The Syrian Gulag
“Prison is for real men,” quotes Edward Dark, a pseudonym for a Syrian living in Aleppo, who recounts his incarceration in a government prison in Aleppo, along with cellmates from Syria’s military, including Alawites from Syria’s Republican Guards.
Dark, who describes himself as a member of “the civil grass-roots opposition movement in Aleppo, who for months were organizing peaceful protests and handing out aid at considerable danger and risk to our own lives," provides a sobering description of life in Aleppo under rebel forces in “How We Lost the Syrian Revolution”:
“… Extremist and sectarian in nature, they made no secret that they thought us city folk in Aleppo, all of us, regime stooges and sympathizers, and that our lives and property were forfeit as far as they were concerned. Rebel profiteer warlords soon became household names, their penchant for looting and spreading terror among the populace inducing far more bitterness and bile than what was felt against the regime and its forces. Add to that terrible fray, the extremist Islamists and their open association with al-Qaeda and their horrific plans for the future of our nation, and you can guess what the atmosphere over here felt like: a stifling primordial fear, a mixture of terror and despair. … This is what it has come down to in Syria: It’s us versus them everywhere you go. Opposition versus regime, secular versus Islamist, Sunni versus Shiite, peaceful versus armed, city versus rural, and in all of that cacophony the voice of reason is sure to be drowned out. Whatever is left of Syria at the end will be carved out between the wolves and vultures that fought over its bleeding and dying corpse, leaving us, the Syrian people to pick up the shattered pieces of our nation and our futures.”
Syria in “Free Fall”
Dark’s account should not be read as tainting the entirety of the pro-democracy opposition with the excesses of looters and terrorists who hold sway in many parts of liberated Syria. It is instead a reminder that the facts on the ground in Syria do not always match the high-minded negotiations and statements in world capitals; that the sectarian, regional dimension of the conflict is very much the reality of the war, not just the “narrative” of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; that the consequences of further militarizing the conflict will, absent a diplomatic track, make all of this worse; and that for many Syrians, the war is already lost, because of the scale of the humanitarian tragedy.
Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, warned on June 21 that “Syria is in free fall … Crimes that shock the conscience have become a daily reality in Syria. Humanity has been the casualty of this war. This is the price of the international collective failure to end this conflict.”
The best worst outcome, and what should be the only game in town, is to stop the conflict by convening the Geneva Conference on Syria as soon as possible.
The provision of lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition, now including “all the necessary materiel and equipment,” according the statement of the Friends of Syria Core Group on June 22, will only succeed if it's used as leverage to bring all relevant parties together to convene the conference as soon as possible.
Otherwise, the direct consequence of more arms to Syrian rebel forces will only serve to prolong the war and intensify the destruction, partition, and tragedy of Syria. Pinheiro warns that more arms “will contribute to the escalation of war crimes and gross human rights violations.” The latest UN numbers include more than 93,000 killed, more than 1.5 million registered refugees, and 6.8 million in need of immediate humanitarian assistance. So expect these numbers to grow, soon and fast.
The only way to slow the killing and destruction in Syria is to end the war. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the G-8’s statement on June 18 to move ahead with the Geneva Conference. Joint Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi will meet with US and Russian counterparts on June 25 to discuss the urgent next steps required to undertake a diplomatic surge to bring the conflict to a close. If one is truly concerned about the human and strategic consequences of the Syria war, progress in Geneva — rather than which weapons will be shipped and when — is what matters most.