What only began as a peaceful protest briskly turned into a civil war forcing millions to leave their homes and thousands to give up their lives. The Syrian civil war has entered into its 7th year and there seems to be no redemption. The uprising that started in 2011 was a part of a wider revolutionary wave known as the Arab Spring. The authorities tackled a bunch of peaceful protestors with violence and then there was never turning back. In the passage, the cause of the conflict, the foreign involvement and its repercussions in the current political climate are discussed.
The uprising in Syria was an extension of a greater revolution known as the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring was a democratic revolution that entailed both violent and non-violent protests, coups, riots, and demonstrations. This revolution had successfully dethroned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who were continually violating democratic rights of people. The protests in these countries resulted in huge calamities of lives and property at the hands of the government.
The Syrians took an inspiration from Arab Spring and decided to go down the same lane. In March 2011, the Syrian people organized a peaceful protest against the government led by the president Bashar Al-Assad. Soon the things got ugly and the authorities started to detain people. The police arrested and tortured 15 boys who were accused of drawing graffiti promoting the Arab Spring. One of these boys named Hamza al-Khateeb who was just 13 years old was brutally tortured and killed. This resulted in the protests at a national level. These protests were met with extreme force and brutality as the government detained and killed hundreds of these protestors.
It took just three months for the defectors in the military to rise and form the ‘Free Syrian Army’ in order to overthrow Bashar Al-Assad. This was the beginning of a Civil War.
The reason for the uprising was similar to that of the countries initiating the Arab Springs. The democratic rights of the general public were relentlessly suppressed. The right to freedom of expression was non-existent. This tension between the government and the public was sparked by the brutal crackdown on the protestors. The Syrians found an inspiration from the countries that successfully dethroned the tyrannical government. The protest began as a non-religious movement but soon it led to a sectarian divide. The majority of the Syrians are the Sunni Muslims whereas Bashar Al-Assad belongs to the Alawite sect. This sect is a part of Twelver sect of Shia Islam. The Shia Muslims in the country tend to support Assad while the majority opposes him.
The climate also played an important role to spark the rebellion. Syria was hit by a drastic drought in 2007 which lasted for the next three years. Around 1 million people fled their homes and moved to the cities. This caused a social unrest.
Assad’s government has been in power since 1971 when Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father declared his presidency. He had amended the Syrian constitution according to which even a non-Muslim could become Syria’s president. The amendment was met with revolts from the Islamists groups which, Assad successfully suppressed. After his death in2000, his son Bashar al-Assad was elected as the president. Assad government had promised to establish a secular and democratic rule in the country but it failed to fulfill those promises.
In the present times, Bashar al-Assad claims that anyone who opposes him is an Islamic extremist and intents to destroy his secular rule.
The first rebel group to be formed and organize a systematic dissent against the government was the FSA, Free Syrian Army. It was formed in 2011 and since then many rebel groups have come into existence. Some of these groups are fighting against the government whereas some are fighting on its side.
Some of the prominent rebel groups are the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, known as ISIL, Hezbollah backed by the Iran, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Jabhat Fateh al-Sham: As the war has advanced the FSA has comparatively weakened. The other groups with an extremist ideology have propelled. The Jabhat Fateh al-Sham formerly known as the Al-Nusra detached its ties with Al-Qaeda in 2016, as announced by its leader, Abu Mohammed al-Joulani.
ISIL: This rebel group arose in eastern and northern Syria in 2013. It soon gained a dreaded reputation for its brutal executions and use of social media. It entails sizeable numbers of militants from all over the world.
The Syrian government retained the city of Aleppo from the rebels in December 2016. It was the biggest success of the government during the 6-year long civil war.
The use of the chemical weapons for the liberation became a major topic of discussion among the Human rights activists.
Since after the capture, the rebel groups have been trying to form an alliance in the Northern Syria. The attempts at peace talks with the rebel groups have failed and the government has concurred to evacuations. These evacuations will allow the militants to leave the government ruled parts peacefully.
The rebel groups have been fighting each other, fighting government and fighting for the government. The unleashed havoc has resulted into Syria’s political polarization.
