The scenes emerging from Aleppo are beyond words. In the face of such horrors words ring hollow and pretentious. Such tragedies do deserve a moment of reflection, particularly upon one’s own privilege, role and responsibility. As an Iranian I cannot comment upon what is taking place in Syria without first and foremost speaking on the actions of the regime in Tehran.
I am neither a citizen of Iran and have lived in exile as a refugee for the majority of my life, yet I believe it is my responsibility and indeed the responsibility of all Iranians to speak out against Iran’s genocidal policy in Syria, and expose the culpability of this regime for the destruction of the Syrian nation.
Much of the world’s attention has been focused on Russian intervention in Syria, and the Kremlin’s wanton bombardment, particularly over the last two years. No doubt Russia has had a hand in horrific war crimes and in tilting the balance in favour of the Assad regime. Yet the Iranian regime has not only played a decisive role in the survival of Al-Assad, but it has served as surrogate for policies of murder and a culture of extremism and horror which is now the reality of this war.
It was after all, Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Qods Force, who travelled to Moscow before Russia began its extensive bombing campaign in Syria. Now, as Aleppo burns, reports emerge that Iran has repeatedly undermined the ceasefire deal. It is no surprise then that many have suggested that Iranian commanders are effectively in charge of the Syrian regime’s troops on the ground.
Certainly, other interested parties remain on the ground and in the region, but more than any other state actor Iran has effectively occupied Syria, and should be held accountable for its actions. Unfortunately, the Iran deal, and misguided policies ensured that this never took place. A simple look at the last five years paints a persuasive picture as to Iran’s culpability with regard to the conflict in Syria.
In 2011, at the onset of the Syrian uprising, Iran reportedly provided the Assad regime with sophisticated surveillance equipment and weapons, going so far as to send its own personnel to suppress the popular uprising. Iran had just quelled its own nationwide protests in 2009 and was eager to share the blueprint on how to stamp out dissent. This of course did not stop the uprising in Syria from spreading and eventually becoming an armed conflict.
It was Iran which came to Al-Assad’s aid in the summer of 2012 when it appeared that the dictatorship was all but finished. Tehran reportedly spent some $14 billion in military and economic aid to Syria in 2012 alone. Iran was so desperate to save Al-Assad that it not only began to deploy members of the IRGC, but it was willing to sacrifice the legitimacy that Hezbollah had built over the previous decade and effectively used them as mercenary militias to prop up the decimated Syrian army.
2013 proved to be a crucial turning point in the conflict. Iran doubled down in their support for Assad, sending a “first contingent” of 4,000 troops to aid government forces. Iran would be forced to acknowledge the deaths of a number of generals and high ranking officials over the course of the year. Yet Iran’s intervention proved crucial in turning the tide of the conflict, as the Economist observed; “The new-found efficiency of Mr Assad’s men may owe a lot to his Iranian advisers.”
By 2014, Iran further escalated its support for the regime in the form of weapons and manpower. According to a senior IRGC official, “Revolutionary Guards directed the fighting on the instructions of the Quds Force commanders”, effectively blurring the line as to who was actually directing ground operations in Syria. By 2015 Iran had reportedly spent $35 billion in total aid to Assad. By the end of the year, Iran reportedly had at least 7,000 IRGC members on the ground, and had recruited 20,000 Afghans, Pakistanis and other mercenaries to join the fighting.
After all of these acts of aggression, there remain those who attempt to ignore, downplay or even justify the actions of the Iranian regime. As if they were anything more than predatory policies of a despotic regime. One need only look at their policies in Iraq, Yemen, and inside Iran to understand the true nature of this regime.
Perhaps words need to be said in the correct way. Despite the shameful stance of the regime in Tehran, there are those inside Iran who have the dignity and courage to speak the truth, even in the face of danger.
At Tehran’s Amir Kabir University, a defiant student gave a fiery speech focused on what he referred to as the historical responsibility of young Iranians. This included not only a sharp critique of the ruling establishment’s injustices, but a scathing indictment of Iran’s murderous policy in Syria. Speaking to a crowded room he stated:
“I believe history will condemn us because we have been silent about Syria and the terrible genocide that’s taking place.” Addressing Member of Parliament Ali Motaheri who was in attendance he asked, “As a representative of the people I ask you, are we on the right side in Syria? 500,000 people have been killed. It is easy to cite a number, but an entire generation are being wiped out…We are surely guilty when confronted by the tears of Syrian children.”
As the world watches with indifference as Aleppo burns and skirts the issue of responsibility, this young man had the audacity to stand up to the dictatorship in his own country and speak the truth that we are all seemingly so afraid to recognise.
Iranians everywhere should condemn this regime and call on the international community to hold Iran accountable for its crimes.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.