Assad's continuing genocide must not be obscured by Trump

Assad's continuing genocide must not be obscured by Trump
Comment: As Assad engages in talks with 'opponents', his brutal genocide continues. His crimes must not slip from the news agenda, writes Sam Hamad.
6 min read
13 Feb, 2017
Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood after pro-government forces captured the area on December 13, 2016 [AFP]

With the western media occupied with President Donald Trump, you could be forgiven for thinking that the situation in Syria had quietly come to an end. Such an idea may well be conceivable, given that Trump has expressed disdain for the Syrian opposition, and support for the main forces seeking to annihilate them. 

But there's little doubt that as he has ascended to the highest office in the United States, the genocide in Syria has slipped down a few rungs in terms of coverage. 

It's not just the Trump effect that is to blame for this slump - the fall of Aleppo to Iranian-led regime forces also brought with it a decline in the interest of the western media. The regime, as well as Iran and Russia, have treated their capture of the city with a finality that might lead one to believe the war in is coming to an end. This is far from true.

One must understand that Assad, Iran and Russia's war was always one of extermination. Just last week, we captured one snapshot of the concrete realities of this - Amnesty International released a report on the mass execution of at least 13,000 pro-opposition civilians at the regime's Saydnaya prison.

While that figure of 13,000 dates from the beginning of the revolution to 2015, it only documents executions from one regime facility. Given there have been at least 200,000 people detained by the Assad regime since the revolution began - with mass disappearances and the obvious lack of any accountability - one can only imagine the true industrial scale of the Syrian genocide.

Assad, Iran and Russia's war was always one of extermination

We've already seen, in chillingly monstrous detail, the photos leaked by the regime defector known as "Cesar", demonstrating the industrialised murder of at least 6,786 detainees from several other regime dungeons. 

While the scale is not on the same level as the Nazi genocide, the way these people are murdered is veritably Auschwitzian, with, as documented by Amnesty in Saydnaya, the detainees being tortured and starved before execution. In Cesar's photos, the corpses are emaciated and many show signs of torture. It's of no surprise that it was the United States Holocaust Museum that displayed these pictures - so that the nature of the Assad regime's exterminationist agenda might be better understood. 

One assumes that both the Cesar photos and Amnesty's report on Saydnaya only scratches the surface in terms of the industrialised murder. 

[Click to enlarge]

But this is one of the great tragedies of the Syrian situation - the international community, particularly those powers who posed as "Friends of Syria", could abandon the Syrian people to Assad, Russia and Iran with ease. There was no serious political pressure, whether popular or parliamentary, for these powers to act to avert genocide.

Outside of Syria, Russia and Iran's decisive intervention on behalf of Assad has elicited only marginal protest. In other words, despite some excellent work by activists, politicians, journalists and human rights groups, those attempting to raise awareness of and establish the centrality of what is happening in Syria have always faced an uphill struggle. 

It wasn't just the general isolationist recalcitrance of the political class to involve themselves in Syria, but also the mass mobilisation of Assad, Russian and Iranian propaganda to depict pro-Syrian revolution activists as warmongers and supporters of "terrorism". 

  Read more: Aleppo's forgotten revolutionaries

To even mention Syria has been seen as a contentious and divisive issue, especially among many on the political left - those who, when it comes to Syria, seek to not just stick their own heads in the sand but make sure everyone else's head is buried too, and who are every bit as bad as outright Assad supporters. 

During the US election, those of us who highlighted that Hillary Clinton was the only one to prioritise safe zones for Syrian civilians and, more crucially, a policy of arming the anti-Assad rebels, were accused of effectively calling for World War III, all while Assad's actual genocide was taking place.

Last month, during the 'ceasefire', 2,000 people in Syria were murdered as Assad's Iranian-led forces attacked rebel-held areas of Damascus

And, as previously stated, the genocide in Syria shows no sign of abating. The levels of viciousness might fluctuate, but the brutality will not cease and, if anything, might intensify - the difference will lie in the political focus of western countries and the consequent coverage it receives in the media. 

It's with the most vicious irony that the western media and political class should be so consumed with Brexit and Trump at the expense of Assad's genocide, given both phenomena were, to some extent, determined by it. 

The UK government, for all its faults, was firm in its stance that any peace negotiations had to involve Assad's removal, but they have now quietly dropped this requirement. This is without a doubt a consequence of the Trump effect, and its new, isolationist post-Brexit makeover. 

More generally, it appears that the defiance of western governments to do anything - as Aleppo was consumed by fascism - was not just evident of them toeing Obama's line, but also a prelude to Trump's policy. 

While there's no doubt that the fall of Aleppo was a huge blow to the rebellion, one ought to note that it was only possible due to the mass mobilisation of Iranian-led forces and the efficiency of the Russian airforce.

Syria has become an imperialist free-for-all

It simultaneously demonstrated that while Assad is secure, he is only secure because of grand but ultimately limited foreign power. If Assad were truly popular, he would not have stopped at Aleppo - he would have turned his attention to Idlib, the largest of the liberated areas of Syria.

At talks in Astana, we saw the shape of Russia's imperialist vision of "peace". And we've already seen the reality of Russian-brokered "ceasefires": Last month, during the ceasefire, 2,000 people in Syria were murdered as Assad's Iranian-led forces attacked rebel-held areas of Damascus, while they escalated airstrikes in Homs and Idlib. 

Syria has become an imperialist free-for-all - the Amnesty report referred to Saydnaya as a "human slaughterhouse", but this could be applied to the country in general. Last week there was an airstrike in Idlib that murdered around 26 people, wounding hundreds of others and levelling several multi-story buildings. 

Given that the US also hits rebel-held areas allegedly "fighting extremism" by targeting groups that "fight IS", nobody knew if it was Russia or the US that carried it out. Outside of Syria, it seems that nobody cares. 

Assad recently gave an interview to Yahoo News in which he - taking a leaf out of Trump's book - called the Amnesty report "fake news" and welcomed the prospect of US troops entering Syria to "fight terrorism". We know who Assad and his allies think the "terrorists" are - it's the innocents starved, tortured and murdered on the end of a noose in Saydnaya. 

We can only assume Assad thinks that Trump agrees. 

That's why highlighting the actual fascism engulfing Syria is every bit as important as covering the rise of Trump. 

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.