In Greater Scope: The Syrian Civil War and the Refugee Crisis

My very first post on this blog was about how I am Overwhelmed by What I Want to Learn.  I’ve been making a conscious effort to try and bridge some of these gaps in my knowledge and I found that it’s really hard to understand some of these larger problems.

In an effort to teach myself, and hopefully some of you, I am going to start researching world events to better understand them.

I’m going to look at what has happened so far and draw conclusions based on what I can find.  This post won’t be perfect.  And while I want it to be as unbiased as possible, I will clarify right now and say that it will have my spin on things.

With the table set, I wanted to take a look at Syria.  The refugee crisis has drawn our attention back to the events happening there; and I wanted to take a step back to look at Syria, its Civil War, and the refugee crisis in greater scope.


Syria is a country in the middle east in between Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel.  The region is mostly desert, and not much is usable for any economic or agricultural purpose.  The country is small and crowded.  Identity and nationalism are huge morals to stand by, being that the country has had such a tumultuous past.

This arid climate, some might say, is what pushed Syria into a civil war.  Syria is no stranger to droughts, but in 2006 a drought began that dealt a serious blow to the country.  It devastated agriculture, and it pushed upwards of 3 million Syrian’s into extreme poverty.  Many of them moved to the cities in hope of work.

In the same year, to counteract the drought and poverty levels, Syria made the move to sell their wheat reserves while the price was very high.  This was to help feed and support their citizens through this difficult time.  This backfired though, because starting in 2008, they had to start importing food to keep its citizens alive.  This was a disastrous economic outcome to the situation.

This new pressure did not reflect well on the government when their own people started to become more and more impoverished.

In 2011, in protest of the governments handling and rule of Syria, some students were arrested and tortured for painting revolutionary slogans on a school wall.  Anti-corruption and pro-democracy protests erupted as a result, but were met with deadly force when security forces opened fire.

The result was new nationwide protests demanding President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation.  The government responded with force which only caused more protests; And by July of that year, hundreds of thousands took to the street in protest of Bashar.  Sectarian insurgents used the protests as cover to begin arming themselves and helped protesters push the security forces out.  The civil war was upon them.

Bashar al-Asssad was born to a family of Alawites, a minority sect of Islam.  His grooming for power began when his brother Bassel tragically died in a car accident.  Bashar was originally training to be a doctor when his father, Hafez al-Assad, had him put into the military.  This was to help build support for Bashar, mainly in the military and his Alawite sect.  Bashar al-Assad took power in the country in 2000.

His father, Hafez al-Assad, had come to power in 1971.  He was popular among the citizens because he was able to bring stability to the country.  Hafez built up the Syrian army and gained the loyalty of the citizens by investing money from Arab donations and international lending institutions back into the public.  He took a failing country and made it great.  And this made him and his family popular.

Hafez al-Assad was also a brutal political mastermind.  Most notably back in 1982 when the Muslim Brotherhood staged an uprising in the village of Hama.  The president gave the order and a military strike against the village leveled the uprising.  Some experts say the civilian casualty rate was in the range of 40,000.  Many of these traits were passed onto Bashar during his preparation for power.

We are looking at Hafez and Bashar together to try and understand why he would strike violently at these protests.  The Assad Regime has very much been one of a stern father, “Do as you will, but no not question me.”

The Assad Regime is built upon the shoulders of of Bashars father.  He had to step into some serious shoes, and that isn’t a great political move.  When you try and replace someone they expect you to have similar qualities.  This is why American elections almost always slash away at the existing president, even if they share a political party.  You want to be new, but not a renewal.

In the years leading up to the 2011 protests, Bashar was facing other political troubles that were undermining his rule and reputation.  In 2005 the Cedar Revolution took place in Lebanon which led to the collapse of the Pro-Syrian government and pushed Syrian troops from the country.  The following year the drought began.  By 2011, it is no surprise that people were beginning to question whether he could be the ruler his father was.  When Bashar caught wind of a sectarian revolt hiding in the protest, he struck decisively, much like his father in Hama.

The country is now embroiled in a civil war between the Assad Regime and the rebels.  For the rebels, much of their fighting religiously motivated.  This is where much of the difficulty in understanding the conflict comes from.  There is little separation of church and state in Syria.  Political parties are also religiously based.  Syria follows Islamic Jurisprudence, which means that legislation is based off of the Qu’ran and its interpretations.  The word interpretations by itself means that there isn’t rock solid agreement on what it all means, and it adds a lot of conflict to the mix.  The rebels are fighting for Syria, but for the Syria they want to see, not some other religious sects interpretation.  Bashar, being Alawite, is a serious minority in his country, with Alawites making up roughly 12% of the population.  Many other sects actually seem them as heretics.

