In 2008, more than 800,000 people lived in the Syrian city of Homs. In 2011, it became one of the hotbeds of protest against Bashar al-Assad, known as the "capital of the revolution." Today, much of the city is a demolished, bombed-out ghost town — as the above video, made using footage captured by a drone, shows.
The footage was taken by RussiaWorks, a Russian crew affiliated with a state broadcaster. The UK's Channel 4 turned RussiaWorks' video into a short, chilling film.
The video's elevated vantage is what really gets me. By soaring over the city, you see the true scope of the devastation: Virtually every building in sight has been destroyed by mortars, bombs, and tank shells. When it zooms in on a street, you see a handful of people running through the rubble.
The vibrant Homs of pre-2011 you see in the below video, which compiles pictures of the city before 2011, is gone:
This demolition was, of course, intentional. In 2011, during the peak of the peaceful uprising, thousands of Homsis took to the streets to march against Assad. This rooftop video of a protest in April 2011 gets at the scope of the protests — and gives you a sense of just how many people lived in Homs before the destruction.
Assad's regime made a calculated decision to fire on protesters in a deliberate attempt to turn a popular uprising into a civil war.
"It was very much a strategic decision that the regime made, to militarize the conflict right away," Glenn Robinson, an associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, told me in October. "I think, in their mind and correctly, if this becomes a political battle where populations matter, the regime probably only has support of a third of the country. ... If this becomes a political contestation, the opposition has the numbers."
Homs quickly became a stronghold for the military resistance to Assad. Beginning around March 2012, Assad's forces imposed a suffocating siege on the city — and it became home to near-constant warfare between rebels and the regime.
In May 2014, Assad finally broke the rebels and retook the city. But the damage the siege did to the city couldn't be undone. The story of Homs is, in that sense, a microcosm for much of Syria today: a once hopeful place whose dictator decided to destroy in the name of saving it.