Aalwan al Aalwan, 10, was born just days after Syria's revolt began in March 2011. Since then, he has lost his mother and friends to the ongoing war, and was displaced more that five times. Here's what happened to his country each year of his life:
If Syria's war has a timeline, Aalwan al Aalwan is its embodiment.
The 10-year-old was born just few days after the revolt against Bashar al Assad's rule began in March 2011. Aalwan lost his mother to a barrel bomb, witnessed school friends perish in bombardments, and has been displaced five times.
Aalwan's mother was killed in a barrel bomb strike on their home in Al Tah in northwestern Syria's Idlib province in January 2017.
His family fled Idlib in December 2019 as the regime and its ally Russia pressed an offensive.
They fled more than five times between neighbouring towns and villages as the regime and its allied forces pushed deeper into Idlib.
Eventually, the family found shelter in Batintah refugee camp on the Syria-Turkey border.
Today, Aalwan lives with his 12 siblings, seven from his mother and another five from his father's [Abu Hussein Aalwan] second wife. The fourth grader, who studies in a tent in a camp for the displaced, has lived nothing but war.
As the Syria war grinds on into its eleventh year, and Aalwan being what he says is "as old as the revolution," TRT World looks back to the year that sparked the revolution and the subsequent events while Aalwan was growing up.
I'm 10-years-old... as old as the revolution. I don't really know what the revolution is, but they say that we're the same age. I don't know what the revolution is, I'm slowly learning about it
It's March 2011 – Aalwan and Syria's uprising are born:
- Protests break out after years of repressive rule by Assad.
- The regime cracks down violently but protests continue.
- An army colonel flees to Turkey and sets up opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) in July.
- An armed rebellion erupts with support from Western and Arab countries. The rebels seize large swathes of territory, including the centre of third city Homs and a chunk of Aleppo, Syria's second major city.
- In October 2011, Syrian opposition leaders meet in Istanbul to declare the creation of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC).
- Hundreds are killed and thousands wounded. Syrians start leaving their hometowns, either for different parts of the country or to neighbouring countries.
What I've experienced during the revolution ... my mother died from a bombing and the regime destroyed our home ...
Aalwan and the revolt turn 1:
- In March 2012, the regime retakes Homs and carries out another bloody operation against the central city of Hama, a bastion of opposition.
- FSA fighters launch the battle for Damascus in July, but the regime retains control of the capital, with rebels seizing some suburbs.
- In July, YPG, the armed wing of the PKK terrorist group's Syrian branch PYD, takes control of Afrin, Kobane, and Amuda.
- World powers meet in Geneva and agree on the need for a political transition, but their divisions on how to achieve it will foil years of UN-sponsored peace efforts.
- Assad launches heavy aerial attacks on towns and cities that had rebelled against his rule, as once peaceful protesters now carry arms and thousands are killed.
- SNC grows into the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. More than 100 countries recognise it as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people while Assad's forces start to lose ground inside the country.
- Aid agencies are overwhelmed with refugees in Lebanon and Iraq. Syrian refugees seek shelter further afield, moving away from the Middle East and towards Europe.
I was born with the revolution, that's what God wanted
Syria's war and Aalwan are now 2 years old:
- It's 2013 and regime helicopters and planes begin air strikes, often with barrel bombs, on opposition and rebel areas.
- Iran-backed Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah deploys fighters to back the Syrian regime.
- Iran also boosts its support for Assad.
- A chemical attack on two rebel and opposition-held areas in Eastern Ghouta near Damascus reportedly kills more than 1,400 people. The regime denies responsibility.
- President Barack Obama pulls back from threatened punitive strikes, and instead agrees a deal with Russia which is supposed to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons arsenal.
- The PYD announces three autonomous areas or "cantons" called Afrin, Jazira and Kobane (from west to the east) following the withdrawal of Syrian regime forces.
- An estimated 1.5 million Syrians become refugees.
But if only I hadn't been born at this time, because my classmates and friends ... some of them have been displaced, some have died; only two or three still with me
Aalwan is 3; enter the Daesh:
- An al Qaeda splinter group seizes eastern Raqqa city in June 2014 before grabbing swathes of territory across Syria and Iraq, declaring a new caliphate and renaming itself Islamic State (or Daesh).
- Washington builds an anti-Daesh coalition under the Syrian Democratic Forces, primarily driven by the YPG, the Syrian wing of the PKK terror group, and starts air strikes. This slows Daesh's terror spree but creates friction with its NATO ally Turkey.
- Syria's war grows bloody with UN estimating that 6.5 million people are internally displaced, and more than three million displaced out of Syria.
To be honest, his childhood was anything but what a childhood should be. When he started growing conscious, around one or one-and-a-half years old, he was awoken by displacement and the sound of bombing
Aalwan turns 4; Russia joins war:
- As Assad's forces lose ground to the armed opposition in many areas, rebel groups gain more ground and seize the northwestern city of Idlib but militants are taking a bigger role in 2015.
- A wide spectrum of dissidents and rebels come together in Saudi Arabia to form the High Negotiations Committee (HNC). It does not however include separate opposition groups in Cairo and Moscow.
- Russia joins the war on Assad's side, deploying warplanes and giving military aid that soon turns with the help of Iran the course of conflict decisively against the rebels.
- Three-year-old Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, along with his brother and mother, drown in the Mediterranean Sea off the Turkish coast, en route to Europe.
Images of his body washed ashore sparks global outcry and puts spotlight on refugee crisis.
- Number of Syrian refugees who have fled the country crosses the four million mark. Some six million people are internally displaced.