To add to all of this, Syria is also dealing with ISIS/ISIL pushing its way into Syria.  ISIS is its own article to write, so I won’t cover them here.  However, with Bashar losing control of huge swaths of his country, his actions suggest that he is lashing out in anger.  He is more and more desperately trying to regain control of his country.

By now I’m sure you all know he has committed war crimes against his people and the rebels.  There have been government sanctioned “disappearances” as well as blatant use of sarin and chlorine gas to attack hiding rebels in civilian areas.  It has been suggested that the rebels might have used the sarin to implicate the Assad Regime.  The sarin chemical attacks were an atrocity of the war, and whether the government or rebels used it, we should be enraged.  But even with world pressure on the Assad Regime to stop, he continues to use his infamous barrel bombs to drop chlorine into civilian areas to flush people out and wreak psychological terror.

The question I asked myself after reading all of this is, “Why do we let him sit on his throne?”  How does Bashar stay in power while these things happen.  It’s complicated.

Bashar is actually pretty popular in his own country.  In 2014 he commissioned that a new constitution be drafted up and put into place.  Having read through it, there are a lot of progressive ideas in place.  It supports political pluralism and it removes Bashars Ba’ath political party as the ruling party.  It outlines a Peoples Assembly which represent much of the population in government affairs.  In 2007 and again in 2014 he was elected by popular vote.  Now you might say, and correctly so, that of course he got the popular vote because the rebels and civilians in rebel held areas aren’t voting.  That is true, but it doesn’t change the fact that 11 million people voted for him with an incredible 71% voter turnout.  American voter turn out is worse than that, and we aren’t embroiled in war. Approximately 4 million refugees have fled the country, and even if they all turned around and voted for someone else, Bashar would still win.

The problem at this point is that it becomes cyclical.  A huge part of Bashars platform is Syrian nationalism.  The U.N. and America have placed sanctions against his Regime, which affects his people.  His people are suffering because of western pressure, which he turns into support by saying he will stand against us.  We are also giving aid and weapons to the rebels in the country, which only further make us look like the enemy to them.  It wouldn’t be too hard to pull favor as the underdog.  His father stabalized this country, and Bashar has done well to keep that idea afloat under pressure.

We can’t go in and push him out.  His support basis would fight back, no matter our solution.  Disposing of the Assad Regime would only prove all of his points to his followers.  It would destabilize.  Worse, if we push him out, someone worse might fill the void.

The hardest part is this is a problem the world needs to help solve it.  The Syrian Refugee Crisis is big in the news because approximately 4 million Syrians are fleeing the country seeking asylum.  Another 6.5 million are still living in the country, but had to flee their home and comfort to survive.  Half of those numbers are children.  It is a festering wound on the face of the world and something needs to be done.

This mass exodus has a chance to also lead to more war.  Border skirmishes are a problem we may have to face as desperate people are turned to desperate measures.  The crisis is also putting countries at odds while they try and deal with the influx of people.  It’s building a lot of tension.

I absolutely agree that the world needs to step up and harbor these families.  They aren’t all seeking to leech a system, they just want to live knowing they can be safe.  People have been criticizing other countries for not immediately opening the borders and harboring them all.  4 million people is a tremendous number to take in.  Many countries don’t have the resources to suddenly feed and shelter this many people.  They can either use their resources to support their people, or they use it to try and support millions of refugees which will take support from their people.  It’s not an easy number to crunch, and both outcomes leave governments looking selfish.

This is why you should donate, even a little, to help these people.

This problem will have a larger affect as well.  We will have a generation of people growing up believing that governments wont help them, and their fellow human beings won’t either.  It’s not hard to see why terrible places like al-Queda and ISIS/ISIL might be the lesser of two evils when your fellow man doesn’t do much to help you up.

Our options are limited.  Assad is popular and has done much to push towards a more unified and free Syria.  However, if we let him stay in power it is likely Bashar and his military won’t thoroughly be brought to justice for their war crimes.  If we support the rebels, we also have to support them trying to build a new government while fighting off ISIS/ISIL.  Worst case scenario is ISIS/ISIL gains control of the country.

America has been supporting the rebels with armaments and funding, and this can be seen as a way to pull the trigger on pushing Bashar out while not being the one holding the smoking gun.  It’s difficult to say what the correct path is, but the world needs to help find a way to end the fighting while not completely toppling the government.  It is surely a monumental task to undertake.


If you have relevant information, have a differing opinion, or know something that should be included I endeavor you to please put it in the comments; Even if it conflicts with what I might have said.  Support yourself with links and articles and I will do my best to add it to this post.

If there is another topic you want me to write about, please feel free to comment below or find me at my Twitter.

 

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