BEIRUT: Activists in Aleppo have responded to the popular #SaveKasab movement, which warns of rebel attacks against the predominately Armenian town, by launching their own social media campaign to remind the world of the suffering inflicted by the regime in Syria’s second city.
Since its launch this weekend, 17 million people have used the hashtag #SaveAleppo, the campaign’s organizers say, highlighting how Twitter and Facebook are increasingly important battlegrounds in Syria’s brutal civil war.
The campaign was sparked by a series of deadly barrel bombs dropped by government forces Friday in the city’s Shaar neighborhood. Barrel bombs – the regime’s weapon of choice in Aleppo – are oil drums packed with explosives and shrapnel that are rolled out of helicopters, often targeting civilian areas. Thousands of graphic videos have emerged showing their gruesome consequences when they land.
The Dalati Mosque and Dar al-Shifa Hospital were hit Friday. Both were struck at peak times, just before midday prayers and as relatives congregated to visit patients in hospital. Around 50 people were killed, although it was impossible to confirm the exact number because body parts were mangled and widely spread, according to Mohammad al-Khatieb, an activist with the Aleppo Media Center and one of those behind #SaveAleppo said.
“Everybody could see the helicopters that were carrying barrels. This is happening every day in Aleppo. ... The campaign aims to shed light on these daily massacres, which have been committed for five months while the world watches silently,” he said.
#SaveAleppo was also fueled by anger over a series of social media campaigns mobilized to draw attention to the possibility of attacks targeting Armenians in the Latakia province town of Kasab.
The Armenian-majority town on the border with Turkey was overrun by Islamist-led rebel battalions at the end of March. Many residents fled to the governorate’s capital, Latakia, while those who chose to stay were reportedly unharmed by the arriving rebels.
Kasab’s own mayor said that no Armenians were killed when the town fell, but a frenzied social media campaign whipped up concern among the Armenian diaspora of another genocide. Around 1.5 million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Empire in 1915.
The message that Armenians were under threat reached fever pitch when Armenian-American Kim Kardashian tweeted “Please let’s not let history repeat itself!!!!! Let’s get this trending!!!! #SaveKessab #ArmenianGenocide” to her 20 million followers.
Her words not only infuriated the activists in Aleppo, but showed the power a celebrity endorsement can have in bringing the plight in Syria into public view.
“Kim Kardashian got involved with #SaveKasab for the sake of the Armenians. It was fabricated by the regime and she believed it,” activist and Aleppo resident Abbas Qabbani said. “She forgot about the massacres that happen in Aleppo.”
If there is a genocide, Aleppine activists say, it is not happening in Kasab, but in Aleppo.
“Our campaign was in direct response to #SaveKasab. The genocide against civilians is taking place in Aleppo; that is what deserves the public’s attention,” another campaigner for #SaveAleppo told The Daily Star.
He estimated that 2,000 people had been killed by barrel bomb strikes in the city this year. A particularly brutal six-week period of barrel bomb strikes at the beginning of the year killed around 750 people, according to activists.
The activists say that while images purporting to show rebel atrocities in Kasab have been widely discredited, there are reels of footage to prove regime crimes in Aleppo.
“The accusations of rebels killing Armenians were completely false and were based on scenes from horror movies. ... In the meantime, there are thousands of photos and videos proving massacres in Aleppo,” Khatieb, from the Aleppo Media Center, said.
One of the most widely circulated images from the #SaveKasab campaign showed a woman with a cross down her throat, a photo which has been widely attributed as a still from a 2005 Canadian horror film.
The #SaveAleppo movement has attracted 30,000 followers on Facebook in two days. The campaign, which has also been promoted through the website of the leading political opposition-in-exile group, the National Coalition, calls on supporters to change their profile pictures to a blank screen with the words #SaveAleppo or to images of suffering in the city.
Messages of support from as far afield as Germany and South Korea fill the page, while the campaign’s Twitter shares videos of the ghastly injuries barrel bombs cause.
“So many people paid attention to the slaughtering in Kasab, even though it was a complete lie,” Qabbani said.
“We need people to remember that massacres are happening here [in Aleppo] every day. The world must not forget Aleppo.”