by Brandon Turbeville
Did you ever wonder what kind of societal disruption occurs in the middle of a war? Do you wonder what life is like when you’re stuck surviving in the middle of a warzone?
A couple of decades ago, Syria was clean, modern, and safe. Now it’s filled with ruined buildings, death in a thousand brutal ways, hunger, and filth.
How did this happen? How did a city like Aleppo (or more specifically “East Aleppo,”) once filled with markets, mosques, and beautifully kept ancient sites, turn into a place of devastation and despair? (For some before and after photos, check out this article. Most people don’t realize what a beautiful place Syria was before the war.)
Some background on how it all began
In 2003, young Syrians sat in their living rooms and watched on television as the American military rolled into Iraq amid missiles, bombs, and the requisite “Shock and Awe.” This was not the first experience their country had with America’s military in the region but it was the first time this generation had seen the war with the eyes of adults. Iraq, after all, was not Afghanistan. It was practically next door.
The invasion and subsequent war were bad enough. The occupation, however, was even worse.
While Americans were being fed faked videos of celebrating Iraqis pulling down the statues of Saddam Hussein, Syrian media was showing a very different version of events; i.e. the US military terrorizing, killing, and maiming the Iraqi people.
2006 came around and these same Syrians witnessed Iraq fall into chaos.
Iraqis were no longer united against the American invader, they were divided Sunni against Shi’ite, Muslim against Christian, territory against territory. As the Pentagon sat back, pleased in the chaos it had created, Syrians sat in dismay at how the Iraqis could descend into civil war, particularly when the clear enemy was on its soil and flying its enemy flag.
Most of all, Syrians were grateful. “Thank God,” they said. “Thank God we live here and we don’t have to deal with war.” One Syrian girl told me, “At the time, all I could think was how horrible it must be to live through something like that. I was so glad to live in Syria. I couldn’t imagine war coming here.”
In 2011, the US occupation had built one of the largest embassies in the world. The Iraqi state was weak and squabbling but effectively acting as a caretaker government under the watchful eye of the American empire.
The opposition to America’s presence in Iraq was still there as was the knowledge that Syria was on the list to be destroyed. Syrians had heard Wesley Clark list also and, besides, they already knew Syria was on the chopping block if Washington, Tel Aviv, and the powers behind them ever had their way and the guts they would need to start the war.
However, people said, Syria was not Iraq.
What life was like in Syria before the war
Life continued on without missing a beat in Syria.
In cities like Damascus and Lattakia, people were living their lives as always, coming home from work, eating dinner and either going out to the bars and restaurants or taking strolls in the streets and park after dark fell. Those who stayed home watched a movie, sports, or the news.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary except, perhaps, for the news outlets, which were becoming increasingly partisan and anti-Assad. These outlets were satellite stations coming from the Gulf and other parts of the world so a bias was expected but, in 2011, seemingly in unison, the stations began decrying the “crimes of Assad” and pointing fingers at every aspect of corruption that could be found in the Syrian state.
Those who stayed up late could find the night’s entertainment watching crazed preachers calling for the killing of the infidel, Assad, and anyone not adhering to the preachers’ strict interpretation of Islam. His broadcasts were low budget late night preaching, replete with a gaudy discolored background and poor sound. Occasionally, the preacher would produce a sword for dramatic effect and point it at the screen. If you weren’t killing the kafir, he would say, you are as bad as the kafir.
Syrians watched the broadcast and the older ones switched the channel in disgust at the perversion of their religion. The younger ones, however, would watch in a mixture of horror and comedy, with a heavy dose of the latter. His sword infused gestures brought howls of laughter and his sermon brought well-deserved mockery with the younger crowd.
But not everyone was laughing.
Most Syrians were shocked when his videos started going viral. The comedic factor alone was ruled out as more and more of the videos being shared were carrying captions agreeing with his message. Most of the accounts sharing the lunatic’s videos were foreign but Syrians had no way of knowing that. They had no way of knowing, at the time, that many of those foreigners were inside their country, trained, armed, and waiting for the word to launch the attack. Admittedly, there were some small and radical elements within Syria itself that had been successfully radicalized, ready and waiting for the “revolution.”
Something was brewing but no one knew what it was.
When the protests started, there were mixed reviews. Initially, word was that the protests were over police brutality and the police state, specifically launched by the beating of a young man by Syrian security forces. Others said the protests were over corruption. Both of these issues were legitimate and Syrians watched as the streets filled with demonstrators.
