An Aleppoite’s Take on the Aleppo Tragedy

01/15/2017 09:36 am ET Updated Oct 03, 2017

Most of us Americans can’t seem to figure out the complexities of ― let alone the solutions to ― one of the most devastating humanitarian tragedies of our time – the widespread catastrophic killing and suffering in Aleppo, Syria. But, fortunately, this commentator has access to an insider, whom I sought out for help in understanding the situation. My dear friend, whom I’ll refer to as Jake, had left his hometown of Aleppo years before the killing started and now lives in Montreal. He is not a typical Aleppoite because there isn’t such a thing – that’s part of the problem. He is a Christian of Armenian heritage. His parents had settled there as refugees after fleeing the genocide of Armenians in Turkey some hundred years ago. At the start of the Syrian conflict there were approximately 450,000 Christians living in Aleppo. Now there are around 35,000, and they are suffering badly from all sides of the sectarian war there.

I had the good luck to get to first know Jake in the teachers’ lounge of a Saudi training center where we taught English in the 1980s; one of Jake’s paintings of a then-idyllic lane in Aleppo’s Armenian quarter now hangs on my office wall; and my wife, son, and I had the privilege of visiting and exploring Aleppo, which is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, in 1987.

I recently interviewed my friend about the calamities in his home town. I asked only four questions, including his take on an interview I had watched in which Charlie Rose interviewed two correspondents, which I thought had gotten things right about the evil deeds of President Assad, the Russians, and the Western media’s reportage of the situation. As the reader will see, my friend disagrees with my take.

1. What is your reaction to CNN Correspondent Clarissa Ward’s and the Council on Foreign Relations’ Phillip Gordon’s take on the Aleppo situation during this recent interview?

Jake: When I reluctantly listened to Charlie Rose’s interview of Clarissa and Philip, there wasn’t a word about what was happening to the areas under the control of the government where Sunnis, Arab Christians, Armenians and others live. A couple of years ago, a “moderate” rebel cut the chest of a Syrian soldier, took out his heart and started eating it—all in front of the camera.. You can find it on YouTube. In other incidents, groups of rebels killed Syrian soldiers and threw them down into the river near Homs. This has been going on since the beginning of this war.

I don’t know if you remember, when the war had just started, CNN dedicated its prime time presented by Andersen Cooper to the fighting in Homs. He kept showing a young man, supposedly a Syrian, who had just sneaked into Homs and started staging government bombings from the roof of the houses there, and reporting it to CNN. This went on for several days until it was revealed that the whole thing was a hoax. We have never heard from that Syrian again, but Anderson still works for CNN.

I and my friends do not watch the American channels anymore to get news. We read independent writers on the Internet, watch Russian TV (RT), and watch other Middle Eastern media. The American media seems to have one owner. All of them ― CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, even Public TV and the news companies like Reuters and Associated Press ― broadcast from one side only, which we consider unfair and biased.

In Charlie Rose’s interview, Charlie started by saying “Assad’s forces.” This is deliberate, and all the other western media use it to de-legitimize the Syrian president. Syria is a sovereign country and Bashar Al Assad is its president, whether we like it or not. It’s not “Assad’s forces.” It’s the Syrian Arab Army. Clarisse said, “This morning 2 hospitals and a bakery were hit.” It could be true. But Aleppo is a city of 3-4 million people. It’s probably the second oldest city in the world if not the oldest. It has many narrow streets, alleys and passages, especially in the eastern part, where the rebels are entrenched. And these rebels keep launching their western-supplied rockets, mortars, and home-made barrel bombs (called Hell Canons) on the residential areas under the government control. Those areas under the government control like Meydan, an Armenian quarter, Suleymaniye, the Arab Christian and Armenian area, Syrian Jadid, also mixed and many other areas are not military positions and don’t have government buildings. They are residential areas, yet for the last 4 years they have been bombarded on a daily basis. Just a few days ago, the Syrian army re-captured the most modern hospital in Syria, just north of Aleppo. It was equipped with the latest and it was free for the citizens. The rebels flattened it out before withdrawing from it.

As I was writing this response, I was also listening to a report from Aleppo. A Lebanese TV’s reporter just reported that today (September 4), the rebels from the eastern part of Aleppo shelled the western part with mortars and barrel bombs the University of Aleppo, hitting several of its faculties and killing 4 students and injuring 15. The government had to close the university. They also, as usual, shelled the residential areas of Meydan (Armenian), Suleymanieye (Armenian and Arab Christian), Syrian (mixed Christian and Muslim) and Hamdaniye (a Sunni neighborhood). Has any American heard through the media about these casualties and atrocities? I haven’t.

