Since 2011, Syria has been in civil war. What originally started as a minor conflict began when President Bashar al-Assad responded violently to pro-democratic protests. In response, rebel militia began forming in 2011 and by 2012, the conflict escalated into war. According to the Washington Post, a popular American news service, 400,000 Syrians were dead within the first five years and eight million Syrians have fled as of 2018. The violence was condemned by both the European Union and the United States.
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Although there were many reasons that could have sparked the war, the most significant would be the Arab Spring. In early 2011, pro-democratic and economic protests broke out in Egypt and Tunisia. Because the revolts were successful, they served as significant inspiration for the protests in Syria. Later that year, 15 Syrian boys were arrested and tortured for writing political graffiti, one of which was killed (Washington Post). The news sparked an outrage within the country and protests began for political reform. According to Eyal Zisser, professor and vice rector at Tel Aviv University, President al-Assad ordered tanks soldiers to go into towns and open fire on citizens in April 2011. Additionally, a few months later in June at Damascus University, al-Assad vowed to “turn this decisive moment into a day, in which the hope will throb that our homeland will return to being the place of quiet and calm we have become accustomed to.” Ironically, the goal of quiet and calm has not been reached but quite the opposite. The war has lasted for over eight years and is only getting worse as supply and assistance runs low for both sides.
One of the reasons that Syria’s civil war has lasted this long is because of Russia’s assistance to the Syrian government. According to The Washington Post, Russia helped build the Syrian military and is one of its strongest allies. Russia frequently blocks international intervention by vetoing proposals made by the UN. Additionally, Russia contributes to the war via funding and soldiers and it also testifies to Syria’s claim of never using chemical weapons on civilians. In 2013, The United States have also indirectly joined in the fight against the Syrian government due to the rising power of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and in order to punish al-Assad for using chemical weapons such as sarin and chlorine gas on civilians (Washington Post). In 2012, President Obama pushed for military action and for an airstrike but was not able to get congressional approval. Instead of military intervention, the U.N. ordered Syria to destroy all forms of chemical weaponry and sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, which forbids any country from producing and using chemical weapons. Finally, in 2017, after a sarin attack that affected many children and infants, President Trump was able to launch the first direct attack on the Syrian government in the form of an airstrike.
Without a doubt, the largest group of people affected by the war are the civilians of Syria and neighboring countries. The living situation for civilians is horrible. Many families lack basic necessities like food, shelter, and medical aid. Children are also unable to go to school because the war is being fought in towns and streets (Washington Post). As of 2018, twelve million refugees from Syria have fled to other countries, hoping to escape the war and violence (Zisser). Some, however, have decided to fight back against the Assad Regime. Known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish people of Syria are one of the United States’ most reliable and largest allies, according to the New York Times, an American newspaper that has been awarded 127 Pulitzer Prizes. Albeit the immense contributions they made in the war, Turkey views the group as a terrorism group and has sought to prevent American troops from aiding them. As a result, of pressure from Turkey and the near defeat of ISIS, President Trump decided to begin the withdrawal of American presence in the Middle East in December 2018 (NYTimes). Recently, after increased withdrawal of American troops and with approval from President Trump, Turkey launched a military offensive against the SDF, displacing thousands of civilians. The SDF, having been allies with the United States for years, saw this as a betrayal since the withdrawal of US troops allowed for Turkey to launch an uncontested attack. As a response to this accused “betrayal,” the White House says, ”The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.” (NYTimes). ISIS, however, has not been completely defeated. There are still parts of Syria where the group is dominant and the withdrawal of US troops as well as Turkey’s assault on the SDF provide ample opportunity for the group to gain power again, possibly extending the war (Washington Post).
A potential solution that the UN could undertake is to partition Syria and reduce Russian influence. Not only is Russia the main force pushing the war, but it is also the main reason that the UN has been unable to carry out any actions against Syria, due to its constant vetoes. Once the UN is able to perform its duties, a partition of Syria is an appealing solution. Similar to the situation with the Balkans in Sudan, a split of the country would be able to provide land for refugees to resettle and would be an effective compromise between the Assad Regime and the Syrians pushing for political reform.
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Originating as a simple protest urging for political reform that eventually lead to a large-scale war, the Syrian civil war has caused numerous issues in the Middle East such as the displacement of twelve million refugees or the death of over 400,000 people. The war has left numerous families torn apart and the cost for rebuilding the war-torn country will be enormous. It is definitely one of the worst conflicts in the past decade.
- Schmitt, Eric, and Maggie Haberman. “Trump Endorses Turkish Military Operation in Syria, Shifting U.S. Policy.” New York Times, 7 Oct. 2019, p. NA(L). Gale In Context: Science, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A601882671/GPS?u=tamp33192&sid=GPS&xid=1e685146.
- Erickson, Amanda. “7 Basic Questions about the War in Syria.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 3 Oct. 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/04/12/syria-explained/.
- Zisser, Eyal. “The Many Implications.” Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2019, p. 1+. Gale In Context: Global Issues, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A592904489/GPS?u=tamp33192&sid=GPS&xid=bf8d63fb.
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