It seemed so odd that so many would enter the streets at the same time, seemingly organized. It seemed odd that the streets filled so fast with so many unfamiliar faces.
But within a matter of days, it was clear that the protesters were not calling for freedom and democracy, they were calling for the destruction of the Syrian government, Alawites, and Christians and calling for a “return to Islam.” “Christians to Beirut! Alawites to the Grave!” they chanted.
The violence began almost immediately.
The police were given strict orders not to react with force. In fact, they were not even allowed to carry weapons beyond batons. The protesters, however, used whatever they could find, attacking police, military, and civilians. They used what they found on the streets and they brought weapons to the “protests.” Quickly, these weapons went from fists to rifles. The shooting started within days.
Quickly, “protesters” began firing at police and military. The snipers appeared as well, shooting security personnel and random civilians. Doctors on their way to the hospital were shot down in the streets. Children on their way to school were shot as well. Random men, women, and children were all targeted from rooftops and heavily concealed snipers’ nests in the cities.
Any pretense of “protesting” quickly disappeared. The violence only increased until the “protesters” were armed militia units storming whole neighborhoods, government buildings, police stations, and military installations. At times, they attacked and retreated. Other times, they took over the installations, executing the personnel they encountered as well as civilians.
Life in Syria had changed.
From that point forward until the present day, hopes and dreams would cease being about the future. Instead, they would focus on survival.
One Syrian told me his story as a young university student. Classes were underway as the protests began and the violence started taking off. He could hear the clashes between the alleged “protesters” and the police. Already, students had been warned to stay on campus and, if possible, in their dorms. After all, the “democracy-loving freedom fighters” as Western MSM called them were a far cry from college students learning the history of religion, art, literature, and the sciences.
One night, however, as the clashes and the sounds of chanting and gunfire grew closer, he and his friends watched as armed men headed toward their university. The students watched with curiosity until the men began shooting at them and crossing over the gates to the university. Before they arrived, he was able to jump the gates and make his way to the dorms where his brother, also a university student, was staying. He, along with his friends, retreated to the dorms dodging gunfire as they ran to what they believed would be safety. He was unaware at the time that the terrorist brigades had set up snipers’ nests designed to target unarmed college students. The inside of the dorms provided very little safety for them as sniper’s bullets tore through the windows and the walls.
Twice he narrowly avoided a bullet that came through the window, missing him by inches. His friend was not so lucky and was shot. Thankfully, he managed to pull his friend to safety as the military and security forces arrived to put the terrorists down. After that, both he and his brother left the university at the behest of their family and returned home.
Life was a continual downward spiral for Syrians after that. University classes were canceled. The war itself compounded with sanctions began putting a chokehold on economic activity. For many, it was simply not safe to go to work. Public transportation had become a target if it was functioning at all. Walking was a constant maze of snipers, terrorist attacks, or suicide bombings.
Essential services were next to go.
Electricity was cut. Water no longer came out of the pipes. Heating and cooking oil along with fuel became scarce. Necessary items like soap and shampoo simply disappeared from the shelves but the shelves never replenished. The government, doing its best to keep the population placated while fighting off a growing invasion of terrorists backed by the largest military in the world, began rationing fuel and soap but rations for some items were only effective for those who could pay. For those who couldn’t, they had no choice but to rely on the generosity of their families and friends.
Syrians, thankfully, maintain a rich culture of neighborly generosity, a kind of familial and cultural support system that is quickly disappearing from the West. However, even amid this type of culture, hoarding began to take place and those who had more than others began to see ways in which they could use their good fortune to enrich themselves at the expense of others.
Before long, the only water to be found was dirty or bottled. Both were scarce. Food was hard to come by and the food that could be bought was sub-par, oftentimes half-rotten, this in a country that had always been used to fresh organic food as a matter of course.
Needless to say, public services ground to a near halt. Trash pickup was seriously hampered by the war and, as a result, cities that once prided themselves on cleanliness were overrun by trash and waste. With water services interrupted, human waste became an issue as well.
Sanitation became a huge problem, compounded with the fact that internal refugees were pouring in from areas taken over by terrorists into areas controlled by the government. Already, the cities and towns in government-held areas were taxed by the war. The influx of Internally-Displaced Persons, however, put those services over the edge. People were now crowded on top of one another.
The new arrivals were Syrians who had left their homes after enduring intense warfare, leaving with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Many were malnourished, sick, and filthy. The Syrian government did its best to provide for them but there were already too many people within government-controlled borders who needed assistance. Services, charity, and individual generosity were all brought to the brink. The once pleasant streets were filled with hungry and destitute people with nowhere to go. Riding the buses and standing in line, you could see the lice crawling in the hair of the people who, only a year prior, would have never dreamed of leaving the house without smelling like perfume.
