The forgotten revolutionaries of Aleppo | openDemocracy

Rubbish is collected in the Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, November 10, 2012. The Arabic writing on the kiosk reads: ‘The money of the revolution is for the people’. Photo by Monica G. Prieto AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.

In journalism and on social media, I often come across a narrative – from the Syrian regime’s most ardent supporters, to those who recognize its oppressive nature – claiming that the Assad regime is waging war against despicable groups, extremist, al-Qaeda-type organizations.

The ignorant simplicity of this argument became clear after the fall of rebel-held eastern Aleppo.

The city has often been portrayed as the epicenter of a jihadist insurgency unleashed by the national army. Many ostensibly left-wing individuals around the world even went so far as to celebrate this as “liberation”.

This account is all the more frustrating because it completely ignores the history of revolutionary Aleppo. On most blogs and Twitter timelines, the revolutionary icons of government-held western Aleppo are never mentioned.

There were many anti-government activists, detained and later kidnapped by extremist groups, who are excluded from the conversation.

When so-called experts write about eastern Aleppo, they may feel compelled to start the conversation as if the war started in 2016, when the so-called “good” “secular” government liberated Aleppo from the extremists.

On most blogs and Twitter timelines, the revolutionary icons of government-held western Aleppo are never mentioned.

The history of eastern Aleppo and the revolutionary icons who fought there between 2012 and 2014 is almost completely ignored.

Indeed, there are countless icons of the Syrian revolution that have been ignored and erased from history in Western media.

Unlike the deeds of Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat Nusra extremists, the actual words and deeds of Syria’s forgotten revolutionaries have rarely been translated and broadcast by Western media. Abo Mariam and Abdul Wahab Mulla are two Syrians that even educated readers have probably never heard of.

Abo Mariam was the leading voice in eastern Aleppo, alongside his younger brother, Aboud. He was known for his critical slogans against extremists and the Assad regime. Hundreds of people gathered around him in protests, echoing his chants against the government and extremism, and his calls for justice for all.

Foreign journalists who traveled to Aleppo in the summer of 2012 will agree that these protests were the lifeblood of Bustan Al-Kasr and eastern Aleppo.

Later in 2013, during one of the protests, Abo Mariam was filmed removing a banner that read “The people want an Islamic state” amid chants of support from his fellow protesters. Abo Mariam disappeared soon after, sparking days of protests outside the headquarters of Jabhat Al-Nusra, demanding his release. There has been no news of his whereabouts to date.

Second, Abdul Wahab Al Mulla had a show on YouTube, which luckily is still accessible online. Abdul Wahab’s show titled “Three Stars Revolution” was a channel through which he criticized the violations of various rebel groups and reminded people of the original aims of the Syrian uprising. His show attracted thousands of viewers and he was considered a true icon.

It is also quite unfair to mention Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups without mentioning those who opposed them.

In November 2013, armed men in masks broke into Abdul Wahab Al Mulla’s house and took him away.

For Syrians, they are the revolutionary icons of eastern Aleppo. They will always be remembered as heroes who represented what the Syrian uprising represented. By contrast, they will be completely ignored by almost anyone who watches Aleppo through the prism of mainstream coverage.

It is true that JFS played a vital role in breaking the last siege of eastern Aleppo, but can you really blame the civilians who celebrated the breaking of the siege? Can we blame the father who welcomes the devil just so he doesn’t see his children starve, when it is the government that imposes the siege on its own people?

It is also quite unfair to mention Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups without mentioning those who opposed them.

Sadly, the Western press will ignore the sacrifice made by activists like Abdul Wahab and Abo Mariam, while continuing to give voice to Jabhat Al Nusra, now known as Jabhat Fateh Al Sham (JFS), who not only harassed many secular activists and pushed them but hijacked the uprising by taking advantage of starvation and suffering imposed by the Assad government.

And the rebels?

When referring to Aleppo, the Free Syrian Army is often put in the same category as al-Qaeda without mentioning that it was the first force to fight al-Qaeda and ISIS in 2013 in east of Aleppo. Most of today’s so-called experts are blind to this fundamental historical point.

At the end of 2013, more than 30 militants and rebels were killed in IS prisons in Aleppo. A whole group of doctors, documented by name, were executed by Islamic State fighters before Syrian rebels seized their military bases. Human rights organizations covered this, but only a fraction of the mainstream media paid notice.

The rebels then continued towards Idlib, forcing IS to retreat to Raqqa, Bab and Manbij. IS also lost territory in Aleppo and the outskirts of Latakia; making Raqqa the “capital” of their caliphate. It is very important to remember that the first battle against ISIS took place in eastern Aleppo, and the first victory against ISIS by the rebels took place there.

However, for some reason the mainstream media gives disproportionate coverage to the PKK-affiliated YPG and Kobane when describing the early battles against ISIS.

For us, freedom and dignity mean opposing all tyrannies.

The Free Syrian Army and the militants who have been detained and killed are, once again, out of the equation.

There is a great distance between those of us who witnessed the revolution and those who refuse to acknowledge that our revolution was a real uprising, where many people sacrificed their lives fighting the extremists and the government.

For us, freedom and dignity means opposing all tyrannies, opposing all forces that threatened Abo Mariam and his songs of peace. Again, these voices are simply dismissed, and our icons are not mentioned by any of the so-called experts who care to tell their readers about an amorphous plot against Assad.

If only those who spend hours trolling Bana Al-Abed on Twitter would talk to activists and civilians in eastern Aleppo and give them a platform to talk about what went wrong, we would know that these people who lived during the Aleppo revolution are truly heroes – standing up against the extremists and the Assad government.

These activists have consistently condemned every rebel attack on government-controlled areas resulting in the death of innocent civilians and demanded accountability for all war crimes.

Not only are the Assad regime, JFS and their extremist allies censoring these voices, but they are being omitted by those who, to this day, still do not believe that Syria had a real organic uprising.

The narrative claiming these icons are CIA agents, extremists, or just nonexistent is pretty handy for people who aren’t interested in learning the history of our uprising or confronting the amount of innocent blood shed for the to crush.

And for foreign journalists who have spent time with these activists, fixers and citizen journalists: writing about these people west of Aleppo is the least they can do.

This article was first published by The New Arab on January 12, 2017.

Thelma J. Longworth