Assad’s Pyrrhic Victory: What the Fall of Aleppo Means for Syria

Aleppo, Syria | Image Source
Aleppo, Syria | Image Source

The Fall of Aleppo

The recapture Syria’s second city by Syrian forces now seems all but inevitable. The Syrian army, along with Russian airpower and regional allies have managed to take control of large swathes of the city’s Rebel-held eastern-half. Russian involvement in the operation, which has proven to be decisive, is fueled by Russia’s ambition to keep Bashar al-Assad in power. Russia’s clear strategy stands in stark contrast to the rest of the international community, who have been scrambling for years trying to cope with the Syrian conflict and its various ramifications. Logan Masilamani, a Political Science lecturer at Simon Fraser University, told Surrey604 that Canada needs to clarify its Syria policy. “Truthfully, Canada has no Syrian strategy. Canada’s policy is strongly attached to the US” said Masilamani. He went on to say that “with the change of US leadership immanent, Canada needs to find its own voice and try to build a coalition of countries that would support an end to the war in Syria immediately. It should also take in more refugees immediately and create a channel to undertake such policies”.

Aleppo’s Historic Significance

Analysts have long reasoned that the fall of Aleppo (to either side in the Syrian war) will be a decisive moment that will shift the tide of conflict. The reasons for this conclusion were clear and simple. With a pre-war population of over 2 million people, Aleppo was once the culturally rich commercial hub of Syria. Aleppo featured a splendorous collection of historic architecture neatly woven into the modern urban development of a booming metropolis; appropriate for one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. When asked about Aleppo’s strategic significance, Andrew Tabler, a Middle East analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told NPR last year that “Aleppo is not only the second largest city in Syria but is the main urban center in the northern part of Syria… The economy of Aleppo was one of the largest in the country. And it was also home to a number of tourist sites that people from all over the world would visit…it’s also the place where the United States had its longest representation in terms of diplomacy”. The fact is, however, that every one of the variables that once made Aleppo so strategically important no longer exist.

Aleppo Today

The city of Aleppo stands as a shadow of its former self. The BBC reports that, as of July of this year, the city is home to approximately 300,000 inhabitants (losing 85 percent of its pre-war population). The displaced former residents of Aleppo hardly have any reason to return to their previous homes, as the war has left much of its buildings and infrastructure in absolute ruin. Pictures escaping from Aleppo’s eastern-half show that both modern and historic buildings have been reduced to rubble. The bustling factories and shops that once filled the cities economic districts have been laid to waste. All of this, of course, is the result of half a decade of indiscriminate shelling by the Syrian army (and, more recently, massive aerial bombardment by Russian forces). It stands to reason, then, that Aleppo has lost much of its strategic significance. This makes Assad’s recent victory all the more important.

A Pyrrhic Victory

A pyrrhic victory refers to a battle or war that has been won at so great a cost that it leaves the victor depleted (ultimately precipitating the fall of the victorious party). In capturing Aleppo, Assad’s regime has effectively cut off its nose to spite its face. It has dealt a major blow to the Syrian opposition, but has destroyed its major commercial and cultural centre in the process. It will be difficult (but unfortunately not impossible) for Assad to shake off the countless human rights abuses that have taken place during the recapture of Aleppo, which include the indiscriminate shelling of civilians, the wanton destruction of infrastructure, the rape of girls and women, and the summary executions of men, women and children. The recapture of Aleppo has (hopefully) cost Assad any hope at being readmitted into the international community.

Aleppo’s Legacy

Like Stalingrad, Sarejevo, and Jenin before it, Aleppo will stand in history as a place where people spoke truth to power, and paid a high price (while the world stood and watched). The scale of suffering – rarely seen on such an industrial scale – has been made all the more real as the flood of images and videos continue to pour through our social media feeds. However, it is entirely possible – perhaps even likely – that this defeat will be too heavy a prize for Assad and his allies to enjoy.

Bassam Abun Nadi
Bassam is an educator with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, and is currently working on his Masters of Education. He has worked for several years in education, consulting on projects ranging from adult workforce development to the integration of culturally specific curriculum into primary education. Bassam is passionate about Politics – municipal, regional and transnational – learning, and the relationship between the two. On his spare time he enjoys reading fantasy novels and spending time with his wife and son.