Nobody knows exactly what has happened and what is still happening in Aleppo. There is scarce information, and even less reliable sources. On the one side, global public opinion, Europe first and foremost, is following the tragedy of the Syrian city in a distracted manner, whose major concerns regard the national crises ongoing in many Countries, the hampering economy, and at the most, people are worried about migratory inflows and about the risk of terror attacks. Aleppo doesn’t hit front-page news, nor does it capture global attention as Sarajevo had managed to do twenty years ago. This city, world heritage site reduced to a heap of rubble, didn’t even deserve a song by the U2. On the other hand, Assad’s regime, strengthened by Russian support, has managed to impose its control over the press, which the conflicting factions in Bosnia had failed to do. Assad’s troops have reconquered Aleppo, but the news correspondents of major western media outlets have been kept at bay.
It will take months to know the details regarding the use of violence inflicted in Aleppo and its surrounding areas during the past six-month siege.
In the absence of reliable and accurate information on the violence used against civilians, constituting a typical trait of civil wars, it is necessary to focus on few elements we can be certain of. On the military front, Assad’s troops, supported by the Russian aviation, by Iraqi and Iranian Shiite militia, and by Hezbollah, have regained control over the city. The Sunni rebels, including groups tied to Al Qaeda, were defeated with a strategy based on heavy bombings, and in the end, on the possibility of choosing between death and fleeing from the city through a sole controlled way-out. In the midst of this stood the civilian population of which we know little about, but which undoubtedly have been recklessly bombed, used as human shields, oppressed by blackmail and violence to ensure their fidelity or to strip them of the few resources still left. According to the Russian Chief of Staff and the spokesperson of the Assad government, the mission was accomplished and the end of the battle of Aleppo is a historical achievement for Syria.
A minor degree of triumphalism would probably be more appropriate, for a couple of reasons at least.
First of all, Aleppo, where thousands of innocent civilians were killed and where acts of barbarism were committed for months, has been completely destroyed. Second, because in the long run the outcome of the war could be less clear-cut than the winners want to admit. To take a city that the enemy considers of vital importance is no easy job. Although Aleppo was not the first city to be reconquered after systematic bombings, these kinds of actions are not without consequences. When a city is conquered after having inflicted incalculable damage to its structures and its people, it is necessary to show to those who remain that it was done to spare the city a worse future. In other words,
If the intention is to conquer and maintain control of the city in the long term, it’s necessary to show the difference between those who previously held control of the city and the new conquerors.
Without the creation of authentic legitimacy the violence of the past will be the cause of resentment, which is bound to emerge sooner or later. In the case of Aleppo, it is legitimate to have some doubts on the fact that Assad will guarantee the inclusion and the development needed to ensure the sincere loyalty of a population that has been so deeply victimised. Moreover, the evacuation of civilians, that has been taking place over the last few days, conceals an aspect that has almost passed unnoticed. In fact, most of them are Sunnis, and rumours have it that adult males have been taken from their families by government forces and nothing has been heard of them since. Leaving aside this further problem, the evacuation of civilians, most of whom members of a given community, is also a political action. It consists in the attempt to homogenize the ethnic and religious geographic asset of the area and to carry out a “de facto” partition of Syria with the purpose of ensuring the control of the territory and its inhabitants. It’s an understandable attempt, which may appear rational at first glance, but important studies on the consequences of civil wars have shown that such solutions are delusional. They don’t guarantee the establishment of peace unless they are coupled by the veritable participation of the involved communities in the management of power. Hence, with a view to the future, it’s indispensable to address the thorny issue of Assad’s regime, or Syria could experience endemic conflict.