Some time back, I stumbled upon the work of an Italian photographer who had courageously travelled to Syria’s troubled and war-ravaged city of Aleppo. The theme of his gallery of disturbing pictures is ‘deserted homes’, a silent glimpse into what the war has done to the abodes of ordinary people. The homes featured are mostly of the rich and the well-heeled, who seem to have left in a hurry once the bombs began to go off. There’s one picture of a bed half-made, and one of a fairly well-stacked kitchen abandoned in the midst of preparing a meal, all hauntingly suggesting what may have happened to the people when violence visited them. What’s absent in the entire series is the presence of a single human being, yet the images are amply inhabited nonetheless—perhaps by the memories of those who are in the zone of the unknown: dead or simply missing. Aleppo did not have an uprising against Syrian President Basher Al Assad. In fact, it was considered to be his bastion and, during the early days of the turmoil, it was believed that if there were a few places that would shelter the beleaguered president, this old city nestled in Ottoman-style buildings would be among them.
The attack on Aleppo was systematically mounted a couple of years ago, by outsiders comprising foreign mercenaries, jihadis, and other covert operatives of countries that wanted Assad to go at any cost. Since then, Aleppo has become one of the bloodiest urban battlefields. There are many videos on Youtube of intrepid reporters traipsing behind Syrian army or rebels through areas infested with snipers. The clips reveal how parts of this once-glorious city have been reduced to dust and rubble. Street after street, buildings on both sides seem to have been rudely stirred, shaken and smashed. Complete neighbourhoods have been devastated. Even the Umayyad mosque and the famous Citadel, all UNESCO heritage sites, have not been spared. Some of the photograph’s captions convey the bewilderment of the local people at their perfectly peaceful lives suddenly turned upside down, without any rescue in sight. I met this Syrian journalist in Delhi who asked me in a lost voice whether things would be better in her country. She found it difficult to reconcile with the unending nature of this war, which may carry on for as long as that which destroyed neighbouring Lebanon, with its beautiful capital, Beirut.
Many of them cling to the hope kindled by the Geneva 2 conference, for some of its proposals, including a ceasefire between the government and rebel forces in the city, to be replicated in other parts of the country. This proposal of the Syrian government was met with disdain by those who want to see the end of Assad before any talks about a ceasefire. Bizarrely, they seem oblivious of the presence of al-Qaeda and its other outfits bloodying the ancient land. From this standpoint, Geneva 2 does not hold much promise when it comes to finding an enduring solution. The United States and Russia, however, seem to be on the same page about ending the war—the outcome of which seems to favour the Syrian government since the chemical weapons issue was amicably resolved. Still, there is little clarity on how that could be achieved, as the coalition that tried to overthrow Assad has cracked up. Qatar and its news agency, Al Jazeera—which is demonstrably anti-Assad—seem chastened after the old Emir was replaced by his son. Turkey has had a rethink on its stance since the US raised the issue of al-Qaeda and its use of Turkish territory. Saudi Arabia, which has nothing to do with democracy, is the only country that is still trying to overthrow Assad to prevent the coming-together of the Shia crescent of Iraq, Hezbollah, Iran and Syria. This has nothing to do with the Arab Spring or democracy. The Saudis are working together with Israel to prevent the rise of Iran, which seems inevitable from its growing rapprochement with Washington. Evidently, Saudi feels let down and betrayed in the Iran Deal and is keen to ensure its new initiatives in Switzerland come a cropper.
There is a belief that an agreement has been struck between Russian Foreign Minister and US Secretary of State, John Kerry. Now, they are trying to get both sides—government and rebels—on board. That the al-Qaeda network is deeply entrenched in Syria, however, makes this improbable. The moot question is—will they listen to the Russians and Americans and give up their arms, or will they have to be smoked out? The Syrian government claims they are fighting on behalf of the rest of the world against these terrorists—any takers?