The United States
Many countries have expressed a grave dissent for the Assad’s government and tried to intervene to prevent the further damage. In the year 2013, Assad’s government had allegedly used chemical weapons against the civilians in Ghuota. The former president of the United States, Barack Obama had condemned this action and said it would prompt intervention. However, the United States had always hesitated to use a military intervention only until recently when Assad forces used chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun. The attack occurred on April 4, 2017, killing 74 people at the least and gravely injuring the hundreds.
The United States had a controversial program under which it was training the Syrian rebels. When it was revealed that after spending an exorbitant amount of $500m it had only trained 60 fighters the program was scrapped in 2015.
The CIA had been funding and supporting the rebel factions in Syria. In February 2017 it froze the funding. The rebel army known as the FSA, Free Syrian Army claimed that the funding was reinstated.
Russia has been a staunch supporter of the Syrian government led by Assad since the beginning of the protest. It has been providing military and political aide to the Syrian government. Being the permanent member of the UN’s Security Council, it has the power to Veto. It has continually vetoed the resolution drafts by the Security Council that asked Assad to resign.
In 2015, Russia used military bombing against the rebel groups. It claimed that attack was against ISIL, a worldwide terrorist organization claiming to be a rebel group in Syria.
Russia had formed a peace treaty with Turkey and Iran to form 4 ‘de-escalation zones’ in Syria. According to the pact, in these zones, the Russians and Syrian aircrafts wouldn’t fly for six months. The treaty collapsed soon as the countries failed to come to an agreement relating to the ceasefire in these zones.
The Arab States
Turkey is one of the several Arab states to support the rebel groups and oppose the government. The countries which have Sunni Muslims majority such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey support the rebels whereas Iran, Iraq and the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon having the Shia Muslims majority support Assad.
The Kurdish people have gained more control in the North-east Syria. The Kurdish population of Turkey has become a threat to the Turkish government. The government fears that it might also become restive and demand independence. It made an effort in August 2016 to stop the Kurdish militia fighters. The Turkish troops along with the FSA started an operation against ISIL in order to liberate Syrian city, Jarablus.
Another country that has been seen benefitting from the current Syrian crisis is Israel. The both countries had been at a war since 1948 but remained quiet for 4 decades since’73. Recently, Israel took responsibility for an explosion in the Damascus Airport. The intelligence minister of Israel backed the attack that saying it is the part of Israel’s policy to intervene any transfer of weaponry to the rebel group Hezbollah.
According to the website, ‘I am Syria’ around 5381 civilians have succumbed to death in the first half of 2017. The death toll entails around 742 women and 1159 children. Around 93 were killed subjected to torture.
The use of the chemical weapons is under the investigation by the UN. A chemical attack which was allegedly launched by Assad’s government killed 80 civilians in Khan Sheikhoun. Assad refused to take the responsibility for using any chemical weapons and called it just a fabrication by the US in order to justify their military intervention.
The chemical weapons have been a recurrent note in the Syrian war narrative. A legal expert was appointed by the UN to inspect whether there has a violation of international laws and enclosure of the war crimes in Syria. The administration found proof of crematorium in a Syrian prison. Allegedly, the government has been using the crematorium to cover up the body count.
In June, a group of fighters backed by the US tried to recapture the city of Raqqa from ISIL. They launched an attack and successfully breached the city from all sides. The city in North-eastern Syria was retained from ISIL, leaving ISIL without any urban-settlement under its control, allegedly.
Along with Aleppo, the Syrian government holds the capital, parts of southern Syria, Damascus, the north-western coastal region and the major area near the Syrian-Lebanese border whereas the Rebel groups, Kurdish forces and ISIL currently control the rest of the Syria.
Amid all the politics and the quest for power, there are people who are bearing the brunt of this civil war. These people are the innocent civilians who have lost their lives, their homes, and their loved ones. Many of these people became the refugees went to countries like Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan to seek shelter. Some of them tried to make it to Europe to seek better conditions.
According to a report by the UN, in the past year, 440,000 Syrians refugees returned to Syria to find their loved ones and to check on their property. These people came to cities such as Hama, Aleppo, Damascus, and Homs.
There is an uncertainty to how many years this war is going to last or how much more of these innocent people will suffer except for one thing: Syria is in ruins and it will take a very long time to leave the ghosts of the war behind.
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