We need a no-fly zone

A young Syrian calls upon the world to end the insanity of war in his home country. The Islamic State plays barely any role.

von Muhanad Qaiconie

Muhanad Qaiconie was one of the first who took part at the manifestations against the Assad regime. He fled from Syria to Germany through the Balkans route in November 2015. Berlin 2016. Photo: Private

Aleppo is my hometown. Until two years ago, Bustan al-Zahra was my neighbourhood, caught between the rebels’ side and the areas under regime control. Before the ceasefire, extended until Wednesday, 11 May, up to thirty aerial attacks were flown on the city daily for ten days in a row. My mother and sister were forced to wait in their home to see if they’d be hit. The buildings all around them collapsed – the frontline is only three or four metres away from their house.

My family can’t afford to rent an apartment in the regime-controlled part of town. They only go there to buy food, because that’s where there are still shops open. The electricity supply in their neighbourhood broke down three years ago. A single generator runs in their street, with cables leading into each building. Everything has become incredibly expensive, including electricity, but it works so we manage to skype almost every day. Without the money I send from Berlin, my sister and my mother wouldn’t survive.

Fast approaching retirement age, my mother has worked hard all her life. Up to the recent carpet-bombing, she ran a state greengrocer’s. Now getting to the shop has become too dangerous. But if she doesn’t turn up for work the regime puts her down as a rebel and she loses her pension. She doesn’t want to leave Syria but how is she to survive in Aleppo? “If you saw the children here it’d drive you crazy!” she said last time we talked. My parents separated years ago. My father lives on the side of town controlled by the Kurdish military. A week ago he sent me a text message: “The noise of the shooting and the bombs drowns everything out. There’s no other sound any more. You don’t even hear the children screaming now.”

When we talked on Sunday he said, “Everything’s quiet now. Why didn’t they call off Assad earlier? And why should the ceasefire only last 72 hours, so that the killing can go on afterwards?”

Deliberate continuation

Once again, I ask myself: why don’t they set up a no-fly zone? If the USA and the Russians want there to be no bombing in Syria, there will be no bombing. The regime, the Free Syrian Army, the Kurds, al-Nusra and IS all observe their command. The ceasefires in Aleppo and other parts of Syria over the past weeks have shown that. But then the US Secretary of State John Kerry told the New York Times on 22 April that it had proven harder to separate terrorists from rebels than previously thought – and the slaughter in Aleppo began anew.

Five years after the revolution, Kerry knows that equating Assad’s opponents with Islamists and mercenaries will cost thousands of lives. But he repeats the line over and over, giving the green light for the regime to continue its campaign of destruction on the Syrian people. Why?

The superpowers could end the bombing but they apparently have no wish to do so. The fighting on the ground would continue if they were to set up a no-fly zone, granting protection to women, children and the elderly. The money laundering happening on a large scale in Syria would also remain untouched. But a few thousand children would not be maimed or killed. Why does their survival bother the Russians and Americans so much? Why are they failing to find a balance between human rights and their national interests?

The German media tend to refer to the fighting as civil war – a dishonest depiction. The term suggests that two approximately equal forces are locked in battle, and thus equally responsible for the mass murder in Syria.

Yet only one side of the Syrian equation has planes. Why is that overlooked so often? Yes, the anti-Assad forces recently fired on a medical facility. But they don’t have high-tech weapons. They shoot first and then look and see what they’ve hit. They are dependent on those who provide them with arms and money, on their individual and business interests. Which is why they don’t have a coherent strategy.

The aim is destruction

The regime, in contrast, has precision weapons. When they bomb the only children’s hospital in a region it wasn’t a mistake, it was mission accomplished.

The aim is destruction. Since the Russians openly joined in the fighting in Syria, regime loyalists have been saying so openly. The MP Ahmad Shleish posted on Facebook on 29 April: “Aleppo is famous for its barbecued meat. Now you can barbecue human flesh.” And the journalist Kenana Alush, employed by the government’s television station, posed proudly in front of corpses and put the photo on Facebook.

The ruling clan is widely despised and has everything to lose. But what interest do the superpowers have in genocide in Syria? Are the Arab Sunnis to be made a minority so that more Shi’as can settle in Syria? Is it really all about changing the country’s demography? To date, that has been nothing but a conspiracy theory.

Even today there are hardly any men to be seen on Aleppo’s streets. My mother told me the oldest boys are only fourteen. All the others between fifteen and fifty are either dead, on the front or have fled abroad – like me.

One thing’s for sure – the Russians and Americans are playing for time; they want the war to go on. Do they want to grind the survivors down so much that they’ll agree to any deal hatched in Geneva or elsewhere? At the moment, they’re not prepared to do so. During the ceasefire these past weeks, people immediately began demonstrating against the regime again. Does that explain the newly inflamed will for destruction?


When Syria’s revolution began, the regime had black slogans sprayed on all the walls: “Assad forever, or we will burn you down.”

I can understand why the Russians are subduing every democratic movement; it is an important signal on the domestic front. And in terms of foreign policy, their violence is a means to be taken seriously again as a superpower. But the Americans? Why are they also working so hard to destroy the possibility for a Middle Eastern country to become a democracy?

Nothing major happens in Syria without the Russians and Americans discussing it bilaterally. Yet most Western media blame the escalation solely on the rebels. IS must be combated. That is ridiculous. There is no IS in Aleppo and other fundamentalists play barely any role.

Incidentally: the Russians have announced that their next targets will be the IS strongholds, the cities of Raqqa and Deir-al-Sor. The Islamists have been politely forewarned days in advance and can now prepare for the attacks. My mother and my sister went through the bombing with no prior warning. They didn’t even have time to run to a cellar.

Muhanad Qaiconie studied English literature and was involved in the protests against the Assad regime from the beginning. In 2013 he fled to Lebanon, going on to work as a hairdresser in Turkey for two years. He came to Germany via the Balkan route and has been living in Berlin since November.

In Collaboration with: Ines Kappert

This text was first published in the taz, 10.5.2016
(Second publishing with the kind approval of Ines Kappert)