Assad created the playbook that Putin follows

The title changes every year, but the annual program organized by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Syrian Emergency Ta...

The title changes every year, but the annual program organized by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Syrian Emergency Task Force to commemorate the day Syrian President Bashar al-Assad turned his anger on Syrians as they peacefully gathered for Freedom reminds us that justice for Syrians remains elusive.

This year’s event, held on March 15 and titled “Freedom for the Forgotten,” painfully underscored how the world continues to ignore the extraordinary suffering that Syrians have endured for more than 11 years.

In her introduction, Naomi Kikoler of the Holocaust Memorial Museum expressed her sense of “deep honor and deep shame”, echoing the feelings of failure of those who have tried to bring the world’s attention to the criminal actions of a cunning dictator, given free rein to brutalize millions of Syrian men, women and children.

Since 2011, more than 13 million people, more than half of Syria’s population, have been displaced. More than 350,000 people are confirmed dead. Hundreds of thousands of family members search in vain for more than 150,000 relatives disappeared by the regime, subjected to unimaginable cruelties in Assad’s prisons, according to the Syrian Emergency Task Force.

Syrian refugee Omar Alshogre, detained and tortured as a teenager, lives “with memories of fear, memories of pain, memories of loss, seeing my friends die in front of me, being tortured in front of my teacher, my classmates. … My school was bombed. I no longer have a hometown. It’s burned.

Hundreds of hospitals have been bombed. Schools have been bombed. Neighborhoods have been knocked down. And after each bombardment, when rescuers arrive, and people venture out to survey the damage and search for loved ones, the bombers return. Starvation kills in areas besieged by the regime. Aid workers are being prevented from delivering life-saving food and medicine to the nearly 15 million people in need of assistance. Some are ambushed, imprisoned, tortured and murdered.

This endless war has created the largest refugee population in the world, according to UNICEF. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have been stretched beyond their capacity to absorb the majority of the more than 5 million Syrian refugees, while Syrians seeking refuge in Western countries have often been viewed with fear and suspicion. While Poland and other European countries welcome Ukrainian refugees with open arms, Syrians, as well as refugees from other non-Western countries are treated with disdain.

Much of what is happening in Ukraine is like deja vu to those who have followed the devastation in Syria. Assad, joined by Russian President Vladimir Putin, along with Iran and Hezbollah, have created the playbook to crush democracy in Syria and now Ukraine. Bombing civilian targets, assassinating civilians trying to escape, besieging towns and villages, driving millions of people to seek refuge beyond their country’s borders, even the destruction of world heritage sites are just too much familiar to Syrians.

Turning a blind eye to the Assad regime’s atrocities in Syria has made the US and NATO complicit in the carnage. Former President Barack Obama’s line in the sand, assuring that US consideration of a military response would “change significantly if the United States saw” a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving or be used,” faded in response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons to murder hundreds of Syrians in 2013.

Instead of invoking a military response, Obama accepted a Russian proposal to put Syria’s weapons under international control, with Assad’s promise to eliminate its chemical weapons. At that time, Russia had not yet joined Assad’s forces in Syria. Rejecting calls for a “no-fly” zone to stop the bombings, the United States and the international community, trusting the words of a mass murderer, did nothing. It was no surprise that in 2015 the regime used chlorine gas attacks to murder 200 Syrians.

The consequences of letting Assad, aided by Putin, go unpunished has strengthened and emboldened Putin in his bid to control Ukraine, and left Ukrainians vulnerable to deadly chemical weapons attacks.

The determination of Ukrainians to resist Putin’s invasion of their country reflects the indomitable courage Syrians have shown in the face of Assad’s brutality. After 11 years, Assad has yet to declare a complete victory in Syria as rebels still control Idlib province. Syrians continue to fight for freedom, even as free countries around the world ignore their pleas for help.

Syrians, like Caesar (name disguised), risking his life to smuggle tens of thousands of photographs of detainees tortured to death from Syria; the actions of a man called The Gravedigger, forced by the regime to wait for the daily arrivals of refrigerated trucks filled with murdered Syrians to be thrown into mass graves, who fled his country; those who smuggled millions of pages of evidence documenting the regime’s war crimes; survivors of physical and psychological torture, such as Omar Alshogre; all determined to testify, in order to hold the world to account, “…a regime that kills its people for asking for freedom and democracy”.

They implore us to act, to demand that our legislators never legitimize the Assad regime and to ensure that those who have committed war crimes in Syria are brought to justice. Will you care enough to act?

Sara Weinberger of Easthampton is Emeritus Professor of Social Work and writes a monthly column. She can be contacted at

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Newsrust - US Top News: Assad created the playbook that Putin follows
Assad created the playbook that Putin follows
Newsrust - US Top News
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