Syrian voices are being drowned out in the debate over Syrian lives

The “trends” on social media will change, but the pain and anger of the people saying their final good-byes will grow day by day.

Photo by: Loubna Mrie
Photo by: Loubna Mrie

This is a disputed street seen through a sniper's nest on the frontline in Aleppo City in August 2013. It's only a few meters that separate rebel-held areas from regime-controlled areas. It is rare to see anyone walking here for fear of being shot.

Loubna Mrie Loubna Mrie is a Syrian activist who participated in the revolution and has covered Syria as a photojournalist for Reuters. She is now in New York City and has been published in the Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and the New Republic. @Loubnamrie

“It is sad”. This is how the president-elect, Donald Trump, referred to the current situation in Aleppo. Sad. 
Well, what is sad, in my opinion, is that this situation in Aleppo is not new – the city has been under attack since 2012 and the world doesn’t seem bothered. 

Civilians and activists were asking the world for protection, to put an end to this brutality. Ceasefires, a safe zone and a no-fly zone. But what did they get in return? Accused of being traitors, or defenders of imperialism and interventionism. Men sitting comfortably in their homes on the other side of the planet, belittling others in flawless English – analyzing the alleged conspiracy against the Assad regime. 

At the end of the day, Syrian voices do not matter. The lives of ordinary Syrians have become a political plaything for Facebook and Twitter debates.
These pundits have never lived in a war. They don’t know the horror in Aleppo where the fight was wall to wall, building to building.  A city where you don’t know where the snipers are until someone dies, so the street will be marked as “marsood” the Arabic word for “targeted”.  

The bodies which marked such streets were mostly left there because they can’t be reached. The snipers of course, don’t distinguish man from woman. Every time you cross, the possibility of death looms over you. And even if you stay home, you are not safe. 

A Free Syrian Army fighter rests inside his base, which used to be a house, in August 2013 in the city of Aleppo. Behind his bed, he has drawn a map of Syria and listed the names of his fellow fighters who have been killed. (Photo by Loubna Mrie)

When I worked in eastern Aleppo, I don’t remember how many times I went to sleep not knowing if I would wake up, because barrel bombs and missiles mostly hit at night. The scariest part of all of that is how, not only we, but children had become accustomed to such scenes. People often say, not being scared of death is courage. No, this is despair. But do our voices matter?  

I spoke to my friend Rami al Zien, who, like thousands of people, was waiting for evacuation from Aleppo.  He couldn’t hold his tears back while recording his voice message through Facebook, “I am just mentally exhausted, we are being played and things are changing every minute. I just want to stay alive, the evacuation was our only hope, but it seems that it’s not working out. We want guarantees for safe evacuation. What is worse than death, is waiting for it. I am tired”.

He has managed to reach Idlib and is now on his way to Turkey. 

Eyewitnesses report that during the evacuation of Aleppo, 400 civilians fleeing to Idlib accompanied by the Red Cross were stopped by Shia backed militias, who forced them to strip, and took their IDs and documentation away. Four men were shot on the spot.  One man was shot after he refused to hand over his documents, his pregnant wife was taken to an unknown destination. His only fault was standing up for himself and his wife. The rest of them were forced to go back to besieged eastern Aleppo, Waad Al Khatib, the award winning videographer for Channel 4 was one of them.  Waiting for another deal, their fate and his, lies again in the hands of Russia and Iran.  

Today, almost 5000 are still waiting for their evacuation. For them, even fleeing and forced displacement became a privilege. Those who are controlling their fate, are making sure to give them a final dose of humiliation, maybe just a reminder that this is what you get when you rebel against a dictator. 

What was once a residential building has been transformed into a base for fighters. Sand bags and simple curtains are used to block sniper fire from the fighters garrisoned inside the building. (Photo by Loubna Mrie)

Disturbing voices from the other side claim that civilians were forced by Al Qaeda to stay in eastern Aleppo and were used as human shields. If that is true then why are people choosing to flee to Idlib, as thousands have done since 2012 when eastern Aleppo became rebel-held territory, instead of to government-held western Aleppo or Lattakia and Damascus?

What makes the situation even worse, are those who have been given platforms to justify these crimes. For them, Syrian victims are not even a part of the conversation,  It’s all about Qatar, Saudi Arabia and geopolitics.  

What matters is to position themselves in opposition to U.S. policy, regardless of the situation. 
I will not delve into detail about any of that, but it’s crucial to think about the civilians and take them into consideration whether you are supporting the uprising or supporting the Syrian regime. There are children dying today,  they have no political affiliation and deserve a safe path.  

Forget about conspiracy theories and just acknowledge that what is happening today is a crime against humanity. These families cannot care less about how many times a post was shared on Facebook, or the latest blog about regime change.  

It’s heart breaking to see people asking about their beloved, asking if they are still alive. For those living outside Syria but with friends and family in Aleppo, all they can do is to hope that their loved ones will appear alive in a video. We have seen many of these videos circulating on social media. They not only document the pain, but also document the failure of humanity.  

A disaster  is happening in the age of Twitter and social media, but still, for some these videos do not matter, because for many foreign journalists with little compassion for Syrian lives, Syrian voices count for less, or for nothing at all. The tragedy is not a tragedy unless an international journalist says so. 

It is too late to do anything. Sadly, we can’t do anything for those who have lost everything and will live in exile. But the least one can do is to show some solidarity and take a moral stand. 

However, do not worry, you will forget about this, in a month the news-cycle will come to an end and something else will dominate the news. Some information leak or another Trump tweet. The “trend” on social media will change, but the pain and anger of the people saying their final good-byes, to where they once had a life, will grow day by day.

The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.