2011, Aleppo became just another city and eventually lost its status as the economic center of Syria as it became one of the most prominent strongholds of the opposition in northern Syria. Many industrialists and craftsmen lost their factories and shops beginning in 2013 because of the war declared by Bashar Assad on Aleppo after its residents joined their voices with others across the country in calling for freedom and justice and an end to the brutality and corruption of the regime.

To the residents of Aleppo it seemed as if Bashar Assad’s hatred of their city mirrored the hatred of his father as he brought in his Russian ally and Iranian militias with various types of weapons including missiles, explosive barrel bombs, and poisonous gases

Yasser Ashkar

Frustrated over their inability to maintain control of the city, regime forces and their foreign allies invited into the fray by Assad, launched a harsh military campaign in 2016 which constituted the climax of the Syrian war. To the residents of Aleppo it seemed as if Bashar Assad’s hatred of their city mirrored the hatred of his father as he brought in his Russian ally and Iranian militias with various types of weapons including missiles, explosive barrel bombs, and poisonous gases. Many civilians were buried under their own homes, and as happened after his father’s assault on Hama in 1982, an exact number of casualties has never been determined.

Jabal Badaro area in Aleppo in 2013; Credit: Zein Al-Rifai

Recent pictures and eyewitness accounts of current conditions in Aleppo testify to the extent of the devastation that affected the city, including hospitals, archaeological sites, the Umayyad Mosque, and entire neighborhoods of uninhabitable residential homes and businesses.

Diseases have spread in the city due to the lack of hygiene, as garbage is present in all the streets of Aleppo

Yasser Ashkar

The residents of eastern Aleppo had suffered from siege and starvation for many months before the city fell back into the hands of the regime, but since then, living conditions for many continue to deteriorate. Diseases have spread in the city due to the lack of hygiene, as garbage is present in all the streets of Aleppo. And until now Syrians in Aleppo are still living with the forced displacement they experienced during the military campaign of the Syrian regime forces and its allies.

Old city of Aleppo in 2015; Credit: Zein Al-Rifai

Diseases have spread in the city due to the lack of hygiene, as garbage is present in all the streets of Aleppo

Yasser Ashkar

Considered a victory in the “war on terror” by the Assad regime, the fall of Aleppo has done nothing to improve the lives of its residents, but has effectively served as a strategic political prop for Assad’s allies: Russia and Iran. Putin has exploited Russia’s involvement in Syria to insure the promotion of his own agenda in the Middle East as well as the failure of all UN negotiations supposedly intended to bring peace to the region. While it is practically impossible for Syrian refugees desiring to return to the city to do so, Assad has welcomed immigrants from Iran and even granted them citizenship in order to widen his base of support in the country. Even so, the continuing deterioration of Syria’s economy has resulted in many Syrians who formerly either supported, or were willing to tolerate Assad, turning against him. 

Yasser Ashkar
Yasser Ashkar
Former instructor at Istanbul University. Ashkar is a Founding Member of the Association of Syrian Refugees, Human Rights Activist and Journalist. He currently lives in Michigan, USA.

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