The benefits of the best of Syrian culture – focus on the importance of the nuclear family, faith in God, and a strong cultural fabric – played an important role in keeping society together. Families continued to look after one another, coming to each others’ aid in the case of sickness, hunger, or loss. They provided food and care for each other, taking in family members who had nowhere to go, despite their own lack of basic needs being met. Whenever extended family members were threatened, they could rest assured that the rest of the family, neighborhood, or wider community would be part of the response. Thus, inter-Syrian incidents were kept to a minimum.
As one Syrian woman who had spent many years in Europe told me, “If get the flu or some other sickness, I can always count on my family or my friends or my neighbors to come to my house and take care of me. They will come to my house and stay with me. They will cook for me. They will clean the house. They will help me to the bathroom. Whatever I need. When they are sick, I will do the same for them. But, in Europe where I lived, if I was sick, my neighbors and friends would say ‘Stay away! I don’t want to get sick!'”
In 2020, Syria is still much in the same state.
There is a black market on most necessary goods (fuel, food, cleaning products, etc.) and the economy is stagnant, mostly due to the Western sanctions. While the Syrian government is rapidly gaining territory in the areas controlled by Western-backed terrorists in areas like Idlib, areas that the government controls still have to function under the crippling sanctions, meaning a wartime crisis situation still very much exists. Though the government has fought back most of the threats of snipers, mortars, and shelling (except for areas close to the front lines), terrorist attacks and suicide bombings are still a daily threat.
For those who may be watching Syria in order to learn more about what a similar societal disruption would look like in the United States or elsewhere, they should take two things away.
First, your world can change in what seems like an instant. Even societies that have a rich culture and deep social fabric can still be torn apart and the inhabitants may never see it coming.
Second, once society is in the middle of a war, it doesn’t go back to peace and prosperity simply because the victims are tired of the crisis. As is the case in Syria, it can last for a decade at least. Lebanon’s intense civil war lasted twenty years. Even when the battles are no longer raging, the crisis remains. War is not a movie. It doesn’t end in two hours and you can’t switch the channel when you’re tired of it.
There is a distinct human cost to a crisis like the one in Syria.
For Americans, the 400,000 dead Syrians are, for the most part, statistics and numbers. For Syrians themselves, however, they are mothers, sons, brothers, wives, daughters. On both trips to Syria, it was rare to meet one Syrian who had not lost someone very close to them in some way connected to the war, generally in some brutal fashion. It is impossible to write well enough to capture the intense personal effect that the war has had on each and every Syrian. No one will ever truly be able to understand it until they watch their own family members murdered by “armed groups” being caught in the crossfire.
Imagine, if you can, your own loved ones being shot to death in the streets or hacked to death by fanatics. You can even forget the brutality if you prefer and simply imagine the people you care about not being there tomorrow and attribute the reason to someone else’s ideology. Imagine days and days of heat and cold, thirst and hunger, filth and no electricity. Day after day of no entertainment, nothing really happening until the war comes alive again and something does happen.
As “war poet” W.D. Erhart wrote,
That son of his would be a man
about the age of the men I passed
on Upsal Street last week,
the pounding in my chest so loud,
surely they could hear it.
I don’t want to leave this neighborhood.
I want to think we’ll be okay
if only we can touch the best
in others and ourselves.
I still don’t keep a gun around
because I’m through with guns,
but every day is like a day at war:
mostly nothing happens,
but you never know what’s waiting
when or where or how.
The first black friend I ever had
died one day when something happened.
Every day I’m always on patrol.
Brandon Turbeville writes for TheOrganicPrepper.com and his own website, BrandonTurbeville.com He is the author of ten books, Codex Alimentarius — The End of Health Freedom, 7 Real Conspiracies, Five Sense Solutions and Dispatches From a Dissident, volume 1 and volume 2, The Road to Damascus: The Anglo-American Assault on Syria, The Difference It Makes: 36 Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Should Never Be President, and Resisting The Empire: The Plan To Destroy Syria And How The Future Of The World Depends On The Outcome. His books can be found in the bookstore at BrandonTurbeville.com and on Amazon.
Turbeville has published over 1500 articles on a wide variety of subjects including health, economics, government corruption, civil liberties and, most notably, geopolitics and the Syrian crisis. His most recent release is a book of poetry, “Dance, Amputee.”