Last month, as the IRGC and Hezbollah rallied their ground troops to prepare for an assault on Aleppo, we brought you a series of stark images from a city deciminated by years of war. A week later, we highlighted new, high-def drone footage of Syria’s eerily desolate urban landscapes rendered barren by mortar fire, barrel bombs, and airstrikes.
If you follow the war closely, it’s easy to get swept up in the World War III, global conflict hysteria. After all, what’s more intriguing from a geopolitical perspective than the distinct possibility that Moscow and NATO may be headed for an armed conflict after Turkey became the first alliance member to engage a Russian or Soviet aircraft in some six decades. Throw in the fact that at the center of it all is a wealthy, brazen terrorist organization funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, whose mission is to rid the Arabian Peninsula of Iranian influence and you have the recipe not only for a renewal of Cold War hostilities, but also for an explosive sectarian conflict.
Lost in all of this is the human toll that five years of civil war has exerted upon Syria’s beleaguered populace. To be sure, the mass exodus from the Mid-East and subsequent flow of migrants into Germany, France, Sweden, and Austria (to name but a few) is representative of the struggle, but in the minds of many Europeans, the Paris attacks have served to turn a humanitarian crisis into a symbol of a dangerous and imminent Islamization of Western Europe. That, in turn, has to a certain extent dehumanized Syrian refugees. That’s not to say that terror groups have not sought to take advantage of the discord by embedding militants in the crowds of asylum seekers flooding into Europe. It’s just to say that thanks to the massacre in France, Syrian refugees have become more a symbol of terror than they have a symbol of suffering.
It’s with that in mind that we bring you the following images (via Reuters) from the Syrian capital and excerpts from “The Slow Death of Damascus”, by Thanassis Cambanis as originally published in Foreign Policy.
Few supporters of the government are switching sides to the opposition these days, but many are simply exhausted by the immense toll exacted by the war. Half the country’s people have been pushed from their original homes. The infrastructure is creaking. Even some supporters of Assad say they feel that government-held Syria is hollowing out, running on fumes.
Over the course of a recent 10-day visit, Damascus residents said they feel less embattled than they did a year ago, but the war is still an inescapable reality of everyday life. Every night, dozens of mortars still land in the city center, sending wounded and sometimes dead civilians to Damascus General Hospital. From the city’s still-busy cafés, clients can hear the thuds of outgoing government guns and the rolling explosions of the barrel bombs dropped on the rebel-held suburb of Daraya.
Army and militia checkpoints litter the city. In some central areas, cars are stopped and searched every two blocks. Still, rebels manage to smuggle car bombs into the city center. According to residents, explosions occur every two or three weeks, but are rarely reported in the state media.
“The government doesn’t care if people leave. It can’t stop them,” one middle-class Syrian, who has chosen so far to remain in Damascus, said of the exodus. “The war seems like it will go on forever. People see no future for their children. The only people who are staying are the ones who have it really good here or the ones who aren’t able to leave.”
The fight has become an integral part of daily life, directly affecting almost every family from every type of background. Throughout the coast, photographs of the war’s casualties adorn every block. Each neighborhood has a wall of martyrs, some of them featuring hundreds of dead — part of an effort to build a martyrdom culture not unlike that which sustains loyalists of Iran’s ayatollahs and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, both of which provide key support to the Syrian government.
“This is our destiny,” said Ahmed Bilal, an Alawite cleric who was circulating in a shiny white robe and chatting with the assembled families. A long line of fighters predating the establishment of modern Syria had resisted foreign invaders, he said, and gave inspiration to today’s soldiers.
“Even if we lose one-third of our young men, we will still have the rest to live,” Bilal said. “They died so that the others should have life.”