Aleppo: Down with the Rebellion
After five brutal years of violence and bloodshed, a ceasefire has been reached with rebels in the Syrian city of Aleppo. The Syrian forces of Bashar al-Assad, the President of Syria, and various troops from Russia, Iran, and Shi’ite militia groups have claimed victory over rebels that have been held up in the city for years. As forces continue to move into the city, many citizens await evacuation. When gazing upon a city crumbling into ashes, with innocent civilian bodies strewn across the streets, ravaged from airstrikes, the question must be asked: How did we get here? Then, the more important question: Where are we going?
The Arab Spring
In March 2011, protests spread across Syria, appealing for an end to the authoritarian rule of Bashar al-Assad. On the 18th of March, in the city of Daraa, security personnel shot and killed a group of protesters that were angered by the arrest of fifteen school children, who had painted anti-government messages on school walls. Some will point to this event as the lighting of the fuse that would plummet Syria into a civil war.
Over the next several months, protests would be held across the country. This would become known as “The Arab Spring”, a term made popular when anti-government uprisings were occurring in Tunisia. A little more than a month after the first incident in Daraa, 75 protesters were killed while assembling. Following this protest, Assad deployed multiple units to put the protests to rest.
The Battle of Aleppo
On July 22nd of 2012, as Assad’s forces continued to spread throughout Syria to keep protests under control, rebels from villages surrounding Aleppo invaded the city. Remaining relatively peaceful until then, Aleppo turned into a warzone in less than a day. A swift response from the government would leave citizens cowering in fear as bombs dropped all around the city. Rebels, overrunning military bases and police stations, made large advances on acquiring territory, while also gathering large supplies of weapons and ammunition. Even factories sprung up to create rockets and other explosive devices.
In 2013, the Syrian government put the wheels of “Operation Northern Storm” into motion. The goal was to assault and recapture various parts of the city that were under rebel control. From June to October, Assad forces and rebels fought back and forth, both sides claiming victory along the way. In October, Assad’s forces pulled back and halted the push into the city.
Fast-forward to 2016 and the city of Aleppo is divided, with the western side controlled by the government and the eastern side controlled by rebel forces. The Syrian government tightened their grip on various supply lines into Eastern Aleppo, attempting to cut off resources being funneled to rebel forces. In late October, the government forces recaptured nine districts from the rebels, leaving the rebels with control of only 5% of the city. On December 13th, the ceasefire was announced and evacuations were soon being planned.
This Friday, evacuations from Aleppo were stopped after a shooting occurred. Village evacuations are expected to resume shortly. According to the Washington Post, “The International Committee of the Red Cross said thousands of people, including women, children, the sick and injured, remain trapped in eastern Aleppo waiting in freezing temperatures for the evacuation to resume.” Because of the mass number of civilians caught in the middle of the conflict, it is expected that a new deal to evacuate will be reached soon.
A Look to the Future
With the most important city in Syria back under Assad’s reign, it is likely that a sweep of government control will soon be reestablished across the nation. Although the Syrian conflict is by no means finished, the rebel flame is being increasingly smothered by the day. As for other countries involved in the conflict, one author asserts that Iran is the big winner of the surrendering of the city, which is “a crossroads in Iran’s project to build a land corridor to the Mediterranean coast.”
One must not naively rush to assume that Assad will promote humanitarian efforts in order to secure public opinion. Citizens will not be quick to forget their president using chemical weapons that killed civilians. If anything, a tighter grip on the Syrian population can be expected. Any good graces between the government and people will soon be dispelled. After all, has anything really changed?