By Batoul Karbijha
02 January 2017
"We will take revenge from everyone who kept silent and everyone who applauded the death of all innocent immaculate souls in Aleppo," Hosam Al-Bakri, a teary-eyed youth refugee told me, referring to the recent recapture of Aleppo, considered as a fateful victory for the Syrian regime over the armed opposition.
"Assad is worse than ISIL, believe me," he continued. This judgement may raise a few eyebrows, but it shouldn't, as this is an inevitable sentiment of young people watching their fellow countrymen killed in cold blood and evacuated from their homes.
Aleppo was a key battleground in the war between forces loyal to the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and rebels who want to overthrow him.
After the heavy air strikes carried out by the regime forces and supported by Russian troops, the rebels were forced to withdraw from the city. Tens of thousands of civilians - in the aftermath of an agreement - fled Aleppo, most of them with the bitter taste of evacuation, after enduring years of war.
Poverty, despair and hunger for revenge will drive the evacuated youth to restore their honour and self-worth. The evidence of this intense yearning is becoming more visible, warning all of us about an even more complicated situation in Syria.
Pledges Of Regain
"We will come back … our love" is written on a wall in Aleppo. A photo of it went viral on social media, as it represents the brutal heartbreak of a couple whose love nest was besieged Aleppo.
The war-torn love story must have alleviated the burden of the six years of fighting in Aleppo, the one thing they could never forget. And this spark of brave love might very well veer into an ugly form of combat to regain Aleppo, forcing the dire situation to go around in circles.
The destruction of their loved ones' lives is the driving force for many young Syrians to get revenge against the regime for obliterating their families, houses, lives and everything else in its path. Panicked shrieks surround the casualties in the hearts of the youth.
The vengeful feelings are not restricted to just millennials. "When we grow up, we will return to liberate Aleppo" is another viral video showing two kids promising to return to their home city. It's chilling to see children make this vow.
What Kind Of Revenge?
So, while the lust for revenge is unavoidable, the question is what kind it will be? The choices seem to be either fighting alongside the opposition to death, in an endless war, or joining extremist groups, as the evacuated head to Idlib, where Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as the al-Nusra Front) and others control most of the territory.
Young Syrians now have a disheartened view of the military opposition, regardless of how many battles they win, and joining this group becomes less worthwhile, as the chasms between opposition wings were one of many reasons that led them to lose their city. Joining the ranks of the rebels is fraught with danger for many Syrian youths.
So, why are youth more likely to join extremist groups? And do they have another option for salvation?
Recent research done by the Thomson Reuters Foundation revealed that the need to earn a basic living, a desire for a sense of purpose and revenge are the key factors that push young Syrians into joining extremist groups.
People can find a new meaning to their life in extremism. Extremism opens a door to a new life where they are wanted.
It is undeniable that these groups are very adept at the "be a part of something" rhetoric that draws in young people who have lost a sense of purpose and belonging during the war.
Another study done by Quantum Communications provides some insight into the desire for youth to align themselves with extremist groups and that motivation varies.
A lot of current members are revenge seekers who consider themselves part of a group that is being repressed by the West or someone else (PDF).
Pending a world full of youth joining the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the question remains: would this revenge be unilateral?
Blood Feud In Return
Revenge manifests itself in many ways, not just in anger, but also pride, as crowds in west Aleppo were seen celebrating the massacre the regime perpetrated.
The schism in the fabric of Syrian society is very evident and yet intricate at the same time. One might have the feeling that the two sides are total strangers, as though they are not from the same country. On one side, mourners bewailing their victims and on other, happy citizens praising the victory.
But are there any justifications of this harebrained kind of revenge?
Some in the Alawite, Christian, religious minorities and other groups of Sunni have rallied around the Assad regime, which is preferable to ISIL. These groups see themselves as a target menaced by the brutal power of extremist groups.
The sectarian chasms are not the only reason of retaliation. The popular revolution turned into a ruthless and armed civil war that forced them to witness the demolition of their country.
To twist the knife, thousands died from random bombs dropped by the opposition, killing many regardless of their political affiliation, only because they lived in the regime-controlled district.
Salvation From Perdition
If the revenge valve exploded in Syria, the current death toll would seem minor compared to what will happen next. The only way out of this bloodbath is the political compromise between the Syrians themselves and the international powers involved.
This option seems to be the most ridiculous, least honourable, solution for the youth whose hearts are full of hard feelings, while unfortunately being the only rational solution.
The fake victory the regime achieved on the backs of the dead in Aleppo will be repeated several times against the attack and retreat of the army opposition.
Batoul Karbijha is a Syrian journalist covering Middle East and North Africa affairs, based in the Netherlands.