AMNA NAWAZ: Today marks 12 years since the beginning of the civil war in Syria.
What began as civilian protests amid the Arab spring uprisings of 2011 now, by some estimates, has killed at least half-a-million people, displaced millions more and destabilize the region.
Adding calamity on top of disaster, last month's earthquakes laid waste to land already pummeled by the regime of Bashar al-Assad and his Russian patron, Vladimir Putin.
In a moment, I will speak with a long time Syria analyst, but, first, a look at what 12 years of war has wrought.
In Northwest Syria, a generation born into conflict, children who've only known life at these refugee camps in a war that began before they were born, 12 years ago.
For families like Um Mohammed's, those years have meant loss after loss.
UM MOHAMMED, Syrian Refugee (through translator): Since 2011, we have suffered at all levels.
My house was destroyed.
My son was killed.
And my second son was arrested 11 years ago.
He is in the prisons of the Assad regime, and I do not have any information about him.
AMNA NAWAZ: Her family is from Ghouta, near Damascus, under a severe siege, and where Assad's regime used chemical weapons in 2013, killing more than 1,000 people.
UM MOHAMMED (through translator): In Eastern Ghouta, we were subjected to a lot of bombardment, hunger and shortages of bread.
We were living in famine because of the siege imposed by the forces of the Assad regime.
AMNA NAWAZ: She lives at this camp with her daughter-in-law, Um Omar, who has also lost most of her family to Assad's airstrikes.
UM OMAR, Syrian Refugee (through translator): Twelve years ago, we were at home.
A missile from a warplane fell on our house and was destroyed.
My father, my brother and my cousin were killed.
AMNA NAWAZ: Her children survived the siege and the earthquake, but their home was destroyed, forcing them here.
UM OMAR (through translator): We are on another journey of displacement.
Look at the mud and dirt in this camp.
My children don't have enough winter clothes, and there is no source of income to buy for them.
AMNA NAWAZ: Mona Zahrawi is raising five children at this camp.
MONA ZAHRAWI, Syrian Refugee (through translator): Life here is hard.
We are here, two families living in one tent.
Children have no clothes or shoes.
I have children of my own, and I am taking care of my deceased sister's orphans.
AMNA NAWAZ: Aya was born in Saraqib City in the northwest, as it was bombed by Assad.
Her parents were killed.
She is now as old as the war itself.
AYA ZAHRAWI, Syrian Refugee (through translator): When the earthquake happened, I thought we were being bombed by airplanes.
I know all about bombing, and I am afraid of its sound.
AMNA NAWAZ: But the man behind that bombing is still in charge.
Today, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with his strongest ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Moscow, offering support for his war in Ukraine.
In rebel-held Northwest Syria, thousands of Syrians also marked this day, chanting slogans against the regime and waving the revolutionary flags.
It all began in 2011, when pro-democracy protests swept Syria in the wake of the Arab Spring.
But Bashar al-Assad's brutal crackdown triggered a civil war that has left a trail of destruction, a country in ruins, and forced millions of Syrians to flee their homes, many on boats to Europe and further afield.
Tens of thousands of people disappeared, many of them presumed tortured and killed in government prisons.
The tragic twin earthquakes that struck Northern Syria on February 6 further tormented a people already ravaged by war, and have also opened diplomatic doors for Bashar al-Assad, after years of international isolation.
Arab countries are slowly restoring ties with Damascus.
But Syrians continue to struggle.
Over 12 million people, more than half the population, are food-insecure.
JONATHAN DUMONT, World Food Program: People there are really tired of the war, and now the earthquake, of having to live on a razor's edge.
AMNA NAWAZ: Jonathan Dumont leads emergency communications at the World Food Program.
He visited Syria this week and found people in dire need.
JONATHAN DUMONT: The situation is pretty, pretty drastic.
And, as you can imagine, with schools and playgrounds being used to shelter people, there's not much -- not many prospects for the next generation to develop as they should.
