Syria: The madness of Aleppo’s violence
The people of this sad, war-ravaged city have been through plenty of bad times in the past three years, but last week has been one of the worst so far. The terror and mayhem of Syria's war reached a frightening crescendo here as government forces and rebel militias mercilessly pounded each other’s areas across the divided city.
The brunt of the carnage was borne by the hapless citizens with dozens killed, maimed and buried alive under the rubble of their own homes. The violence seems to have become an end in itself, as there is no conceivable military gain or purpose to any of it. What is to be gained by levelling houses, apartment blocks, schools and hospitals other than feeding the insatiable appetite of blind vengeful monsters?
The people have lost all hope, and in their darkest times when the loud sounds of explosions and gunfire drown out whispered conversations, and the stench of gunpowder and blood fill the air and waft through the abandoned streets, they huddle together in the corridors of their houses praying, for there is little else they can do. Many silently pray for a quick death, an end to their misery once and for all. There is no denying the bitter feeling of abandonment here, of helplessness and despair.
The latest surge in violence translated into various fronts across the city igniting in fierce fighting, as the opposing sides shelled each other across the divide, invariably bombing people out of their houses in the process. In what has become an all too familiar and grotesque defining characteristic of this conflict, one side's atrocity is met by a similar or greater one by the other.
In this bizarre and barbaric theatre of surreal tragedy, people become mere numbers, and video clips and soundbites for propaganda. A dismembered child being dug out of rubble is not a human being, it is simply a way to score points against the other “team,” and show your own supporters and the world what monsters they are.
Of course, you are always blind to the very same crimes your side is committing. In this desensitised and dehumanised war, the camera crews often show up before the rescue crews and ambulances. The pawns in this disgusting game are us, the people of this city, and we're fed up and sick of everyone with a gun and a media station.
The justification - if you can call it that - is that whoever is still living in the areas the other side controls, must be supporting him and is fair game. Of course, the absurdity of this is very apparent, so you might hear a slight alteration alongside the lines of “if they are supporting them and are killed by our bombs then good, let them go to hell, but if they are innocent then God will accept them as martyrs”.
'Those fighting are mad men'
Samer is a resident of a more affluent neighbourhood in the regime-held part of west Aleppo. He had resisted the urge to leave the city like so many others had, and opted to stay and try to tough it out; now he is changing his mind: "We endured all kinds of unimaginable hardships, days and weeks with no power or water, the shortages, the dangers, the soaring prices everything you can imagine. We were convincing ourselves that we should never leave our homes, that it will get better. But it just keeps getting worse. We have lost hope, those people fighting, they are mad men, they won't stop until they destroy this whole city and everything and everyone in it…… they are mad men."
"I have children to think about, what will their future be? How long can I keep a calm expression while looking at their frightened faces every time the bombs go off? I am selling everything I own and moving out, I don't care where, just out of here," he added.
Um Jalal is a resident of the front-line district of Ashrafieh, a neighbourhood which has seen heavy fighting as both sides attempt to wrestle control of it. Some streets have been literally reduced to rubble as heavy artillery fire is traded back and forth. It has recently become so bad that people are starting to evacuate their homes and flee to safer areas of west Aleppo, often to stay with family or relatives.
“It was constant and our houses were shaking from the force of the explosions, our children were screaming all night,” she said. “Finally after days of this we could take it no longer, we had lost count of how many bombs fell. Every time we heard a bang, we were sure the next bomb would fall on top of our house. So many of the houses in the neighbourhood had been hit. When there was a pause in the morning, we packed a few clothes and important items, and my husband took us to his sister’s house in a safer suburb. We saw many of our neighbours do the same that morning.”
Rebel-held east Aleppo reduced to rubble
Across the dividing front line in rebel-held east Aleppo, the situation is considerably worse. Heavy, unguided “barrel bombs” dropped from great heights have laid entire blocks to waste, and have almost completely emptied those areas of their inhabitants, except for a few too stubborn or without the means to leave. There is no way to cross between the divided parts of the city, except for a detour which takes hours and crosses hundreds of kilometres across areas under rebel and government control.
Communications are very difficult too, as the infrastructure there is badly damaged. Everything here is fair game for an airstrike or a shell. Schools or hospitals are often hit, either by purpose or design. The “intended” targets being the various rebel and Islamist groups which control those areas - but more often than not, it is the innocent inhabitants that get slaughtered.
Omar was a resident of the Sukari neighbourhood in east Aleppo, but had fled to the safer government-held areas over a year ago. His parents refused to leave with him. When a barrel bomb fell near his old home, he frantically tried to call and get in touch with his father, fearing the worst. “He refuses to leave, he is stubborn. He believes he will lose his dignity if he is forced to shelter with other people. He told me he wants to die in his own house, he has a lot of pride,” Omar told me. “They live in the lower floor which is safer, and often our neighbours - the only ones still left in the building - will come stay with my parents if the shelling gets too bad. I managed to reach his cell phone after many tries; they are safe, but very shaken. The bomb fell close, all the glass in the house was broken and many people died in the street. I think he is changing his mind about leaving now. I am trying to convince him.”
And so the tragedy of Aleppo goes on, as the constant fighting and killing turns this once bustling and prosperous city into a living hell for many of its people. The machine of war continues to harvests the souls of its inhabitants dozens at a time, and there is just no end in sight to it all.
Meanwhile, the backers of the various warring sides stall, bicker, and push for yet more war, weapons and killing. There is no apparent desire for any solution, and the sounds of guns will continue to drown out the sound of reason in this shattered land.
- Edward Dark is MEE's Aleppo-based columnist and writes under a pseudonym.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Grief-stricken Syrians sit on the pavement near a building that was targeted in a reported barrel bomb attack by Syrian government forces on the central al-Fardous rebel held neighbourhood of Aleppo on April 29, 2015, which left a number of people dead, according to locals. (AFP)