At Charlie Rose’s table, they suggested responding with equal force. This American mentality of using force and bombing them to annihilation unfortunately prevails. However, Philip asks what about the next step, “a violent overthrow of the government and then you have another Iraq or Libya?” Is that what the world wants? Well, if it does, we don’t want Syria to become another Iraq, Libya, or Somalia or Yemen.

Clarissa conveniently says that there are 70% Sunnis in Syria, implying that they are all against the government. This is far from the truth. This government couldn’t have survived this WWIII against so many powerful countries for six years if a good size of the Sunnis were not with it. Of course the western media hides this part. Clarissa says the 70% of the Sunnis will never accept Assad’s regime.” Those Sunnis who are with the government and are part of the government and/or the military are so because they don’t believe in the Saudi version of Islam, because they are tolerant and inclusive, or they are secular like the government or progressive, modern and open-minded. I am sure Ms. Clarissa Ward knows these things but she conveniently hides them. She says 250 thousand living in the rebel part of Aleppo don’t want to live under the regime. Has she conducted a poll? Yes, some don’t, but some do. She keeps talking about the 250,000 in eastern Aleppo. Again she doesn’t mention that there are 1.5 million living in the western part, under the government, who are constantly being shelled by the eastern part.

Charlie Rose’s guests blame Russia. But the Russians in their turn blame the Americans. They say they keep asking the Americans to clearly say which factions they consider “moderate” and which “radical.” Until this moment, they still haven’t got an answer from the Americans according to RT (Russian TV broadcast from Dubai), for which Larry King also works now, among others.

Charlie Rose’s panel says President Obama is under pressure for not doing much. What else was he supposed to do? Bomb Damascus to annihilation? Four years ago, he was just going to do that because, according to him, the Syrian government crossed his “red line.” They claimed that the Syrian military used a chemical attack in Ghouta, a very close area to Damascus. Is the Syrian government stupid to use such an internationally prohibited weapon, especially when they know that the whole world is watching them to slip? Secondly, don’t they have other effective weapons like air power, rockets and other conventional weapons to use? President Obama stopped bombing Syria the last minute. The world still doesn’t know why he didn’t carry out the attack as he had promised. (Again as I am typing this response, I am hearing from RT TV that the Russian embassy in Damascus was just hit by the rebels.) The spokesperson of the Russian Defense Ministry also just announced on RT TV that Washington failed to fulfill commitments on Syria. The US Administration spokesperson just responded to one of the journalists’ question about striking “Jabhat Al Nusra” (Al Qaeda in Syria) if the US is targeting them. The spokesperson avoided the question saying he has to check it out and he added these fighters are “intermingled with the civilians.” This Jabhat Al Nusra (Al Qaeda) is the dominant force in Eastern Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, which the west is trying to support. Now I want to ask the American friends: who attacked the American soil and killed more than 3000 American citizens in 9/11? Was it the Syrians? Assad? Why are the American forces and its allies supporting these fanatic rebels? Why have the Americans and its allies destroyed 3 bridges on the Euphrates so far? Is it to hinder the Syrian army’s advance towards Raqqah, the ISIS capital? Why did the Americans bomb and kill 82 Syrian soldiers who were defending their positions at the airport near Der Zor? What did the Americans do to ISIS? Has any fair and inquisitive American journalist asked these questions? John McCain met with the when he crossed the Syrian Turkish border illegally a few years ago. He has an extreme hostile position against Syria. So do Graham and a few other Congressmen and Senators? What’s their motive? How come the most powerful nation in the world (the US) and its allies (NATO) and the regional powers couldn’t do anything to defeat ISIS? Is Syria or ISIS their enemy? They should make that clear. ISIS doesn’t have satellites, air defense systems, airplanes, sophisticated military technology, etc. Yet they just drove 500 miles in their American 4-wheels across the Syrian desert from Iraq occupying the ancient city of Palmyra and beheading it 85-year-old curator. The American and ally planes couldn’t have hit them in that open terrain? Who is buying ISIS’s oil? Isn’t it a NATO ally (Turkey?). If it weren’t the Russians, the black flags would be flying in Damascus.

2. What is/was it like for minorities, like you, living in Syria?

Jake: Minorities are not persecuted. Armenians, Kurds, Turkmens, Assyrians, Druz and many other minorities have lived in Syria for many years without any hassle from the government or the majority Sunnis. We, Armenians, have experienced massacres in the hands of fanatic Ottoman Muslims. Syrian, Iraq, and Lebanon have provided us a safe haven. Now the West has taken that away from us.

3. What’s the viable alternative to end the catastrophe? (OR What should happen for the carnage in Aleppo to end?) A no-fly zone? Taking out Assad (invasion) as many people in the West favor? Why not?

