Before the Syrian Civil War began Aleppo was the country’s largest and most populous city. Today, however, much of the city has been transformed into a nightmare. Many of the city’s ancient buildings have been severely damaged or reduced to rubble. As of April 2016, 151,888 people have died in the war—31,257 in Aleppo alone. (This number doesn’t include the deaths of pro-government forces). To understand the current situation in Aleppo, it’s necessary to look at how the Syrian Civil War started.
In 2011 numerous Arab countries experienced waves of protest. Inspired by the success of protests in Egypt and Tunisia, Syrians took to the streets to protest President Bashar al-Assad’s authoritarian government which has been in power since 1971. During demonstrations in the city of Darʿā, protesters were killed by Assad’s forces. In response to the protests, Assad claimed that the government would gradually introduce reform; however, as protests continued to intensify, security forces responded with more violence. A month after the protests began it was estimated that over 200 people were murdered by government forces.
The government began to shut off water and electricity in towns, and armed troops and tanks patrolled more areas. As a response to the government’s continued violence, opposition forces began to form. Some of the anti-government groups were founded by defected members of Syria’s armed forces.
Fighting between the government and opposition forces continued throughout 2012, and the civilian death toll continued to rise. Neither side seemed to be gaining much ground in the conflict. In 2013 the international community learned that pro-Assad forces may have used chemical weapons. Assad denied the accusation and blamed the rebels for the chemical weapons. In September Time reported that—not only did Assad employ chemical weapons in 2013—he was still using them as recently as this year.
The Battle of Aleppo has been one of the most bloodiest battles in recent memory. Pro-government forces, with the help of Russia, have routinely targeted schools and hospitals in rebel areas with barrel bombs. In return, rebel forces have used hell cannons in areas that the government holds. The aim of both barrel bombs and hell cannons is extremely inaccurate, so their use is almost guaranteed to kill civilians who live in the targeted areas. On December 16th of this year the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, stated: “Aleppo is now a synonym for hell” (UN).
At the moment it appears that civilians are being evacuated from what remains of the city. However, the evacuation was delayed at times when both sides resumed fighting. Assad has shown that he will stop at nothing in order to remain in power—even if it means killing thousands of his own citizens and leveling 4,000 years of history. Many analysts believe that the civil war will continue due to the involvement of the Islamic State and what remains of the rebel forces. What is certain, though, is that history will remember the international community’s failure to act as one of the most shameful acts of the century.