Syria: a country the size of Karnataka and with the population of Delhi. But its importance is elevated due to its strategic location at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa, and its oil reserves. Ethnically, the region is diverse, being the home of Alawites, Sunnis, Armenians, Kurds, Christians, Assyrians, Palestinians and Jews. Historically, the region has been contested by some of history’s greatest empires, all of whom have contributed to the shaping of a unique and diverse Syrian culture.
What is the Syrian Civil War?
The Syrian Civil War is one of the biggest crises of our time. The humanitarian loss, the economic consequences, the political implications and the geostrategic importance of the conflict had hardly be overstated. But the Syrian Conflict is not like most other Civil Wars in history; it is a multi-polar war involving several players with widely different ideologies and goals. This makes it all the more complex for the international community to understand, and all the more difficult for mediators to find common ground. Below is a summary of the factors which led to the conflict, and the consequences of the same.
Modern Syria’s history:
Since gaining independence from France in 1946, Syria’s modern history has largely been one of instability driven by conflicting interests of various groups. A union with Egypt in 1958 was invalidated by a military coup in 1961. In 1963 a coup brought the Ba’ath Party to power. The current President, Bashar al-Assad, son of former President Hafez al-Assad, has been in power since 2000, and belongs to the Ba’ath Party.
The Assad regime:
The Assad regime has been criticized for being authoritarian and for having perpetrated several human rights violations. The government has a history of violent suppression of domestic opposition, curbing free speech and a strongly anti-Western foreign policy – especially since the 1967 war with Israel which saw Syria lose the Golan Heights.
The Arab Spring reaches Syria:
Public anger over the Government’s repressive rule and failure to reform the State-dominated economy erupted in 2011. After protests broke out in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in what would go down in history as the Arab Spring, Syrians took to the streets to voice their disillusion. The rebellion began in March 2011.
The Government responded to the initially peaceful protests with brute military might, imprisoning and killing hundreds of protestors. This only escalated the rebellion. Opposition forces joined together to form political groups with the formal aim to bring down the Assad regime.
What is the Free Syrian Army?
In July 2011, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was formed. It was initially comprised of deserters from the Syrian Army, local tribesmen and militias. But because it was ill-equipped and undermanned, the FSA grew to include Jihadists and extremists with different intentions for Syria. The FSA is the chief opposition against Government forces, but they are highly divided along ideological and ethnic lines.
How did the conflict gain a sectarian nature?
The conflict became more complicated with the involvement of the Al-Nusra front, a militant Islamist organization linked to al-Qaeda. Involvement of the militant Hezbollah in the War has given it a sectarian nature. It has come to be viewed as a conflict between the mostly Alawite/Shia pro-government groups against mostly Sunni rebel groups. The rise of ISIS has altered the course of the War, with the Islamic State having made rapid gains in Syria this year. Many analysts point out that the conflict can be viewed from the angle of the historic rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, a rivalry which is the backbone of the Middle-east crisis.
How does the Civil War play out on the international stage?
Iran and Russia are supporting the Assad Government, while Western nations have been outspoken against Assad. The Combined Joint Task Force formed in 2014 has authorized airstrikes in Syria and neighboring ISIS-controlled territories. The Task Force is comprised of US and 30 other nations – including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey.
What have been the humanitarian and socioeconomic consequences of the conflict?
As of April 2015, the death toll estimate is 310,000. Human rights violations are rampant. The Government has used chemical weapons during the course of the conflict. Half of the Syrian population has been forced to leave their homes. This has led to an ensuing refugee crisis, particularly in Europe. Fleeing from persecution, 350,000 refugees entered European Union borders since January 2015 alone. The UN estimates that there could be 4.27 million Syrian refugees by the end of 2015 – one of the biggest exoduses in history.
According to the World Bank, today 82.5% of the Syrian people are living in poverty. 12.2 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian aid – half of them children. Economic growth, foreign investment and government revenues have been nearly obliterated. The country’s healthcare and education sectors are in a mess, and Syria’s infrastructure is crumbling.
What’s next for Syria?
There are many opinions on how the Civil War will play out in the future. But when Syria finally gets out of this titanic mess, it will be faced with numerous challenges – like economic recovery, poverty alleviation and the rehabilitation of Syrian refugees. Recent peace talks have been unsuccessful and non-inclusive.
As members of the international community, all we can do is hope earnestly for a compromise and free elections. The Syrian people have suffered enough, and they deserve the opportunity to choose a leader of their choice who can rebuild Syria from the ashes.