Presidential candidate Gary Johnson slipped up in an interview on MSNBC last month and asked that same question. It’s embarrassing and hilarious at the same time that a major politician could not recognize the name of the center of a war zone in which the U.S. is significantly involved.
It might not be an understatement to claim that many college students in the country also have no clue about Aleppo. With the election coming up in November, the media has bombarded consumers with mostly political campaign news, hence the lack of knowledge about international affairs among the general public. But that shouldn’t be a reason for anyone, especially intelligent, well-rounded college students, to be oblivious about this ongoing violence across the world. I’m here to (hopefully) help.
What, and where, is Aleppo?
Aleppo was the largest city in Syria before the turmoil it now experiences, and is the source of the global refugee crisis due to an ongoing five-year civil war. It is also one of the oldest cities in the world, dating back to the 2nd millennium B.C. The city has more traces of ancient civilizations than most other places in the world.
The turbulence began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war. Starting with conflicts between forces loyal to the Syrian president and his opposition, the war has now drawn in regional and world powers, such as the jihadist militants from Islamic State (IS) and the Russian military.
What is going on there?
Though breached and taken by opposition forces in 2012, Aleppo has only made international news headlines in the past two months; it has become the symbol of Syria’s suffering. Hundreds were killed and injured in just the last few months, and at least 41 people (56 from a different source) died in Russian air raids on October 12. The casualty rate of this five-year onslaught is up to the hundreds of thousands; it has gotten so out of hand that the UN even stopped counting a few years ago. A PBS source reported in February of this year that 470,000 people have died in the conflict. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 358 civilians have died in eastern Aleppo alone since mid-September.
The UN reports 5,000 Syrians are fleeing the country every day. In 2012 before the Battle of Aleppo, there were approximately two million residents in Aleppo. Now, the displacement and casualty rates have increased so quickly that there is no recent statistic on the current population.
The scale of destruction
A now besieged population of almost 300,000 people, including 100,000 children, starves for food, water and medical supplies. For the refugees flooding out of the city, it becomes apparent that they will never again have a home country to return to. The city will likely be destroyed completely before Christmas if the bombing and air strikes continue without attempts by the international community to negotiate a cease-fire. Imagine the entire city of Madison, with the population multiplied by nine, absolutely decimated. That is what Aleppo may become.
To view a photo-series of how Aleppo looked before the war in 2011-2012 compared to its present condition, click here.
Aleppo is the center of a diplomatic feud between the U.S. and Russia
The U.S. has cut off all cease-fire discussions with Russia, as Russia has hindered humanitarian efforts in the region by breaking an agreement with the Obama Administration. This has worsened US-Russia relations, which experts said could be at their lowest point since the 1970s.
Yet, all they have achieved is unsettled negotiations and putting the blame on each other. French President François Hollande called Russian air strikes a war crime. Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the U.S. of secretly supporting al-Qaeda forces in an attempt to overthrow the Syrian president. Pope Francis pleads for ceasefire, and the UN has made a number of attempts to stop the fight, all of which have failed.
There is so much more to this warfare than what one article could explain. We’re living in a day and age where people are so desensitized to the amount of violence and negativity in the news that they just ignore it. However, as global citizens who have the privilege to be living in a relatively peaceful, developed nation, we should and need to continually educate ourselves on current affairs. In light of the Aleppo crisis, it becomes important to stay informed, neutral and away from the “Russophobic hysteria,” as the Russian defense ministry called it. The results of next week’s election will also play a big part in the making of international policy concerning Syria, with vastly different directions in which the U.S. could go depending on who becomes the next president. It is a critical moment in history for not only America, but also many parts of the world.