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Syria: A Tale of Numbers, Not People

A candlelight vigil to mark the third anniversary of the Syrian Civil War. Campidoglio, Rome
source: Tiziana Fabi/Getty Images

Anushka Gehani Now ,,,,,,,,,,,,

History is riddled with events of revolution. Since the Arab Spring, the past few years have been filled with people rebelling against governments that assumed power and then refused to relinquish it.

Syria is one of those countries. In early 2011, around the time the Arab Spring was gaining ground in most Middle Eastern regions, Syrian citizens protested against Bashar-Al-Assad’s government, (and quite understandably). Assad has been in control of Syria since 2000, succeeding his father who ruled Syria for thirty years until his death. There was a revolt against the government because Assad’s government committed numerous human rights violations.

The protests morphed into an armed revolution quickly. Since the start of the conflict in 2011, Assad’s forces and the Syrian opposition have been fighting for control of the country. 9 million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries that have offered them refugee status, leading to several problems for these small countries too. The conflicts have led to an enormous loss of life. By July 2014, the estimated death toll was above 160,000, and Assad’s government still controlled around 40% of the country’s territory, which includes 60% of the Syrian population.

However, this article isn’t going to look at numbers.

When we wake up in the morning and read the news, we see things like “Syrian death toll continues to rise.” We’re presented with figures that are supposed to help us understand the effect of the conflict. Do they, really? It’s too often that these numbers help desensitize us from the real damage –  the damage that has occurred to people and lives, and make us view the world in numbers. Where we see “160,000”, the people – the ones in the heart of the fight – see a mother, a father, a brother, a sister.

It isn’t possible to quantify the amount of pain these people have gone through. Even the statistics we have aren’t as accurate as we think they are. In an article on human rights violations in Foreign Policy, Tina Rosenburg tells us,

“No matter how many cases we learn of, they might not be representative of the whole. A truth commission might be scorned by a particular linguistic or ethnic group, which means its members don’t come out to speak. Fewer media reports of killings might actually mean fewer killings — or it could mean that journalists were intimidated into silence. Human rights groups might record a decline in violence because budget cuts forced them to fire half their outreach team. Rape might never be disclosed. Video collected by cell phones tells us only what was witnessed `by people with cell phones.”

It is important to remember that as far as war zones are concerned, where we might not be able to get down on the ground and look at the extent of damage ourselves, what we see is not what we get.

What we do have, however, are pictures. With that, here’s a slideshow of pictures that will hopefully give you a glimpse into what’s happening in Syria. Not just in terms of numbers, but in terms of people:

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