We look at the city now and we don’t believe our eyes: how beautiful Aleppo was with its blue swimming pools, crowds of tourists in the marketplace, high spiraling street lamps, graceful staircases, and palm and Lebanese cedars trees shading its streets and sunny squares. Its central streets were full of life and shops, and on the sidewalks could be seen seniors walking arm in arm and children playing in the fresh air.
How honorable were those mosques where pink was the dominant color, along with the lovely marble window frames and oriental roses on the facades of buildings. Ah, the magnificent stone colored squares and carpets made for worship, and its mighty Citadel with its defense towers, and reassuring too was the daily traffic of cars.
And today? A simple game, the overlapping of images of yesterday and today can’t but overwhelm our conventional wisdom.
For the contemporary mind the incredible images of Aleppo’s destruction are simply impossible: we’ve grown up with the idea, actually, in the progressive belief that where there was destruction we’d rebuild, where there was death children would be born, where the dust of devastation filled the landscape, there’d be new homes, temples, churches, factories, hospitals, schools…
After the end of WWII and the destruction of Dresden carried out by 722 heavy bombers of the British Royal Air Force and 527 American planes that dropped 3900 tons of high-explosive bombs enriched with phosphorus, there’s a bloody question mark that endures, even if it was done to defeat Nazism: still it’s terrible to think that there was a decision by western allies, the horrific choice to flatten the population (the dead were, it seems in the end, 25 thousand) and the structure itself of an ancient German city. Those who visited the city after its reconstruction bore witness to the guilt that confirmed the inconceivability of what had been done.
Today, Aleppo is like Dresden before the reconstruction, its population has been decimated, children are buried in the rubble, fugitives are persecuted and chased, and bombs have continued to pound its buildings beyond any understandable strategy if none other than that of destroying the enemy, enlarging the aim to a real ethnic cleansing.
While news reports in the last 24 hours give us conflicting reports about the truce proclaimed two days ago in Syria, the images of Aleppo bombed are analogous, in fact, to those phosphorous bombs that fell decades ago in Dresden, even more horrific that it’s been so in the year 2016, and that while the city was being obliterated no was able or wanted to do anything about it. To our Western minds the images we see here repeat what we wanted to think that this kind of destruction had ended forever.
The city of Aleppo was beautiful and great: now it’s a pile of bricks and dust mixed with blood, and all this occurred before our very eyes. Nobody moved a finger. Let’s not speak about the European Union, a paralyzed body that didn’t even think to put an intervention strategy into motion; the United Nations has even refused, in the Security Council, to vote on a no-fly zone, and have preferred futile pursuits like its repeated votes against Israel; Obama chose his personal obsessions and his appeasement policy, so out of place and vain when he, as a matter of facts, buried forever, in August 2013, the pacifist ideology, by refusing to comply with the promise to attack if chemical weapons were ever again used against civilians: this failure will be his legacy.
Sure, ISIS operatives have given it their all, but even its enemies have used the opportunity to carry out ethnic cleansing against Sunni factions, extremist or not: Assad the dictator with his improbable face continues to hold onto his power at any cost; Iran, who like a tiger hunts any possible prey in order to assert its Shiite power; its proxy, the terrorist organization Hezbollah.
Those are the protagonists and leading the pack, without hesitation, is the monolith Putin, a smart, cynic, skilled figure who has built himself around the urgent need to enter the history books as the Tsar’s true descendent, or even that of Lenin and Stalin, it doesn’t matter, as long as it leads toward reestablishing Russia’s legacy in the world.
This is the landscape, without forgetting about Erdogan, who acts like he’s presiding over the Ottoman Empire, pushing Turkey into adventures that are literally always blowing up in his face, previously Assad’s best friend, then ready to hate him above all others, to eventually helping ISIS, then fighting to defeat them alongside the Russians, all this just to crush the Kurds on the ground, while the punishment which he receives at home is that of ISIS.
As we write from Jerusalem, on Aleppo falls the night of the truce that we hope, however, will lasts at least for awhile: the time to escape from the devastation, gaze at the moon, get in some vehicle, take children far away, so that they may hear the next bombings (there will be others) as an echo of ancient thunder, finished. This is what remains of Aleppo. This is Syria, and no one took decisive action but the Shiites with Putin behind them. And let’s not have any illusions: an alliance between Putin, Assad, Khamenei, and Nasrallah is the best guarantee that further destruction will be added to Aleppo’s crumbling bricks.
Translation by Amy K. Rosenthal
This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (January 3, 2017)