I visited Aleppo, East and West, December 10-14, 2016. I was there when Eastern Aleppo was liberated or fell, depending on your perspective and the media coverage; I was among the first handful of foreigners to get into the East after that event.
One can only wonder: There were no Nordic media and no Western media (with the exception of a photographer from Croatia) present on the 11th when this historic event took place. Why?
Aleppo and its massive destruction
Aleppo is, or was, the largest city in Syria and the third largest in the Ottoman Empire. It’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world; it may have been inhabited since the 6th millennium BC – the old city is a UNESCO World Heritage site. All of Aleppo is about 190 square kilometres.
I had not visited it earlier but it must have been uniquely beautiful and very dynamic in terms of culture and industry – situated at the old Silk Road too and hosting the largest industrial zone in Syria which gave employment to 30,000-40,000 workers and their families.
The destruction I saw in Eastern Aleppo was huge. Indescribable. It was systematic. And it was heartbreaking from every human point of view.
Those who occupied Eastern Aleppo – called variously rebels, Jihadists, armed opposition, fighters, terrorists etc. from numerous countries and nations have not only been fighting against the Syrian Arab Army but also fighting each other.
Before the destruction was undertaken, the industrial city was looted. Everything of value was taken out of thousands of factories, shops, schools, hospitals and offices – big and small – and transported on trucks to Turkey and sold there – providing these occupiers with funds to buy weapons.
The images conveys the clear message that these occupiers who took up arms to fight the Assad government of Syria had no intention of creating a better society and life for those who lived here. It appears to be mostly caused by search for money, by in-fighting, destruction and death for its own sake.
Of course the truth is complex and of course neither the Syrian military nor the Russians – operating as the only foreign force that is legally in Syria upon the invitation of the government – are innocent in this destruction.
That said, one thing must be crystal clear:
No citizens deserves to have their city, their homes and workplaces, their culture and history destroyed in this manner. No political goal whatsoever could legitimate this barbarity.
With this multi-causal destruction of a UNESCO World Heritage site belonging literally to the world, to all of us, the protests against all sides should increase and the blame-game stop. And no government contributes to such destruction without a reason.
It’s time Western media, grosso modo, get courageous enough to report how the West (NATO countries and its allies) is highly co-responsible for this destruction through its political, financial and military support to those who occupied Eastern Aleppo during 4 years.
I’ve seen the destruction of places like Sarajevo, Vukovar, Krajina, East and West Slavonia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This was worse. It reminded me partly of the images from the Second World War, partly of Hiroshima.
This is why I allow myself to consider it a liberation and there is another photo story here that illustrates the happiness among the people I met.
This doesn’t mean that there were not also people elsewhere who were not happy, and Western mainstream media have been good at telling you about them. I just did not meet them and cannot report or show pictures of what I have not experienced.
Destruction and fear on both sides
Hotel Al-Shabah in the West was where I stayed – as did all visitors at the time – and I was able to both experience the day and night bombings from its 20th floor as well as the shelling of the West, as close as a few hundred meters from my hotel when the stadium nearby was hit from the East one afternoon.
The fact that the Western parts were targeted from the East and people there felt in danger during the four years of the occupation – and thus relieved and happy that it was over – has been under-reported in the West and many media therefore unable to understand that there were celebration on that side too when Eastern Aleppo was liberated.
Much more about Aleppo and what it looked like before 2012 here.