Civilians without Hope, a Leader without a Country: Call this a Victory?


Syrian strongman, Assad, claims he has restored sovereignty to Syria, but grievances remain deep for both vanquished and victors, writes MARTIN CHULOV.


The beginning of the end for Ghouta (in Syria) came first with a trickle. Desperate, hungry and scared, Syria’s newest displaced people walked a journey into the unknown, past Russian military police, towards loyalist soldiers who started checking names.

The same anxious ritual of the vanquished had been carried out before, in Homs, Aleppo, Qusair and most other places in the country, where seven years ago […], the first spasms of open defiance began to rattle its ruthless rulers.

Those heady early years of insurrection are long gone now. Anticipation has been replaced by resignation, hope subsumed by fear.

The empowered Syrian street that had once exposed the fragility of a regime long thought omnipotent has retreated to the rubble. Splintered and battered, the anti-Assad opposition inspired by the protests can no longer win the war.

The state, too, is a shadow of what it was when popular uprising gave way to insurgency. Unable to hold its ground, Syria’s leadership seconded its defence to Russia and Iran, who have clawed its military to a winning position, destroying much of the country in the process, and regularly striking deals with factions without informing their patron.

Bashar al-Assad’s claim to have restored sovereignty has left him like the emperor without a proverbial thread.

Across Syria, the clean battlelines of early on have been replaced many times over, as the war has metastazised like no other conflict in the past 50 years.

A national military, a shadow army, Islamists, Jihadists, proxies, regional heavyweights and global powers are all deeply embedded, trying to shape the conflict to suit their interests.

Whoever prevails in what remains of Syria will achieve a pyrrhic victory.

All the while, a civilian population has been battered, brutalised, killed and displaced, leaving an international order that was supposed to prevent the repeat of last century’s devastation looking paralysed and impotent.

More than 500,000 people have been killed as the war enters its eighth year, with no obvious end in sight. Across the country, towns and cities have been laid to ruin.

Coexistence has been shredded, a generation of children has been deprived of education and at least half the population is dependent on aid.

How to put Syria back together again may be on the wishlists of its backers, but nothing tangible can be done while two-thirds of the country’s population remains too scared to return home.


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