Most of us first heard of Aleppo due to a Faux Pas by Libertarian Presidential candidate, Gary Johnson.
Johnson was live on MSNBC being interviewed by Mike Barnacle. When he was asked what he would do about the Syrian refugee crisis, and in particular what he would do about Aleppo. Johnson responded: “And what is Aleppo?” to which a stunned Barnacle replied “you’re kidding!” Johnson simply responded “No” The internet then had a field day, gifs and memes and dubstep songs featuring Gary Johnson’s face, and his seemingly clueless question made their rounds on social media.
Truthfully however, most of us had no idea what Aleppo was, and many of us still have no idea what Aleppo is, or why we should care about the carnage that is and has been taking place there.
Aleppo is Syria’s largest city with a population of over 2 million people, as such, it is essential to the region and central to winning the civil war that is being waged there. The Syrian civil war began on March 15, 2011 when President Basher al-Assad’s government violently repressed protests calling for his removal. The city remained peaceful for a year, but in July 2012 rebel units in Aleppo attempted to take control of the city from the Syrian government. Thus began a four year battle that has claimed 470,000 lives to date. and has caused tens of thousands to flee from their home. The situation escalated early this year when the government hammered rebel positions within the city with air strikes. causing many more refugees to flee the city, most seeking refuge in nearby Turkey.
In August of this year, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees described a dire situation: “Humanitarian access to the estimated 250,000 to 275,000 civilians trapped in the eastern part of the city has been cut off since early July, after fighting closed the main access route in and out of the area,” the agency wrote. “Heavy fighting in recent days has also cut off the main access route used by UN agencies to deliver aid to civilians in the western part of the city, raising fears that civilians throughout the city are effectively cut off from any assistance.” There have also been reports that the government has been using chlorine as a chemical weapon on some Aleppo suburbs.
In a video shared on Twitter, Lina Shamy, an activist in eastern Aleppo said “This may be my last video. More than 50,000 civilians who rebelled against the dictator [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad are threatened with field executions or are dying under bombing,”
Thousands more expressed their fear and frustration in their last hours, including Fatemah, mother to Bana Alabed, a 7 year old girl who has documented her life besieged in war torn Aleppo.
Her tweets, and the messages of others, whether through videos, Facebook posts, or online blogs. They let us know that these are real people suffering They force us to see Syria and Aleppo as real places, with real people who are suffering through no fault of their own, but as a result of the actions of greedy men and women all over the world.
What is Aleppo? Aleppo is a disgrace. A disgrace to leaders all around the world who have done nothing to stop it, a disgrace to those men and women who are actually benefiting from the conflict, a disgrace to those who refuse to care.
What is Aleppo? Aleppo is an opportunity. An opportunity for us to change the way we think about foreign affairs and about the middle east. It is an opportunity for us to change the way we think about ourselves as individuals, and an opportunity for us to change the way we think individuals all over the world, even those who are radically different from us.
What is Aleppo? Aleppo is a call to arms. “Dear world, why are you watching this unmoved?” No matter who you are, you have an audience, and raising awareness in your audience could make a huge difference in the lives of those still stuck in Aleppo. You never know who’s listening. So, share an article, write a blog post, let people know what’s going on. Even if you can’t do anything else, your voice matters.