Socialist Worker

How revolution turned to horror in eastern Ghouta

by Jad Bouharoun
Issue No. 2597

Civilians in the the village of Arbine, Eastern Ghoutta, in February

Civilians in the the village of Arbine, Eastern Ghoutta, in February (Pic: Qasioun News Agency)


Over a thousand civilians have been killed and thousands more injured since the Syrian regime began its latest assault on the Eastern Ghouta last month.

Media activists report that white phosphorus, barrel bombs and possibly chemical weapons have been used by the Syrian air force and its Russian allies.

The Eastern Ghouta region sits on the outskirts of Syrian capital Damascus and is home to some 400,000 people.

It has been controlled by a number of armed rebel groups since 2012.

With the help of its Iranian and Lebanese Hizbollah allies the Syrian regime imposed a loose blockade on the Ghouta. This was turned into a proper siege in 2017.

The movement of people, food and medical supplies was stopped as the regime prepared for the offensive currently underway.

Armed groups have refused to surrender for now. But the situation may come to an end in the coming days. Rebels will have to surrender or face an even harder siege and more savage bombardment.

The Ghouta played a prominent role in the revolutionary uprising of 2011.

Dictator Bashar al-Assad’s neoliberal reforms—privatisation of agricultural land and water sources, as well as a series of catastrophic droughts—shaped the Ghouta.

Abandon

Hundreds of thousands of peasants had to abandon northern and eastern Syria. Many of them settled in hastily-built shanty towns in the Ghouta.

This mixture was made even more explosive by what had happened in Damascus.

Thousands of families of workers and civil servants had to leave the city centre because of rising rents.

They settled in the Eastern and Western Ghouta a few miles away. They joined the rural migrants as well as the original inhabitants who were also hit hard by neoliberal reforms.

When the demonstrations began, the Ghouta put itself on the front line.

But the regime’s repression forced the movement out of the streets.

By 2013 the militarisation of the conflict meant people could no longer control the military groups that fought in their names.

These became objectively driven by the war itself rather than the goals of the popular uprising. They have often echoed the brutality of the regime.

The groups accepted military and financial assistance from countries such as Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia in order to survive. These countries’ rulers sought to profit from the crisis and advance their interests.

They promoted the most reactionary and jihadist groups.

Many secular revolutionaries had no choice but to join the better armed Islamist and jihadist groups if they wanted to fight the regime.

Control

Four armed groups currently control the Eastern Ghouta. They range from moderate Islamists to hard line jihadi organisations.

At their heads are warlords who are as concerned about advancing their own interests—and those of their foreign patrons—as they are about fighting the regime.

A local activist told Socialist Worker that the armed groups are almost entirely composed of locals.

It is likely that many have enrolled in groups without necessarily agreeing with their reactionary ideologies.

Naturally Assad does not differentiate between “moderate” and “radical” rebels, as he does not differentiate between civilians and fighters.


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