They tortured children for painting slogans on a wall. Remember, this is how it began. Children painting slogans. They threw them in prison and the counting began.
We were protesting in Marjeh square. There were placards. Songs in our hearts that would soon be replaced by bullets in our chests. But history was with us, the world was with us. They had gone too far; now everything was going to change. We were excited then.
Before it was our homes. Now whole cities were on fire. Aleppo started to burn.
World leaders said stop. But Aleppo is still burning.
Everyone saw it. Yet people took to the streets to insist their leaders do nothing. ‘Stop the war’ they said, whatever that meant – should we go back to how things were? They have been killing us for years and calling it peace. Oh brave men with your brave flags and your brave words – where were you when we were dying?
They dropped chemical weapons on schools. Then they told the world they’d stop. So where are the ones they killed since? Where are the women and the children they killed with the bombs they didn’t have?
Perhaps because we had no oil, the west did not intervene. But others did. Islamic State were one. We didn’t know them. They came from outside. They had never lived with us but they fought us and killed us, for what? For the pleasure of fighting Assad? Brothers, go back to your families. We have nothing left to steal.
My neighbours shouted his name as they dug him from the ruins of his school. I felt sure that it couldn’t have been him. I remembered shouting his name six years ago. My boy, when he was born. My boy, when he was pulled from the rubble. I crumbled to the ground and shook, weeping. I wasn’t a man, I was only a father. I couldn’t speak to my brother, I couldn’t speak to my wife.
Four years had passed in which this could have been averted. As our so-called leaders sat in palaces they didn’t deserve, my boy was dead. He was six years old – how was he to blame for the war?
The world carved us up on maps. They talked about transition and wrote communiques about a diplomatic solution. Our government scored out their promises before they even said them. The world said “No more” and spoke about ceasefires. Ceasefires that didn’t apply to us. They were targeting terrorists, they said. Who knew there were terrorists sleeping in our babies’ cots or inside the walls of our schools? Who knew there were terrorists in every single hospital? They called it a cease-fire. Who knew that peace could be a weapon? Another cease fire, another way to kill us.
They passed motions, organised summits.
They said the only way forward was with Assad. I said you have never been to Syria, have you?
I had felt the building shake before but this time was different. From my window I saw the white helmets charging down my street like soldiers but with blankets instead of weapons and bandages instead of flags. When the world ran away from Aleppo’s fires they ran into them to save people from bombs that didn’t exist. They showed us how to be heroes. I took my helmet from under the floorboards and ran down the stairs screaming ‘Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar’. It was a prayer for something better and gentler and kinder.
Aleppo is still burning, what’s left of it is still burning.
When people are just numbers, someone has to count.