Where’s the solidarity with Syria?

May 19, 2022

From the May-June 2022 issue of News & Letters

Syrians have been risking their lives since 2011 fighting to bring down Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorial regime and have suffered bloody repression from regime forces. While the rest of the world seemed oblivious, as civilian victims increased by the thousands, Syrians had reason to hope that, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the international community would finally focus on war crimes against Free Syria and press for accountability for these atrocities.

SYRIA WAS PUTIN’S PRACTICE FOR UKRAINE

After all, it is Putin’s air power along with Iranian ground troops that propped up Assad for the last seven years. The same war crimes chronicled in Mariupol, Kharkiv and Kyiv—including deliberately targeting hospitals, apartment buildings and public markets to cause maximum civilian casualties and impose maximum terror—were carried out as Aleppo was leveled and its population slaughtered.

Even in 2012 the people of Kafranbel, Syria, knew that President Bashar al-Assad was perpetrating a genocide. How many more have been murdered since then?

It is true that politicians and reporters have routinely made the connection to Putin’s previous massacres of civilians, not only in Syria but as far back as the destruction of Grozny in the Second Chechen War. But the connection has only been made in passing. In the more than two months since the invasion of Ukraine, there has been no added pressure to bring Putin’s partner Assad to justice, or even intervene to stop the ongoing slaughter in Idlib.

Nothing has brought Assad closer to judgment—not even the April 26 release of video from The Guardian showing a mass execution, and the cover-up of civilian bodies dumped into a pit Nazi-style. Not even the fact that journalists were able to identify one of the perpetrators of this atrocity and then by stealth got him to confess.

Here is some of what Gerard Emmett wrote regarding Syria in News & Letters 10 years ago, in “Syrian revolution fights Assad’s genocide, world powers watch” (March-April 2012 N&L):

“Now, over 8,000 have reportedly been killed since the start of the Revolution one year ago. Countless thousands more have been injured, beaten, detained and threatened. Torture is common, including the torture of children. Cultural figures have been singled out for attack: cartoonist Ali Ferzat, his hands broken; the songwriter Ibrahim Qashoush, his throat cut out. Qashoush’s defiant words ring at demonstrations from Damascus to Chicago, ‘Screw you, Bashar, and screw those who salute you. Come on, Bashar, time to leave! Freedom is at our doors. Come on, Bashar, time to leave!’

“The assault on Homs, a center of resistance, has been merciless. The genocidal nature of Assad’s regime is clear. Apt comparisons have been made to 1990s Bosnia and the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

“The Syrian people have the right to armed self-defense, which didn’t come from outside plotters. It began in the villages and working-class communities where guns were more likely to be available, and men with some previous military experience to use them. Resistance began in defense of the largely peaceful demonstrations.”

When Assad used the nerve gas sarin against anti-regime neighborhoods in Ghouta near Damascus, it crossed the “red line” that then-President Obama had laid out. But the “retaliation” then was to assign Putin to police Assad’s chemical stockpile, even before Putin felt forced to enter the fighting to prevent the collapse of the regime. Even after old massacres have been newly documented, Free Syria areas have repeatedly demonstrated solidarity with Ukrainians fighting their common enemy, but have had to carry on their fight, for freedom and to avert extermination, without the international support their struggle has deserved.

—Bob McGuire

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