Jake: Just yesterday, there was some sad news again that (Jabhat al Nusra), the Qaeda in Syria, which is entrenched in the eastern part of Aleppo and shells the western part under the government control, shelled a school in Suleymaniiya, an Arab Christian and Armenian quarter killing 6 children. I bet none of the major media outlets dealt with this news. But the biased media keep hammering and pouring one-sided news to brainwash people. They keep saying the Syrian and Russian airplanes are bombing hospitals and killing innocent people. Russia is denying it

Just today on RT TV, a British diplomat who was being interviewed in a program called “Going Underground”, (You may get it through YouTube) was saying that these hospitals that the western media keep saying that the Syrian and Russian forces are bombing are military hospitals and some are bunkers. Now that doesn’t justify bombing them, but in a war, casualties happen. Just a couple of weeks ago, The Americans bombed and killed 83 Syrian soldiers near Der El-Zor. The British diplomat said that since the war started in 2011, about 100000 Syrian soldiers and militia have died and a similar number from the rebel side. Again, nobody is talking about the casualties on the Syrian government side.

The rebels in the eastern part of Aleppo are not allowing the citizens to cross to the west side, which is under government control. There are three passages and they are closed. They want to keep the citizens there to use them as human shields. They know that the government won’t rush and enter their side while there are hundred thousands of innocent people there. Aleppo’s source of water comes through the east and the main pump that feeds the whole city is there. The terrorists are in control, and since the beginning of war, more than a million people in the western part of Aleppo are deprived of water. We never heard about this major crisis through the western media.

In Yemen, the Saudi coalition with the help of the US (the media there say the weapons and advice come from the US) bombed a huge tent, where a mourning event was going on killing 300 people. That is 300 human beings. Any focus on this devastation and inhuman act from the western media? Any criticism of Saudi Arabia? I haven’t seen or heard any. You see, this is what upsets people like me who are completely disappointed and who lost trust in those major news providers.

As for Jabhat Al Nusra, according to the news I just heard now, they refused to leave eastern Aleppo. The government has asked them to leave that part of Aleppo through a safe passage that the government under the UN will provide. They refused according to the special envoy of the UN to Syria. The American people should ask their leaders and representatives who their enemy is: Is it secular Syria, which never attacked the US or Al Qaeda, which killed about 3000 US citizens in addition to their attacks on the US embassies in Africa and the warship near Yemen, etc. Yet, it seems the US can’t make up its mind whether Jabhat al Nusra (Al Qaeda in Syria) is a terrorist group or not.

A couple of days ago, I watched a 2-hour program―Frontline― on PBS about ISIS. I don’t remember the journalist, but I watched it. He traveled from Iraq to the Kurdish areas in Northern Syria to even Damascus under the control of the government. In the souk, he asked a man wearing the kufiya, who seemed to be a farmer. The man kept saying in Arabic raising his hands to the sky, “We were in paradise, we were in paradise before this happened!” referring to Syria before the war, which is kind of true. The PBS program (Frontline) never dwelled on what this simple citizen said, that there is a big portion of the Syrians who were content before the war. The program conveniently went to another segment. I was surprised they even showed that 2-second interview with that simple man in the souk. I went to Syria in 2007 and in 2010. Things were much better than before and people were satisfied. I already wrote earlier saying that Syria was also the safest country in the world then. Women had equal rights and represented in the government.

We are not experts, and we don’t know what they are planning in those secret levels of the governments. But as a person who has been following this tragic event since day one, I and many like me know that there are several reasons for the destruction of Syria. One major reason is Syria’s friendship with Iran. There are other geo-political and economic reasons too of course. But is this war on Syria justified, a war that caused more than half a million of deaths, millions of refugees and the destruction of a country’s infrastructure?

The American people should ask its government some serious questions.

1. Is the US trying to bring down the Syrian government and its autocratic regime to replace it with a more democratic system? Haven’t we seen what happened in Iraq, Libya, and Yemen? What about the other autocratic countries, some of which are very close to the US and the West? What about Bahrain, where an uprising has been going on for years now and the movement is being suppressed by Saudi and Bahraini forces? What about Saudi Arabia and the other sheikhdoms and kingdoms? How democratic are they?

2. What is the US gaining by destroying a secular country that never hurt the US in any way? On 9/11, fifteen out of 19 were Saudis, one Lebanese, 2 Yemeni and the leader Egyptian, all fanatic members of al Qaeda and Muslim brotherhood, which is being supported by NATO now. Go figure!

3. How is secular Syria a national threat to the US? Let those people’s representatives in the US answer these questions.

