The first echoes of the Syrian Civil War in its present form sounded in March of 2011. In February of 2012 it reached a major tipping point, as major cities were locked down and besieged by regime forces.
Now let’s imagine what it’s like to be a resident of Homs. You wake up one day to plaster hitting your face, caught in the midst of a heavy artillery attack. The gun being used against you is most likely aSoviet M-46 firing a 130mm high explosive round. That’s about this big, and there are hundreds of them landing around you every hour at random. This is what that looks like. I’ve seen one hit a ten storey building. They turn half the structure to dust in an instant.
Maybe one of these lands on you, maybe one lands on your neighbour and thousands of shards of metal eviscerate you, maybe you just sit there all day watching the fireworks while you try to keep calm. But let’s say for argument’s sake you survive.
That was day one. You endure a year and two months of that, along with rocket attacks that eat city blocks and air strikes you can’t hear until they’ve struck. Every day your friends and family are bombed from the air, and if they pop their heads out to see the bombs they become bait for the snipers and tanks.
Oh, and there are snipers and tanks. The snipers are on every roof, and their bullets take with them about a pinky’s worth of solid concrete every time they hit the wall next to your head. If you want food, you have to walk down streets lined with corpses that all fell in a common pattern, hoping that the sniper is taking lunch because if not you’re going to join them. The tanks are mobile microwave ovens and the crew are paranoid that theirs will be the next to turn on. If they see movement, even movement that only exists in their own mind, they fire at it. Their 125mm high explosive shells are this big, and one of them will disintegrate much of your home if their barrel swings that way.
Now survive a year and two months of this. Of complete civil failure, with no police and no water and power being cut out every time a rocket or a bomb or a shell or a bullet hits the wrong something. Of unimaginable suffering, with the only men willing to treat your child for their shrapnel wounds under constant threat of targeted rocket attack by regime forces in their makeshift hospitals, with everyone you’ve ever known or interacted with being dead, dying, displaced, or crouched in the remains of their home like animals waiting to be one of the above depending on where the next mortar shell lands. Of knowing that the international community has written you off, that those fighting for you are corrupted by jihadists and left fashioning tanks out of scrap metal and playstation controllers, that if you pick up a gun you’ll be targeted by both armies and that if you don’t you’ll still be targeted by both armies as both see you as a collaborator of their enemy.
And with this in mind, you’re the lucky one. If you had stayed in your home village, yesterday the drug-crazed paramilitary forces of Assad’s psychopathic brother, the Shabiha, walked down the street lighting houses on fire and using machetes against anyone who was stupid enough to try to escape. They’re fueled by religion, politics, race, and their own insanity and when they enter a village no one else leaves it.
You’ve lived this long, seen so much unimaginable horror without a moment’s relief, and now you’re standing over the man who represents the force which took everything you’ve ever loved and gutted it with a smile. You have a knife. That’s how.