By the time you read this, Aleppo would have fallen. Even as the UN and world powers go through the motions of perfunctory protests and denunciations, the last vestiges of humanity are being methodically obliterated by the Syrian regime and its powerful allies.
There are reports of appalling savagery and executions of innocent civilians, including women and children, being carried out by the advancing troops and Shia militias in the city that has defied and mocked their tyranny for the past five years. They didn’t spare even doctors and nurses doing their duty to save lives in the war zone.
The long-running battle for Aleppo has been instructive in many ways. For one, it has once again been established that the old jungle law of ‘might is right’ still holds true. Last year around this time everyone had been earnestly discussing the post Assad scenario as the collapse of the regime looked imminent. Then along came Russia to dramatically change the nature and course of this war with its direct intervention on the side of the dictator.
One of the two superpowers and the world’s greatest conventional armies with awesome resources and weapons at its disposal unleashed its firepower against a rag-tag group of rebels with few resources and weapons. Without the critical support provided by Putin’s Russia, the regime in Damascus would have collapsed like a house of cards long ago.
Russia has reportedly been employing the same all-out, take-no-prisoners tactics in Syria that it successfully used in Chechnya to wipe out resistance against the Russian rule. Indeed, it was Putin’s single-minded crackdown on Grozny, totally obliterating it that contributed to his legend and popularity, paving the way for his succession after Yeltsin.
So Russia does not just share the credit for the ‘success’ in taking out the last remaining stronghold of resistance against the regime, it must also share responsibility for the unspeakable horror and crimes visited on the besieged people of Aleppo. It is not just the Russians; the Syrian regime has been ably supported by the Iranian forces and battle-hardened Shia militias like Hezbollah.
Defending the last stronghold of resistance against the combined might of all these forces for so long is quite something and is a tribute to the sheer bravery and steadfastness of Syrian people to fight what has arguably been one of the Middle East’s most ruthless and repressive dictatorships.
For two, this is a humiliating defeat of the West vis-à-vis Russia and its allies. Indeed, the West must share responsibility for the slaughter in Syria. As Kim Sengupta argues, having encouraged the Syrians to rise up against Assad it did little to help them.
For three, the total destruction of Syria’s oldest city and one of the world’s earliest inhabited ones, once home to two million people and many of Unesco’s World Heritage sites, is not just an epic tragedy, it is a testament to the utter failure and pointlessness of the international community and its fine institutions. The mass slaughter of its tens of thousands of residents in full view of the world should make us all hang our heads in shame.
It once again proves that the UN, founded in the throes of the last Great War by its victors, to promote peace and prevent conflicts like these, especially the victimisation of innocent civilians, has failed spectacularly time and again in its duty and its raison d’etre – the very purpose of its existence.
Ironically, this steady marginalization and disempowerment of the UN has happened over the years at the hands of the powers that founded it and that largely run the show as the five permanent members of Security Council. The Big 5, the US and Russia in particular, have repeatedly used their veto power not to ‘promote peace and prevent conflict’ but to throw their weight around and push their own narrow, self-serving agenda, the world be damned!
Between 1946 and 2016, the special veto power by the P5 has been used 236 times. The US has used its veto on 79 occasions; and since 1972, it has used it more than any other permanent member, mostly in defence of Israeli Occupation’s indefensible actions.
Every time the world community mustered the courage to hold one of the most oppressive occupation regimes for its crimes, the US has stepped in to bail it out. For all its claims to be the land of the free, the US hasn’t even allowed a mild, perfunctory resolution censuring the Israeli Occupation.
Russia has done the same to protect its own friends and allies. Indeed, and this may come as a surprise to many, Russia or its earlier avatar Soviet Union has had the dubious distinction of exercising the veto power 103 times - most of them before 1965 - more than any other member, making a mockery of the world body and the noble principles that went into its inception.
Over the past couple of years, Russia – often with China - has used this destructive power again and again to save Assad and his bloodthirsty gang and to scuttle a peaceful resolution of the Syrian conflict.
If Obama and his Western allies have stood around indirectly aiding the tyrant, the Russians - and Iranians - have directly colluded with the regime to perpetuate the Syrian misery. Most recently, Russia used the veto to shoot down a UN resolution that called for immediate ceasefire so the desperately needed aid could be rushed to the besieged city of Aleppo. It even bombed a UN aid convoy on its way to Aleppo.
As Aleppo falls and many of its last remaining inhabitants are executed in cold blood by the regime and allies, it raises serious questions about the future and viability of the UN to lead the world community and protect the vulnerable in times like these. The images and messages of people trapped in Aleppo on social media are heartbreaking, to say the least. How can the world with all its progress and fascinating communication resources allow this to happen in the 21st century? What have we become?
This is a tragedy not just for the people of Aleppo and Syria but for the whole of civilized world. This is our tragedy. Every time a great city like Aleppo falls, it is a collective failure of humanity. We all have blood on our hands.
This week, writing in the Guardian, Nedžad Avdić, a survivor of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, says: “I was a teenager when I faced the worst of humanity. I remember our house burning to the ground and my family fleeing Srebrenica, hoping against hope for a chance to live. I remember the torture, and the smell of blood. I didn’t know it yet, but I was living through the worst genocide in Europe since the Second World War. Afterwards, I remember the promises of “never again”.
“Those promises are being broken, hour after hour, day after day, in the deepening horror of east Aleppo. More than 500,000 people have died since war began in 2011. It’s heartbreaking to see the international community turn the other way while atrocities occur in Syria. Did we learn nothing from Srebrenica?”
Indeed, did we learn nothing from history?