4. Can’t the mighty military power of the US and its coalition (England, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others) destroy ISIS, which declared war on not only Syria but the whole world? If the answer is yes, then why don’t they do it? And if they can’t, which is ridiculous, then why don’t they go after those who are supporting ISIS?

To answer your questions, let me start with the no-fly zone, which the butcher in Ankara kept asking for since day one. What do you think could happen if they did it? The secular government will vanish, and in its place those factions will fight each other; each will try to grab as much power and land as possible, thus destroying and killing more. Again, let’s look at Iraq. It was an illegal war against Iraq. Is history repeating itself? The US and its western allies and regional powers, like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are already supplying arms, money, and training. Just today I heard the US is thinking about upgrading the terrorists’ weapons. Will they receive anti-aircraft weapons? We’ll wait and see. Syria’s secular government allowed Sunnis, Christians, Druz, Shia, all Syrians to co-exist. The same situation prevailed in Iraq during Saddam Hussein. Now look what’s happening to the minorities in Iraq. The Yezidi women are being sold as slaves, the men are being killed, Shia are persecuted in Sunni areas, and Sunnis are persecuted in Shia areas, and the Kurds are about to carve an Iraqi territory for themselves. Is the super powers’ aim “divide and conquer”? Economy is playing a major role in pushing these western powers to get involved in Syria. Mo’ammar Qadhafi was threatening the west’s oil interest, and look what happened to him. The groups that are conducting fighting on behalf of the super and regional powers are the radicals who are capable even of chemical attacks. There are no moderate opposing forces. The group that beheaded that 11-year-old boy from a Palestinian refugee camp in the outskirts of Aleppo is called Nour El-Din Zenki, which is considered “moderate” and supported by the US. If Bashar AL Assad falls, will we be safe? I don’t think so.

Americans and other western policy makers tend to assume that their governments are chiefly motivated by a concern for civilian life and peace in Syria. But that is not the truth. Someone called the US, the UK, France and their allies as both “the arsonists and the firefighters” in Syria. These western powers want only regime change at all costs to weaken Syria. Nothing else matters to them. From day 1, in 2011, according to WikiLeak documents, American, British, French, Jordanian, and Turkish forces were already on the ground helping anti-government militants. Saudi Arabia is committed to overthrowing the Syrian government at all costs. Even major Internet and media cooperated with the US to create tools that would help regime change in Syria. Check the link below from RT television. The American public won’t be exposed to this news. Six kids died yesterday when their school was bombed in Suleymania, as I mentioned above, and more today. Why doesn’t the American media broadcast balanced news to the American public?

In my opinion, the Syrian forces, with the help of its allies, should defeat these fanatics, but they should also think about the future and be more inclusive and share more with liberal and open-minded dissidents in order to come closer to democracy and preserve this beautiful country, Syria. I know that the majority of the western world, including many Americans, see Bashar Al Assad as the villain. Even though he is not an angel, he is much better than these Salafist Wahabbi fanatics. I am not trying to change everybody’s mind, nor can I. I am just trying to say that educated people in the west should open their eyes and look at this conflict from different sides to get a better picture of what’s happening.

In sum, if the Syrian government were a threat to the American people or its national interest, I would be the first to turn against them. On the contrary, by weakening Syria, dark forces are being emerged and emboldened, who can pose a real threat not only to the region but also to the western world.

4. What are the names of the extremist groups that are fighting the government that you listed on our call? (I think that most Westerners believe that there are mainly two groups in the battle: Pro- and Anti-Bashar fighters.)

Jake: There are many rebel groups fighting in Syria, many of whom come from all over the world. The largest group is ISIS followed by Al Qaeda in Syria (Jabhat Al Nusra), which just changed its name to (Jabhat Fatah Al Sham) to make people forget that they are AL Qaeda. There are also Jeysh Al Islam, Jeysh Al Fatah, Nour al Din Znki, Ahrar AL Sham, Feylaq al Rahman, Jesh al Hurr, Frqat 16, Jabhat Al Shamiye, Ajnad al Sham, Sultan Mourad, Jeysh al Nasr, Caucasus brigade, Sqour al Sham, Jeysh al Moujaheedin, Jeysh Khalid bin Walid, and many others.). All these groups have patrons. Two major ones are directly managed by Turkey and the fighters are Turks like Sultan Mourad and Nour al Deen Znki. Each group receives salaries and aid from a foreign source. Some belong to Saudi Arabia, another to Qatar, etc.

Thank you, Jake, for providing us an insider’s perspective on the horrific situation in your home town. We all hope and pray that the powers-that-be know all the facts so that they can resolve this conflict without further bloodshed and suffering in a fair, intelligent, and just way.

#Aleppo #Islamophobia #Jabhat Al Nusra #pro-Assad #Syrian minorities #Aleppoite

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