Unless you’re Gary Johnson, you probably already know Aleppo as the capital of war-torn Syria that’s been in crisis for the last like, four years (so like, if instead of doing undergrad, you were in a civil war). Well, that humanitarian crisis exploded (literally) over the weekend as Syrian government troops (you know, the ones led by straight-up evil dictator Bashar al-Assad) regained control over the last remaining rebel held areas in the city.
So what does this mean? (Bad) And what exactly is happening in Aleppo? (War crimes) Let’s break it down (and sorry in advance that literally none of this will be funny, but some shit just isn’t funny, okay?!?):
How Did It Get This Bad?
So in order to really grasp how we let things get to post-apocalyptic-horror-movie bad, we have to take a little trip back in time.
Disclaimer: I was not a history major and got a 3 on the AP European History, which means that (1) I literally forgot the bourgeoisie was a class during pre-Revolutionary France and wrote an entire essay paragraph about “the middle class, the clergy” and more importantly (2) I am not the greatest at piecing together different historical events and comprehending their significance. But I’m going to try, for all of us!
Basically, things all started going downhill in 2011, when Syrians started protesting President al-Assad for a bunch of things, including lack of freedoms and general economic probs. But then it really hit the fan in March of 2011, when some teenagers painted slogans supporting the Arab Spring (remember that?) on a school wall and they got ARRESTED AND TORTURED. People (understandably) were outraged at this way-harsh response to some kids’ graffiti, and they protested. So what did the government do?
Let them protest because they have the right opened fire on demonstrators, killing multiple people. The rest of the nation, in turn, got even more outraged and rose up in protest, demanding al-Assad’s resignation.
Did that happen? Obviously no. The government used force to try to quash protestors, which only made them more determined. They took up arms and that’s how Syria ended up with a full-blown civil war on their hands. Which, when you add in the deaths of a few hundred thousand people and war crimes (we’ll get to that in a sec), brings us to today.
What Has The Rest Of The World Done About It?
The UN: A while back, the UN demanded both sides “end the indiscriminate use of weapons in populated areas,” which basically amounted to wagging its finger and saying “don’t do that.” AKA the UN does nothing as usual.
The US: Way back in 2012, we knew things were bad but we were trying to stay out of it, like when you see two relatives going at it at the Thanksgiving table but don’t wanna get involved until someone pulls out a knife. We had heard whispers that Assad was using chemical weapons (a war crime/the knife in the previous analogy), and Obama said proof they were using chemical weapons would be considered a “red line” that would cause the US to intervene. One year later, though, we found out chemical weapons were indeed happening, and kind of sat on our hands while Russia brokered a deal to have Syria turn over the weapons. Republicans lost their shit and accused Obama of being weak, while Obama was basically like “well look what happened in Iraq” as reason to stay out of it. Which we mostly did until 2014 (more on that in a sec).
Russia: Russia supports Assad big time and has conducted bombings that have led to thousands of civilian casualties. There are a lot of reasons Russia would get involved, like money and the ability to show off their big fancy military weapons.
ISIS: These guys joined in on the action and, according to BBC, “is seen to be working towards an Islamic emirate that straddles Syria and Iraq.” In other words, ISIS is on nobody’s side but ISIS. In other other words, there are more than two sides to this fight which is one of the reasons this issue is complicated af. Since getting involved, ISIS has been able to gain land and power in Syria—NOT GOOD. If you need a break to pop an Advil and try to make sense of this clusterfuck, go ahead.
The United States (again): Once ISIS got into the mix, the US was like “oh shit, not these guys again.” So in 2014, we led a coalition and launched air strikes in Syria to try to destroy ISIS—sort of like a middle ground/cop-out between “staying out of it” and “drawing a red line”. That, as we know, didn’t work. In January, the US and Russia tried to get reps from both sides together to talk about a ceasefire. That did not happen either.
The US has donated $4.5 billion since the conflict began in 2011 and has admitted some 10,000 refugees. However, for a country who has historically been all up in other countries’ business, the US has been uncharacteristically hands-off in the intervention department.
What About Everyone Who Lives In Syria?
You might have already guessed, but this all has led to millions—I repeat, MILLIONS—of people being displaced from their homes and trying to escape to other countries. If you’re reading that, thinking, “Wait, didn’t we just have a refugee crisis?” yep, this is the one. Some refugees went to Jordan and Lebanon, a lot went to Turkey, while others tried to go to Europe. Basically, some countries stepped up and some did not, but either way it still wasn’t enough, and there are still tons of innocent people with nowhere to go. Bonus connecting of the dots: This is where the Brexit comes in (sorta)! Lots of people in England didn’t want the refugees to be able to sit with them so easily, and this was a motivating factor in England removing themselves from the EU. But that may be another article for another day.
What’s Happening Now?
Before the stunning victory of government (and Russian—let’s not forget Russia is all over this too) forces, rebels in Syria had retreated to a handful of neighborhoods throughout Aleppo, making it the target of heavy, relentless shelling, despite the estimated 80,000 civilians trapped there. As government forces closed in on east Aleppo, those within the city began saying their goodbyes, all taking to social media to deliver the same harrowing message: “This may be my last post.” Reports began emerging of civilians trapped inside buildings as pro-government forces executed indiscriminately, women and children included. Rupert Colville, the UN rights office spokesperson called the situation in Aleppo “a complete breakdown of humanity.”
On Tuesday, a ceasfire was negotiated through Russia and Turkey on behalf of the rebels and the Syrian government that would’ve allowed the evacuation of citizens and some rebels in East Aleppo. However, as of Wednesday, reports of renewed shelling and a failure to honor the evacuation deal have arisen. All we really know for sure is this: the situation is dire, and there are lives at stake.
What Can I Do To Help?
So, did this freak you out? Cool. Same. Did it make you feel helpless? Cool. Same. But here are a few places you can donate to help bring a little light to Aleppo. You may have to re-route some of your drinking money for the weekend, but it’ll make you feel better and honestly, dudes should be buying your drinks for you anyway:
MERCY USA – To help fund a health clinic outside Aleppo.
UNION OF MEDICAL CARE AND RELIEF – Provides impartial relief and medical care to victims of the war in Syria.
UN Human Rights Office – Provides aid to those whose rights have been violated.
White Helmets – Volunteer rescue organization within Syria that deals with “the aftermath of government air attacks.”
Relief International – Works to deliver clean water, healthcare, education, protection, and support to displaced people.
So seriously, pick one and donate. Nobody likes a stingy betch. Plus it’s like, Christmas and shit.
This is obviously a very delicate situation that’s still developing, so we encourage you to actually keep up with the news in the days, weeks, and months ahead. If you thought our explanation was like, useful, there’s more of that came from if you sign up for The ‘Sup.