Syria needs the continued support of the international community.
It needs resources.
It needs infrastructure.
It needs a lot of help.
AMNA NAWAZ: There are some signs that help on the way, but nowhere near enough.
In the meantime, Bashar al-Assad and his regime continue to hold power, continue the killing, and, all these years later, there's still no end in sight.
Murhaf Jouejati is a distinguished visiting professor at the United States Naval Academy.
A native of Syria, he's written widely on Assad and this decade-plus of war.
Murhaf Jouejati, thank you for joining us.
Those earthquakes last month, as we just saw, were absolutely devastating, on top of 12 years of war.
Help us understand the extent of the devastation, the extent of the crisis that Syrians face today.
MURHAF JOUEJATI, United States Naval Academy: It is earthquake upon earthquake.
The latest earthquake, of course, was a disaster, a catastrophe, a natural catastrophe.
But this follows, as you said, 12 years of war, in which half of the Syrian population has been made either refugee or internally displaced, over a million Syrian civilians killed.
Roughly 90 percent of the infrastructure has been destroyed.
So, it has been truly, for Syria, for -- in the past 12 years a calamity after another.
AMNA NAWAZ: Do we know today if the disaster aid, the emergency aid that has been making its way in, is it going to the people who need it most?
MURHAF JOUEJATI: It is really too little and too late.
Whatever assistance has gone in was for the most part taken by pro-Iranian militias at the airports of Aleppo, and either used by them and/or sold on the market.
And so those who are most deserving of this international assistance have not gotten much.
They are relying on their own very, very thin resources.
AMNA NAWAZ: What does this moment mean for Bashar al-Assad?
I mean, we have seen he's been largely isolated, right, over the last several years because of his brutal response to the opposition.
Is he now using this moment to reemerge onto the world stage?
MURHAF JOUEJATI: He has moved from a distance of having Syria suspended from the Arab League for his brutality, of being a pariah state and shunned by the international community to take advantage of this earthquake.
And there have been Arab delegations that have visited Damascus after the earthquake, trying to get Syria back into the Arab fold.
So, Assad is the dictator, the brutal dictator that he is, is fully taking advantage of the earthquake in order to rehabilitate himself before the international community.
AMNA NAWAZ: It's difficult to see a brutal dictator like Assad use this moment, this natural disaster, to, as you said, rehabilitate himself on the world stage.
I'm curious what you think the United States and the international community, what more they could say or do at this moment and how they should be responding.
MURHAF JOUEJATI: I think the U.S. has taken a wise policy, using sanctions as an instrument, as a diplomatic instrument, in order to punish the Assad regime.
The United States and the E.U.
have taken, I think, wise positions vis-a-vis Assad.
It is some of the Arab states that are trying to get him back into the fold, under the illusion that he will diminish Iranian influence in Syria.
I don't think that has happened -- going to happen.
Iran is a conspirator in the mass murder of Syrians with Russia.
So, I think a continuation of the isolation of the Assad regime has to be done.
The Assad regime is truly a rotten apple.
It's about to fall from the tree.
There is no need, no sense in propping it up.
AMNA NAWAZ: What about the people of Syria, Murhaf?
We began our report with these children who have only ever known a life in which their country is at war.
It began before they were even born.
What does their future look like?
MURHAF JOUEJATI: Very bleak.
For the past 10 years, they have not been to school.
So imagine what a generation is going to follow this one.
They have known nothing but brutality and war.
When Assad says that he will leave the moment he feels his people don't want him anymore, well, when you have half the population that has been made refugee, I don't know what kind of legitimacy he thinks he has.
I think he has zero legitimacy.
And, in that sense, I think the international community should continue isolating him until his regime goes away, because his regime, we have to say, has been a major source of instability, not only in Syria, but also in the Middle East.
AMNA NAWAZ: Murhaf Jouejati, distinguished visiting professor at the United States Naval Academy, thank you for joining us.
MURHAF JOUEJATI: Thank you.
Thank for having me.