We realised that 50 percent of Syrians had friends or a family member who was killed...
Aalwan is 5-year-old; Turkey begins operation:
- Alarmed by PKK/YPG advances nears its southern border, Ankara launches a military Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016 with FSA rebels, carving a new zone of Turkish control that it later extends in 2018 to northwestern Afrin.
- Syrian regime and its allies defeat rebels in their biggest urban base of Aleppo after months of siege and bombardment, confirming Assad's growing momentum.
- War displaces 5,982,370 Syrians.
In 2017, Aalwan's mother dies in a barrel bomb strike in Idlib.
Syria's war and Aalwan turn 6; US lunches cruise missile:
- It's 2017 and Israel acknowledges having conducted air strikes against Lebanese Hezbollah fighters in Syria, aiming to degrade the growing strength of Iran and its allies who expand their influence in Syria.
- US launches a first cruise missile attack on a Syrian regime airbase near Homs after a poison gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun.
- US-backed YPG/PKK defeat Daesh in Raqqa. That offensive, and a rival one by the Syrian regime, drives the terror group from nearly all its land.
- The Cairo and Moscow opposition groups join the Saudi-based HNC, which is renamed the Syrian Negotiation Commission.
Aalwan and those of his generation haven't seen anything in their childhood but bombing, displacement, and fleeing under bombardment... The school next to our home was continuously hit. Aalwan suffered during his childhood from the shelter... he spent too much time in shelters
Aalwan is 7 now; Turkey-Russia enter Idlib deal
- It's 2018 and after months of blockade and intensive aerial raids, the Russian-backed Syrian regime recaptures Eastern Ghouta, before quickly retaking the other insurgent enclaves in central Syria, and then the opposition and rebels' southern bastion of Deraa in June.
- A Russian-Turkish deal over Idlib and the rebel-held northwest freezes the frontlines and reduces the bombing raids that had killed hundreds of civilians in the last major opposition bastion.
- Turkey and allied forces of FSA retake Afrin from PKK/YPG terrorists in northeastern Syria.
- The emergency situations in Eastern Ghouta, Afrin and Daraa displace 1,094,873 people 2018, creating 6.2 million IDPs.
Aalwan's family fled their home in Al Tah, Idlib in 2019. Aalwan was displaced more than five times due to the Russian-backed regime offensive on Idlib
Aalwan turns 8; US reneges on troop pullout
- It's 2019 and US local allies retake the last area from Daesh in the east in 2019. The US decides to keep some troops in Syria after earlier saying it would pull out, reducing the chances of a security vacuum that might spark a new bout of fighting.
- Russian-backed forces launch a major assault in the northwest that ends after months of bombing and the capture of strategic town of Khan Sheikhoun in August.
- A Russian-Turkish summit in October brings reduced fighting until Moscow resumes the assault and pushes with its allies deeper into the last bastion of the anti-Assad opposition.
- Turkish and US military officials agree to set up a safe zone in northern Syria and develop a peace corridor to facilitate the movement of displaced Syrians who want to return home.
- Ankara launches Operation Peace Spring military action in October targeting PKK/YPG terrorists in Syria. The operation allows Turkey to take control of a 120-km-long strip along its border that runs 30-km into Syria.
-Syrian regime launches a deadly offensive in December to retake Idlib, the last major opposition and rebel bastion.
- Approximately 11.7 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian aid by mid-2019. There are more than 6.2 million Syrians internally displaced.
Aalwan's generation grew up in the shadow of the revolution, they grew up with intense violence. We can't compare them to any other generation
Aalwan is 9 now; Turkey displays drone power:
- Turkey launches Operation Spring Shield on February 27, 2020 after at least 34 Turkish soldiers are killed in an Assad regime air strike in Idlib province, and after repeated violations of previous ceasefires.
- Ankara leads the fight with its armed drones.
- Assad regime suffers heavy losses: Over 3,000 soldiers, 151 tanks, eight helicopters, three drones, three fighter jets (including two Russian-made Sukhoi Su-24s), around 100 armoured military vehicles and trucks, eight aerial defence systems, 86 cannons and howitzers, ammunition trucks and dumps, and one headquarters, among other military equipment and facilities.
- A ceasefire is finally reached in March 2020 in northwestern Idlib that still holds.
- Some 6.7 million Syrians are displaced.
Any time we hear a plane we get scared. At school, they say that people travel on planes, but every time I see a plane I know that it's about to strike, to bomb
Syria's war and Aalwan complete 10 years; a historic trial convicts Assad loyalist:
- Through Aalwan's lens, life at 10 in 2021 is very different from other children. "In school they tell us, people travel on planes," the boy says, "But every time I see a plane, I know that it is about to strike, to bomb."
- In the first case against torture by Assad's regime, a German court on February 24, 2021 convicts a former Syrian intelligence service agent of complicity in crimes against humanity.
Eyad al Gharib, 44, is sentenced to four and a half years in prison over his role in helping arrest at least 30 protesters in Duma in 2011 who were then tortured.
– Almost 12 million Syrians are displaced. Some 5.6 million refugees are spread throughout the globe, the majority in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Around 6.2 million people are internally displaced.
- Some 12.4 million Syrians, nearly 60 percent of the population, are now food-insecure, according to UN World Food Programme.
- More than 400,000 people are dead.
Baba Umar contributed to the compilation of watershed moments in a decade of Syria's war.
The regime destroyed homes, they destroyed hospitals, they destroyed schools, and now they took our home, our village, and they won't let anyone return