When I was 10, I read these words in historical fiction books from the library. When I was 12, I heard these words from Social Studies and English teachers. They were a mantra of the past and a promise for the future.
Today, it’s clear that this promise has been broken.
There are about 100,000 Syrians still remaining in eastern Aleppo. Out of this group, 30,000 have fled for western Aleppo, but thousands more are still trapped within a few, besieged neighborhoods in eastern Aleppo. Already, executions took place in these neighborhoods. According to the U.N., over 82 people have been executed, of whom 11 were women and 13 were children.
Additionally, contact between civilians and activists in Aleppo is being virtually cut off. Many activists and journalists, along with other innocent civilians, posted their goodbyes on Twitter and social media today. Many have not responded since then, and it’s impossible to know whether they, too, have perished.
One journalist, a New Yorker by the name of Bilal Abdul Karim, posted such a video. In his latest (and perhaps, last) tweet, he mentioned the deal that had been reached between the regime and the rebels. This deal was supposed to allow for safe passage for civilians. Instead, there have been reports of civilians dying as they fled, killed by the regime and its allies.
There is also no guarantee of safety once civilians have reached the pro-Assad faction of Syria. Many Syrian activists fear that once they do enter the regime’s faction of Aleppo, they will simply “disappear.” These fears are founded — according to U.N. reports, hundreds of men who entered Assad’s Syria during the last ceasefire were reported missing.
The reality is that there is a current genocide in Aleppo. There are no hospitals to tend to the wounded. There is no equipment to rescue the people strewn underneath the rubble. And while currently there is a ceasefire, there is no guarantee it will last; previous ceasefires did not.
This is the Aleppo of today, and its creation is, in part, our fault.
While Assad had the support of Iranian militia and Russian aircraft, the rebels did not have enough support from foreign fighters or foreign weapons. And while it is true that the rebels were backed by the United States, an argument can also be made that if President Obama and Congress had chosen to do so, the rebels could have had enough support to overthrow Assad’s government. After all, the U.S. does have the world’s strongest military.
But it is not just Western superpowers, like the U.S., that are to blame. The Islamic world, too, is responsible. Arab powers, like Saudi Arabia, like Qatar, like the United Arab Emirates, had the ability to aid their dying neighbors. They also had an obligation to protect the oppressed Syrians in the Islamic community.
Instead, they did nothing.
They did nothing when previous peace talks failed. They did nothing when thousands of Syrians fled Aleppo. They did nothing as their neighbors perished under Assad’s regime.
The world promised to never forget. The world promised to be better. But today, as I scoured through headlines depicting a once beautiful city blown to rubble, as I watched civilians say their last goodbyes, I knew the world forgot. The world did not become better. The world watched thousands die, and the world did nothing to stop it from happening.
But I also hold on to a thin sliver of hope: the world did nothing, but it can start making amends.
We can start making amends.
Several organizations are still collecting life-saving essentials for civilians in Aleppo. Syria Relief, Islamic Relief Worldwide, the Karam Foundation and Doctors Without Borders all provide relief and supplies for civilians in Aleppo. In this ceasefire, aid can reach Aleppo, and it is desperately needed.
For those who cannot afford to donate, call your local representatives. Send letters to President Obama and to your congressman. Demand that Assad take accountability. Demand that we offer more aid to Syria, specifically to Aleppo.
Most importantly, we must remember the civilians in Aleppo. Their cries for freedom must be remembered. Assad’s regime and its allies must be held accountable. The world must remember, and the world must take action.
Because we made a promise:
This time, we must keep it.