Syria’s Stalingrad


In context of World War 2, named after Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, Stalingrad has a reputation. It is considered as a representation of valor, sacrifice and of course extreme disaster, a city whose valiant stance against the marching Nazi Wehrmacht became the reference of inspiration for millions. However, it was also the bloodiest and cruelest battle of the whole conflict where both Russians and Germans suffered overwhelming loss of lives and resources. Germans after besieging the city cut down supplies and waited for its residents to surrender until they themselves were encircled. In the end the city was turned into a giant pile of rubble, enormous number of innocent civilian died and ones who survived all this lost the will to live, Aleppo received the same status in context of Syrian civil war, only difference is that it fell to the apparent oppressors.

Hundreds and thousands dead, millions displaced, Aleppo finally fell to Asad. Iran outwitted Arabs once again, thanks to Russian intervention, happy New Year to the “visitors”. The pro-regime nexus of Hezbollah, factions of ISIS, Russians and of course Bashar Assad’s army took down the besieged Aleppo after months of continued indiscriminate bombings. The whole conflict has a sectarian outset to it when one notices the details but as a whole while rationally breaking it down, it gives the impression of a brutal power struggle which was aided by related entities who openly supported belligerents and did what they thought was in their best interest, and in doing so both sides (Pro-rebel and Pro Asad) supported the horrific campaign of brutal manslaughter, turning the whole episode into the greatest humanitarian crisis of recent past.

Story which apparently saw its closure last week, originated in 2011 in the Syrian city of Deraa, it all started because locals decided to protest after 15 school children were arrested and reportedly tortured for writing anti-government graffiti on a wall. The protests were peaceful to begin with, calling for the release of the children, democracy and greater freedom for people in the country. The government responded angrily and, on 18 March 2011, the army opened fire on protesters, killing four people. The following day, they shot at mourners at the victims’ funerals, killing another person. People were shocked and angry at what had happened and soon the unrest spread to other parts of the country as all hell broke loose, rest as they say is history.

Like father like son, this phrase cannot be more true when put to test on Asads, Hafizul Assad came into power in 1971 when he took the office, Assad instituted one-man rule and organized state services into sectarian lines. The formerly collegial powers of Ba’athist decision-making were curtailed, and were transferred to the Syrian presidency. The Syrian government ceased to be a one-party system in the normal sense of the word, and was turned into a one-party state with a strong presidency.  Equipped with grisly intent of keeping control, the infamous Hama Massacre reflected his will where estimated 10 to 20 thousands Syrians were killed. To maintain this system, a massive cult of personality centered on Assad and his family was created which resulted in his son Bashar Asad’s appointment as his successor after his death in June of 2000.

Primary players were Bashar Asad’s regime, Iran and Russia against the Rebels (comprised of several nationalist/Isamist groups) supported by Saudis, Qataris and reluctant Americans and Turks, all were in for their own interest. Asad wanted to stay in power at any cost. Iran wanted a pro-Iranian entertainer next to Iraq to increase its sphere of influence. Russians just didn’t afford to lose their only Mediterranean naval base in Tartus, Rebels were motivated to over-throw oppressing Asad’s regime at any cost, after establishment of an Iran friendly government in south of Saudi Arabia and rising Houthi uprising in Yemen, Saudi’s interest necessitated a strategy denying expanding Iranian stimulus in Arabian peninsula and finally Ankara’s principal fear was the growing Kurd insurgency and huge influx of refugees originating from war torn troubled Syrian territories, because of the complexity of the situation. It is hard to determine the exact protagonists and antagonists of this sob story which cultivated so much humanitarian tragedy.

The most dangerous precedent set during this fiasco was emphasis on intensified utilization of sectarian fault lines on a massive level by all sides, Iranians and Arabs alike. The way all belligerents were manipulating these thin sensitive strokes was an awful sight. No one was willing to utter the complete truth and each was mourning his dead and cursing the others’. Atrocities committed by ISIS on Shia population and related groups hyped up this bloody course over time and retaliatory acts were also extremely gruesome. Arab’s historical tribal and sectarian association are very complex, sometime tribes might conspire against the other strictly on the bases of tribal origins thereby totally neglecting the sectarian roots and sometimes situation could be totally opposite, creating a very fine silver lining between the two hence maintaining a sense of manipulation.

Hezbollah lost all its respect in Sunni world which they earned during definitively resisting Israeli onslaught in Lebanon back in early 2000s, they didn’t learn from the mistakes committed in Lebanese civil war. Hasan Nasrallah’s image got deeply tainted, once considered a symbol of defiance now looks more like a sponsor of murderers, similarly Alawite’s massacre attributed to Al-Nusra are also extremely condemnable.

Approach of taking biased side in Syrian humanitarian issue has become quite tricky, people either supporting rebellion of armed groups who are killing their opponents indiscriminately or applauding its brutal inhumane suppression by the Asad regime should realize that it no longer can be dubbed a political conflict or armed uprising but rather a catastrophe, price of which Syrian people have been paying ever since the rift started. In search of a solution more balanced approach would be to deal with it on a much larger extent by helping Syrian refugees and supporting the establishment of a framework which pursues peace through dialogue. Russians should bring Bashar to the table and same should be envisioned by the supporters of rebel forces. When Stalingrad was liberated in the 2nd world war, it took a dramatic turn which set forth the course of next 70 years of geo-politics, could history repeat itself here? last middle eastern civil war in Iraq where whole world wet their tongues gave birth to the menace of the ISIS and fragile state of Iraq, who  knows what comes forth from rebels of Aleppo or may be its already too late. Only time will tell.

Ahsan Malik is an IT professional with a passionate & candid version of his own on national and international issues relating to Pakistan, he tweets @MohdAhsanMalik and can be reached at [email protected]

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