Last Updated: Mon Apr 09, 2012 15:17 pm (KSA) 12:17 pm (GMT)

In Syria’s shadow, snapshots of a 1098 siege

The siege of Antioch, an ancient Syrian city, in 1097-1098 has drawn parallels with present day battle scenes in the country. (File photo)
The siege of Antioch, an ancient Syrian city, in 1097-1098 has drawn parallels with present day battle scenes in the country. (File photo)

To say a picture paints a thousand words bears plenty of truth here.

If you were to know that the painting featured in this article depicts a siege in an ancient Syrian city, then reverberating implications would not be lost if one were to make the connection with the ongoing blood battles in present-day Syria.

Despite the historical milieus involving the control and conquest of land by 1098 armies of the First Crusade, the image is a reminder of the siege’s relentless battle scenes, prominent executions and a high body count.

Time-warping ourselves back to the present day and to the country’s uprising in a violent saga that sees no tangible end, reports of unrelenting killings have opened the doors for the delving into the extent of the bloodshed.

New revelations over the Syrian security forces’ violent ways have disclosed a staggering number of cold blood executions that have moved in line with a mounting death toll.

Over 100 civilians and wounded or captured opposition fighters have been executed since late 2011, drawing concerns over the regime’s “desperate attempt to crush” the Syrian uprising, a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated on Monday.

“They are doing it in broad daylight and in front of witnesses, evidently not concerned about any accountability for their crimes,” said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at HRW.

Solvang also said that the forces are executing “civilians and opposition fighters alike.”

“Government and pro-government forces not only executed opposition fighters they had captured, or who had otherwise stopped fighting and posed no threat, but also civilians who likewise posed no threat to the security forces,” the HRW statement said.

In the past six months Syrian forces have intensified their military campaign on cities and towns that they believe to be opposition strongholds. Thousands have died as a result of artillery attacks, sniper fire, or lack of medical assistance since the anti-government uprising began in March 2011.

Indeed, drawing parallels between many of ancient history’s war episodes with the present day is a simple task; a reminder of a violent, conflict-ridden world that enjoys spinning on a perpetual cycle.

And back to the yesteryear.

In 1098, the Syrian city of Antioch (now in modern Turkey and known as Antakya) was encircled by the crusaders, who without the control of Antioch, could not have moved on to Jerusalem.

The religious sidelines were clear, and religion too cannot be flushed out of Syria’s present day picture.

Syria is now confronted with an assortment of peoples, religions, sects, intrusive borders and clans that support differing sides based on affiliations and sectarian fears. The opposition has been determined to stress it is nonsectarian, working to overthrow an authoritarian regime that has ruled the country for four decades.

Despite this, the uprising has proved most powerful and militant in areas where Syria's Sunni majority dominates, such as Homs, Hama and Idlib. All the while, Syria's Alawites - members of the same Shiite sect as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his ruling faction - continue to side with the regime, notes United Arab Emirates-based journalist Phil Sands. And also mixing in on the geopolitical scene is Assad’s self-professed fear that tribal leaders from bordering countries are endorsing terrorism in Syria and provoking the violence.

But while religion and geopolitics remain to be a lingering motif throughout the Syrian uprising and historic battles alike, what best characterizes a strong, enduring conflict in more generic terms is the struggle for power.

Those who have made correlations between Assad’s crackdown on rebel protests in the past year and the conflicts under the former president Hafez al-Assad during the 1970s and 1980s, have made the same statement. Similarly comparisons with the barbarity of the 1992 Bosnian war and Syria now, also attempt to push towards the same point.

Looking back at history is reminder that modernity’s constant push away from all that is ancient has not ridden the world of disaster scenes that strike similar chords, and similar images.

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