The eyes of the world watching the impact of the Syrian revolution have turned to the city of Aleppo; because it is the largest Syrian city and the heart of the country’s economy…Aleppo is now outside al-Assad’s realm of governance, and more or less 70 percent of its districts are in the hands of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Now it is the FSA that runs the bakeries, hospitals, traffic, civil defense and ambulances, and occupies the police stations and intelligence services.
In doing so, Aleppo has caused a huge shock to the Syrian regime, which used to be “guaranteed” and ensured of Aleppo’s full loyalty, whether through the Sheikhs in its mosques, directly associated to the Syrian Grand Mufti, or through its merchants and producers who received benefits granted to no one else. There was also an “affiliated” group of tribes who had a strong relationship with the intelligence and security services, who were entrusted with supporting the Shabiha and providing recruits for them, eventually becoming the guarantors of the loyalty of Aleppo and its people through force and intimidation.
Aleppo itself has always been an example of extraordinary coexistence, for there is a mix of all races, sects and creeds. There is the important and numerous Christian community, as well as the notable and influential community of Armenians, not forgetting the Kurdish, Italian and Turkish communities.
Aleppo has produced a number of memorable religious scholars, such as Abdul Rahman al-Kawakbi, a prominent voice on injustice and tyranny, Abdullah Siraj al-Din, Abdul Qadir Isa and so on. This is not forgetting the highly influential and acclaimed names in the world of politics, such as Rushdie Kikhia, founder of the People’s Party, or Nazim al-Kudsi, former president of the republic at the heart of Syria’s short-lived democratic era, and Saadallah al-Jabiri, an extraordinary national political veteran whose name is immortalized by the central town square in the heart of Aleppo.
Aleppo has not only provided such famous names in the fields of religion and politics, it has also produced the most important Syrian symbols in trade, industry and the economy, with notable family names such as Maysir, al-Adas, al-Jabiri, Musalati, Hamami, al-Zaim, Kayyali and so on. The city has also provided some of the greatest names in Syrian art, in all its forms. Who could forget Louay Kayyali, the most significant modern artist in Syria’s history, or the famous Syrian singers Sabah Fakhri and Mayada Hanawi, or Walid Ikhlassi, one of the most important Syrian novelists, all of whom were born in Aleppo.
This ancient Arab city also has a distinctive style of architecture and renowned cuisine. The city’s original name was Halab ash-Shahba [the milk of the ash-colored cow], because the Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him, was said to have offered travelers milk from his cows as they passed through. It contains one of the most important citadels in Islamic history, the Citadel of Aleppo, and today Aleppo has also become the citadel of the revolution, confronting al-Assad’s forces, planes, tanks and missiles, and not allowing them to enter the city at all, inflicting upon the regime an extremely significant psychological loss and blow to morale.
The regime is aware that Aleppo falling into the hands of the revolutionaries puts an end to any remaining debate about it being in control of Syria, and its claims that what is happening on the ground is a “war against armed gangs”. The rebels are well aware that Aleppo is the grand prize; the greatest barrier that will bring down all the arguments, lies, myths and fraud of the al-Assad regime. Therefore, it is not only the mother of all battles, but the battle itself. The fighting has not stopped in other Syrian cities, including the capital Damascus, as well as Daraa, Deir al-Zour, Homs and Hama, but the focus remains on the first and greatest city. This is especially after the rebels’ success in securing a border line connected to Turkey in order to deliver food, medicine and weapons, which will give the rebels the determination, encouragement and time necessary to go all the way, and victory seems very close.
For their part, the Turks are loading their borders with Syria with equipment and soldiers for a preemptive strike against any Kurdish movement. This would be facilitated by the Syrians and the Iranians in order to bolster Kurdish ambitions to establish their own state; an issue which is an impossible subject and a red line for the Turks. The latest scenes in Aleppo will be the last nail in the coffin for the regime, with the time now right to bury it once and for all.
Aleppo was known in the past for its cuisine and its festive nature, but now it is known for its resilience and dignity.