One cannot escape the similarities between the failed Russian truce in Aleppo and the other Syrian truces put in place by the Assad regime. The Russian truce is geared towards the hundreds of thousands who are under siege in eastern Aleppo, by coordinating their exit from the city through “humanitarian corridors”. The alternative is to stay under siege and bombardment: “Take the green bus or face a gruesome death” is the message being broadcast by the Syrian regime.
At the same time that the “humanitarian truce” was being declared by Moscow for one side of Aleppo, a Russian aircraft carrier was leading a flotilla of seven cargo ships down the Syrian coast. Raising the level of force available is the only way to ensure the success of the humanitarian corridors.
As for the Syrian government’s truce, it was directed towards the release of prisoners through agreements that belittle their personal dignity. In both cases, what is asked of us is to translate economic weaknesses in the same way that political, morale and moral weaknesses are understood. What is asked of the people is not only to give up what they would want to under political pressure. What is asked of them is for them to break and continue to be broken. In both cases, there is a fixed factor that does not change; it is epitomised by the regime, to which we must all bow down. We must face the limitless challenges and personal losses; those which are leading us towards death.
The fact that the regime has little or no legitimacy has been ignored, just as many opinions are held hostage. Many are bitter and have accepted the outcome and the Syrian people have learnt to rely on themselves. Few are convinced by the political process and have now been convinced by other ideas which mirror the rationalisation process of the regime. This undoubtedly pleases the regime’s security factions, although we must remember that they are not there to convince citizens of anything, but to deceive them. It is important to deceive, as deception is more important to security officials than conviction in such circumstances.
The reality of Russia’s “humanitarian corridors” is that they are not meant to be humanitarian at all; they are not intended to save civilian lives, to respect life and give it higher meaning. On the contrary, the intention is to have corridors of deception, in which Syrians from “there” can enter the realm of Syrians who are “here” after they have understood the cost of their hunger and suffering. They are asked to redirect themselves towards the regime after they have seen death and they are asked to pay a price that they are not ready to pay. This is the exact goal of these “humanitarian corridors” in the eyes of the Syrian regime.
According to Staffan De Mistura, the UN Special Envoy to Syria, “The UN is against the evacuation of civilians unless it is voluntary.” Such a statement is nonsense. Is anything voluntary in time of war? How could the decision to leave their property, neighbourhoods and homes ever be made voluntarily?
Moscow’s humanitarian corridors also have another meaning, which the international community has projected onto the Syrian situation, and it is related predominantly to reducing criticism of Russia’s involvement in the conflict. This comes directly after Putin’s comments last month, when he said: “I always hear people saying Aleppo, Aleppo, Aleppo. What is the problem here?” Shortly afterwards, the Russian president commended Israel for combatting Palestinian “terrorism”.
There are many factors to explain the reluctance of those trapped in Aleppo to escape through the Russian corridors. Civilians now fear the reaction of armed groups which, by and large, have rejected the option of leaving the city. In addition, many also fear the possibility that they will be taken advantage of by the regime, as they know what has happened before in Homs, when many citizens were arrested at the checkpoints surrounding the city. Russia has rejected the possibility of handing over such checkpoints to the UN.
The New York Times has reported that people fear that those on the Assad regime’s “wanted” list will be sought among those who opt to flee. However, there are also many deep-rooted humanitarian reasons why many choose not to leave Aleppo. Some reject the idea of leaving, even if in their hearts they are convinced of the wisdom to do so, because they do not want those who stay behind to face death alone. Others view their refusal to be evacuated as a kind of victory against the regime and will opt to stay regardless of the consequences.
There is no doubt that a part of the human psyche is resistant to being broken by oppressors. The one who is willing to taste the bitter aspects of life is usually also willing to face death. It must be said, though, that the civilians who have decided to stay have not chosen to stand with armed groups; they do not necessarily prefer to be with them, but they would rather remain under siege than accept the regime’s conditions for freedom.
The talk surrounding the corridors is addressing issues of subjugation and deception. There is much criticism of the real intention behind them, as they have little to do with true humanitarian motives. Moreover, the discussions have not taken into consideration the sectarian nature of the factions fighting in Syria.
Overall, these corridors simply represent the failure of the international community and the regime and its allies when it comes to finding a solution to the catastrophe that is Syria today. What happens next?