10 Years of Murder, Destruction, and Brutal Repression in Syria

Arwa Damon writes:

Long gone is the illusion that any reporting out of Syria will change the realities on the ground. That was painfully eliminated early on.

It ripped many of us journalists to shreds, left us flailing, wondering what more we could have done, or what we should have done better. It gutted us to hear from contacts and activists, who became friends over the years, repeatedly ask: “why doesn’t anyone care?”

Eventually, they went silent, many of them either killed or disappeared.

In Idlib, I stare down at a fresh mural that commemorates 10 years of war, its colors almost too bright, too bold against the gray tones of the rebel-held city. It depicts the passage of the Syrian war, beginning with an image of demonstrators calling for the downfall of the Bashar al-Assad regime. The same artist painted a mural of George Floyd in the ruins of a bombed out building, out of solidarity with the notion that they, Syrians, know what it is like not to breathe.

To not breathe because of chemical weapons. To be suffocated by the thick dust and debris of bombs, and crushed under the weight of a totalitarian system.

When I close my eyes, I can still hear the excitement in protesters’ voices during the early days of the uprising a decade ago. How full of hope they were, how utterly convinced that, if they just hung in there long enough, there would be change. Surely, they thought, if world powers saw their suffering, something would be done.

Oz Katerji writes:

But this solemn date marks only the start of the Syrian revolution, not the opening shot of the Syrian civil war, which began only after months of a brutal crackdown that had already left thousands of people dead at the hands of the regime’s security forces. That violence, initiated by President Bashar al-Assad, began the largest human-made human catastrophe since World War II, on a scale so unfathomable that the United Nations officially abandoned trying to count the death toll in January 2014. It’s a conflict that isn’t over—and that never had to happen.

The U.N.’s last attempt at an estimate was 400,000 dead, issued by then-Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura in 2016. Even at that time, the number barely reflected the actual human cost. It became impossible to count the death toll from the daily bombardments, and even more impossible to set a figure for those who later succumbed to their wounds, died from preventable diseases, or starved to death as a result of barbaric sieges—or the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who disappeared, summarily executed or tortured to death in the Assad regime’s death camps. The circle of suffering goes beyond the dead: rape victims, torture victims, traumatized children, widows and widowers, displaced people. It’s a list with no end….

The Syrian civil war must be defined not by the defiance and courage of those who took to the streets in 2011 but instead by the slogan Assad’s personal militias used to drive fear into the hearts of the Syrian people: “Assad or no one. Assad or we burn the country.” This is the only promise the regime has ever kept. This is why it is wrong to mark this date as the start of the Syrian civil war: Syrians did not choose to become the victims of a violent military crackdown for one man’s lust for power; it was a crime perpetrated against them.