Picking our way around the ruins of the Damascus suburb of Douma, it took a little while to realize what was missing.
There were women carrying groceries, old men droning by on motorbikes and skinny children heaving jugs of water home.
But there were few young men.
They had died in the war, been thrown in prison or scattered far beyond Syria’s borders. Now, it had fallen to survivors like Um Khalil, a 59-year-old, round-faced grandmother, to reckon with their absence.
Three of her sons had been killed. Another had been tortured in a rebel prison, and a fifth had disappeared into government detention. Her daughters-in-law had to start working, while she was raising five grandchildren without her husband. He had died in an airstrike.
“Sometimes I sit and think, how did this happen?” Um Khalil said in the apartment of a distant acquaintance, where her remaining family was squatting. “I had sons working. Everything was normal, and suddenly I lost them. I had a husband. I lost him, too. I have no answers. God forgive whoever was behind this.”
Then she burst out: “Forgive them, don’t forgive them, what difference does it make? I wish I could find whoever destroyed this city. I would kill him.”
After eight years of civil war, the Syrian government now controls much of the country, and on Tuesday it appeared closer than ever to seizing control of Idlib, the last of the rebels’ territory.
Whether President Bashar al-Assad will win has not been in doubt for some time. We — three journalists with The New York Times — had come to Syria to see what his victory looked like.
Visiting five government-held cities and villages over eight days in June, we found ruin and generosity, people grieving and people getting through the day. Suffering had been unequally distributed, landing most heavily on the poor and on former rebel-held areas. The recovery, too, was unevenly shared. [Continue reading…]