The betrayal goes beyond Aleppo, beyond Daraya, beyond Homs. Beyond Syria’s borders. It’s a betrayal that can be understood with only some basic information about Syria and its revolution. People stood for freedom, they risked everything for those values that the West hold dear: freedom, democracy, justice. Syrians were encouraged and given hope when the West spoke out against the atrocities they suffered. But as women and children were crushed under the rubble of their own homes, these words became completely meaningless. Those titans of democracy and freedom, cheered on the spirit of revolution and the belief in a better future, but allowed those who so bravely stood against tyranny to be crushed in the most unimaginably brutal ways.
Support was given, enough to make progress but not to win, to continue the fighting and to delay death a little longer; it was not enough to protect communities, but enough to stoke the fire and rile the aggressors into escalating their offensive. The regime’s weak ground forces triggered a scorched earth policy that was implemented through Russian air strikes – to retake areas by reducing them to dust – and with eastern Aleppo besieged, people had nowhere to run.
The regime and Russia justified its attacks under the guise of targeting terrorism, yet Daesh cushioned its front lines a few kilometres to the east, with a de facto cease fire in place with the regime . As Syrian opposition leader Riyad Hijab put it, regime forces were “lions against unarmed civilians, with killing, destruction and violations, committing massacres. Yet they flee like rabbits and rats in the face of Daesh, withdrawing from Palmyra”.
Daesh was able to recapture Palmyra in under 48 hours, while Russia and the regime were busy with Aleppo. Meanwhile, to the north with Turkish support, Free Syrian Army forces have liberated nearly two thousand square kilometres containing over 220 villages from Daesh, as part of operation Euphrates Shield.
With all the noise the regime has been making about this operation, one would have thought that all of Syria had been recaptured, yet 87% of Aleppo province remains out of regime military control. The theatre of empty words and lies from all parties has become intoxicating. The United Nations has been an exhibition for this, rather than act as a forum to protect the people from the crimes against humanity, it has regularly amplified the voices and ideas of those responsible for these atrocious war crimes. In its recent session, the Syrian regime’s representative at the UN, Bashar Jaafari, held up a photo at the UN Security Council of a soldier knelt on the floor, allowing a woman to step on him getting out of a truck. He said this is how the army has been helping civilians in Aleppo. The photo was not taken in Syria but in Fallujah, Iraq, in June.
In contrast it is clear that foreign Shia militia ground forces have been acting on their own accord, at odds with the deal brokered between Russia and Turkey. Shia militias initially blocked the evacuation route, shooting at Red Crescent aid workers moving to evacuate the wounded. The evacuation was postponed and when it was started again, militia forces fired at ambulances wounding civilians and aid workers. The dominance of Shia militia forces was evident in the first moment they reached Aleppo’s Umayyad Mosque. It wasn’t a Syrian flag that was first planted in the mosque, but the Shia militia’s black flag with “Ya Hussein” written on it. This evacuation follows the pattern of ethnic cleansing, part of regime policy, where Sunni families are forcibly displaced from an area only to be replaced by Shia militias. Shia militias occupied the old city of Homs after the 2015 deal, as was the case in Qusayr in rural Homs, and Yabrud in rural Damascus. The first picture I saw after the evacuation of Darayya, in rural Damascus, was of an Iraqi Shia militia commander leading prayers amongst the rubble of the town.
These events have been visible across every platform with coloured pictures and videos, war crimes being executed live for the world to see, and all they could do was “condemn” and exclaim they were “horrified”. These people who stood for principles they believed the West shared, were abandoned, and in turn so have these principles, which do not stand through being exclaimed but stand strong only when reinforced by action. They are meaningless when they are just empty words. The people of Aleppo have been betrayed by the West, as have Western values.