The fate of Idlib ought to be the major concern of the free world, yet all it garners, at best, is a few words of concern and condemnation.
As pro-Assad forces conquered the previously liberated town of Kfar Nabudah in Northern Syria, the video that emerged from among the sectarian militias, incorrectly identified as the ‘Syrian Arab Army’, ought to have sent a shiver down the spine of the world.
But, when it comes to Syria, the world has no spine.
Only a few media outlets have picked up on the chilling words of the militiamen. The men laugh and sneer, drinking Coca-Cola against the backdrop of the destruction that they, thanks to the cowardly killers in the Russian air force, have wrought so swiftly.
"There will be no green buses this time," one of the men says jovially, "they will be buried under the roofs of their houses," he concludes.
The ‘they’ in question are the Syrians trapped in Idlib, the last remaining liberated province of Syria, whose fate for the past eight months has rested in a deal between Turkey and Russia for a ‘demilitarised zone’.
Turkey can only be commended for putting its troops on the ground in Idlib to avert a mass slaughter and cleansing in Idlib. If the US and Europe backed Turkey and followed its example in Idlib, there’s very little doubt that Russia simply couldn’t attack the province.
For, despite its presentation as a ‘peace deal’, ‘demilitarisation’ has always been a means used by Assad and Russia to delay and better prepare their inevitable conquests of liberated areas of Syria.
As I warned at the time, Turkey stands alone and will not be enough to stop Russia and Assad from fulfilling their ultimate desire of total conquest and, as is the usual playbook, destroy the civil infrastructure of the province and cleanse the existing population - all the better to more easily rule whatever remains of it.
Which brings us to the ‘green buses’ referred to by the militiaman in the video.
This is a reference to the buses previously used to ‘evacuate’ civilians from areas that face conquest from Assad and his allies, most famously seen in Aleppo and Ghouta following brutally successful campaigns to cleanse those areas through the bombing of civilian areas, starvation sieges and chemical weapons attacks.
Whoever remains in these areas is herded onto a bus and cleansed from their homes, forced to live the cruelly precarious life of a refugee – the destination was, more often than not, Idlib.
Though the word ‘evacuation’ is often used in these circumstances, the reality is one of large-scale ethnoreligious cleansing.
Assad and his allies understand that a return to status quo ante bellum is impossible in Syria due to the scale and depth of the revolution; thus, the primary purpose is for the mostly Sunni Muslim demographics of the revolution to be cleansed as much as possible.
Combined with the mass murder of civilians, the proven extermination camps, the terror strategies of endemic rape and torture used against what Assad considers to be ‘hostile demographics’, this is why it’s pertinent to refer to what’s happening in Syria as genocide.
Before the war, Idlib had a population of 1.5 million people, now it has a population of 4 million, with it being a beacon for internally displaced civilians.
The main question on the minds of the few who care has been where exactly those in Idlib will run once the counter-revolution comes for them?
A rising wave?
Turkey is already filled to the brim with Syrian refugees and can scarcely take any more. With the rise of political forces like the CHP and its ‘National Alliance’ in the recent local election in Turkey, there has been a new wave of hostility towards Syrian refugees – including attempts to cut off aid to Syrians on a municipal level.
Earlier this month, when Russia and Assad began ramping up air attacks on towns like Kfar Nabudah, which is strategically important as a launching post for any large-scale ground assault on Idlib, 150,000 Syrians were cleansed in merely a few days. Most made their way into Idlib proper, often sleeping in the open air, or into the already overcrowded camps along the Turkish border.
The sheer ferocity of the attacks on places like Kfar Nabudah can be seen through satellite images. Barely anything remains of the town, and it seems to have been entirely cleansed of civilians.
We know that the recent wave of airstrikes, using both Russia’s missiles and Assad’s barrel bombs, have been the heaviest attacks in 15 months – fleeing civilians have been targeted for bombing.
The ominous warning from the militiamen of ‘no green buses’ might not just be hyperbole – it could very well signal the intent of Assad and Russia to use force alone to conquer the province.
Though their tactics of the past are brutal enough, they have always ended in controlled cleansing. The campaigns against Aleppo, Ghouta and Deraa, were easily some of the most vicious crimes of the 21st century, but what they threaten to do in Idlib could be horror on an unprecedented scale.
One of Assad, Russia and Iran’s greatest triumphs has been not merely to get the world to consent to its logic quietly, but to turn attention away from the crimes it continues to commit in Syria. The world simply doesn’t care. We know that no amount of Syrian lives lost will ever compel the world into action.
It almost feels absurd to write this, but Idlib ought to have millions of people out on the streets. The fate of Idlib ought to be the principal concern of the free world, yet all it garners, at best, is a few words of phoney humanitarian concern and condemnation.
If the free world can’t bring itself to care about the lives of Syrians, perhaps the spectre of a renewed and larger refugee crisis might spur it into action?
Lack of action to stop the genocide in Syria has already lead to the rise of Daesh, which only really captured the world’s attention when blood ran on the streets of European cities, as well as the rise of fascistic, anti-democratic and, most conveniently, pro-Russia nativist forces across Europe and the Anglosphere.
But this is a situation where the UN stopped counting the dead almost six years ago.
The world, as ever, hopes that Syrians will die quietly and far away from their currently free world. But we know that counter-revolution is contagious – Syria, with its relations of triumphant brutality and genocide, is a central point in the great degradation of an already degraded world order.
Though the fate of Idlib might seem insignificant to those in the West, the consequences of the destruction of Idlib will undoubtedly find its way to Europe’s shores.
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