It’s Friday 11th December, 2015. It’s 18:00 Aleppo time. Journalist and activist Rami Jarrah is in the Syrian city. He is sitting on a plastic chair in the street, wearing a scarf and a wool hat. The street looks dark, he says there’s no electricity, only generators. It’s indeed remarkable that the connection doesn’t suddenly shut or shiver.
#AleppoLive is being broadcast on YouTube, accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Meanwhile, it’s also being broadcast on a local radio, so Rami takes time, every now and then, to update Syrian listeners in Arabic.
There’s no international media reporting from Aleppo, so this is a unique chance to hear about what is going on in the city and what are the feelings among the population.
The situation in Aleppo is horrific, everyone knows that. However, for most of us, it’s simply unimaginable how inhumane it really is.
Rami says barrel bombs hit on a daily basis. Now they’re less frequent. Russian air strikes took their place. Ten to fifteen per day. Plus, Elephant missiles. You don’t need to look at the specifics of an Elephant missile to guess that their impact is devastating. (They’re short-range rockets deployed by the Syrian government forces.)
The attacks are completely random. No target. They hit civilians.
Why? One easy answer is that it’s an attempt at curbing civil support to rebel forces. According to Rami, the regime’s strategy – espoused by the Russians, too – is to prevent development in the liberated areas. And, more disturbingly, to allow ISIS into those areas so that the problem is not the regime’s alone, it becomes a problem that the international community has to tackle.
Rami’s opinion is that the international community should indeed bomb ISIS. He also claims that most civilians in the area share his opinion. However, he states, intelligence is so poor that the coalition hit the wrong targets. Understandably, these ‘mistakes’ – and I hate to call them that – provoke the people’s resentment. The problem is, notes Rami, that from up in the air they don’t really know what’s down on the ground. Who could play the role of partner on the ground? And who would take charge afterwards?
Wary as Western governments are of the people they might arm and support – after consistently arming the wrong people in countless scenarios -, they translate the situation in a dichotomous opposition. Thus, the choice is between ISIS and Assad. No third option is considered. Too bad, Syrians don’t want to choose between two evils.
The difference between those two monsters is that the Assads have been there for more than 40 years, while ISIS will be a short-lived abomination. Assad cannot be the local partner in the fight against ISIS, he cannot be the boots on the ground. The Syrian people don’t want the international community to co-operate with Assad, remarks Rami, because they know all too well that he won’t tear ISIS down unless the opposition is torn down, too, in the process.
Someone asks how is Aleppo being governed? How are services being provided? Who’s in charge?
Rami says that civil administration is being carried out by local councils. They register births and deaths, and so forth. There’s a monitoring group and an army of volunteers. Aid is coming in, supporting the civilians. Democracy is being practised, says Rami. The civil defence, the White Helmets, provide quick and effective response to the attacks, the people in Aleppo are very grateful to them.
What’s life like in Aleppo these days? A man says, “There’s not much to do. We’re living, that’s enough”. Time goes by, air strike after air strike, massacre after massacre.
Many children don’t go to school, any more. Many have to work. People seem to think that schools and mosques are targets. Some believe the Iranians are targeting the Sunni population.
That’s their ordinary life, now.
These are just a few hints. If you want to watch the full-length video, here it is: