Syria’s war is not over. Tens of thousands of people are continuing to take to the streets of northwest Syria, just as they did at the start of the 2011 revolution. After seven years of bombardment, siege, detention and torture, people from all over the country are refusing to abandon their demands for a better, more equal Syria.
Every Friday, for the past few months, people in northwest Syria have gathered in large numbers to demand peace in the region and the fall of the Assad regime. Though this part of Syria is relatively conservative, women have held their own protests beside the men’s in defiance of social conventions.
The slogans being chanted and the banners being raised have differed across the weeks. At past protests, demonstrators have focused on the ongoing crimes of forced detention and disappearances carried out both by the Assad regime and armed groups. The regime has been responsible for the detention and disappearance of around 100,000 people and many in the northwest have lost loved ones to Assad’s secret prisons.
On 19 October, protesters rallied against Russia’s demands that the Syria Civil Defence, better known as the White Helmets, leave Syria. Demonstrators said the White Helmets had saved their lives, while Russia had repeatedly targeted them.
People in Idlib and the surrounding area are desperate for peace in a region that is in parts ineptly governed by a small number of extremist groups who vie for control and abuse civilians. Civilians are afraid too that Assad will make good on his promise to retake the northwest, an act that will likely cause huge casualties and involve the use of internationally-banned weapons – common to all of the regime’s previous offensives.
Though such an offensive is on hold for now, largely due to Russia’s current unwillingness to lend Assad military support, the regime has launched several small-scale attacks on Idlib province and its surrounding areas in violation of Russia and Turkey’s agreed demilitarised zone. Terrified of the bombs and dreading a full-blown offensive, civilians calls for peace are growing ever louder. They will need support from the international governments like the US to turn their demands in to action.