Aleppo, once home to 2.3 million people, served as Syria’s industrial and financial center. Today, the city is in mere ruins after more than five years of war. According to acaps.org, more than 13.5 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the civil war which broke out in 2011. In addition, the fighting has killed over 300,00 people, 86,000 of which were civilians. But, as of Dec. 12, the Syrian Army has taken about 90% of eastern Aleppo, resulting in the death of 82 Syrians, and the displacement of 35,000 to 100,00 civilians.
Who’s fighting who?
The most recent attacks on the previously rebel-held city were part of the war raging between the Syrian government and those protesting the President Bashar al-Assad dictatorship in the country. Russia and Shia militants from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Pakistan are backing Assad, while the U.S., Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Sunnis are backing the rebels. Additionally, a third group, has engaged in the fighting: the Kurds. Basically, it boils down to the Shia government fighting Sunni rebels fighting Kurds.
Wait, why are they fighting?
Shia and Sunni are different branches of Islam with the Sunnies making up the majority of the Islamic world. With differing religious practices, there is a level of animosity between the two groups. The Kurds are an entirely different ethnic group with their own language and customs. Many Kurdish people have called for the creation of their own Kurdish state, something they do not have now, as Kurds are mainly concentrated in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and parts of Syria.
Alright so what exactly is happening in Aleppo?
Following air raids on Dec. 13, the previously rebel-led eastern part of Aleppo has almost completely fallen, with just a few blocks of the city still in rebel control. Additionally, a ceasefire had been negotiated to evacuate civilians from the war zone, but despite this, bombings continued on Wednesday, trapping civilians inside the city. With the failure of the cease-fire, no supplies can enter the city and the limited medical staff are overwhelmed with only one health facility still open in one section of the besieged city. Also, the United Nations is currently investigating human rights abuses in Syria and is trying desperately to evacuate citizens. But along with the bombings, some rebels have prevented civilians from leaving the war zone.
What does this mean for the future and why should we care?
While this phase of the war may be over, this does not mean the war itself is over. Assad has vowed to crush all rebels, and after having won Aleppo, conciliatory negotiations begun in Geneva have fallen to the wayside.
According to the BBC, “the battle for Aleppo became a microcosm of the wider conflict in Syria. It highlighted the weakness of both sides, as well as the failure of the international community to protect civilians and broker a peace agreement.”
During the attacks, the people of Aleppo turned to social media, posting their final good-byes. Many have made comparisons to the Holocaust, categorizing these attacks as genocide.
As of Thursday, Dec. 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a ceasefire backed by Russia and Turkey between the Syrian government and rebels, but excluding jihadists, or Islamic militants. Included in this deal are measures to guarantee the truce and to begin peace talks. Although, as of Saturday, Dec. 31, both sides have violated this truce, and it is unsure whether or not this peace will last.