The Forgotten (Part 4): President Bashar-al-Assad, Syrian Civil War Chief Peace Disruptor

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 11 Dec 2023

Prof Hoosen Vawda – TRANSCEND Media Service

Please note that this publication contains graphic images, reports of death and human suffering, which may be disturbing to some readers.  Parental guidance is recommended for minors, who refer to this publication as a resource material.

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“The Syrian War has effectively demonstrated that under violent conditions there is total stripping of Dignity, even in Death, while the perpetrators of crimes against humanity are thriving unaccountably, in a pseudo-civilised manner. Unfortunately, this trend has been repeatedly perpetuated in the 21st century, on a regular basis, disrupting Peace.” [1]

The sad plight of a Syrian man crying, while holding the body of his son near Dar El Shifa hospital in Aleppo, Syria, Oct. 3, 2012. The boy was killed by the Syrian army.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Manu Brabo

This paper, Part 4, in the series on the Forgotten Communities,[2],[3],[4] ,[5]globally, highlights death, destruction and the suffering of the Syrians in the Syrian Civil War[6],. In addition, the author traces the origins, history, traditions and religion of the Syrians[7], in general, including the small, isolated community of Yazidis[8], leading a settled lifestyle in the isolated region of Syria, who were the subject of a genocidal attack by the insurgency group the ISIS, also called ISIL who took advantage of the civil uprising against the tyrannical regime of the President of Syria, Bashar-Al-Assad[9], the “elected president of Syria” for 23 long years.  The author also summarises the ongoing and protracted, destructions of extremely important UNESCO heritage sites in the Syrian war, by ISIS, as well as caused by the heavy,  US led Coalition airstrikes directed at the insurgents, but damaging these important archaeological sites and places of worship, as collateral destruction, in the air strikes .  The entire war was unique in a manner that the oppressive Syrian Government Regime also used barrel bombs[10], which used the nerve agent, sarin[11] and chlorine in their regular attacks against civilians, including women and children over the duration of the brutal war in Syria, which leftover 100,000 civilians dead and huge numbers injured, or seriously maimed for life.

Syria prior to the Civil War[12]

Before the Syrian Civil War, Syria was a Middle Eastern country with a rich history, diverse cultural heritage, and a complex political landscape. Here is a summary of key aspects of Syria before the outbreak of the civil war:

Geography and Demographics:

  • Syria is located in the heart of the Middle East, bordered by Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, Israel and Lebanon to the southwest, and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. Its diverse geography includes mountains, deserts, and fertile plains. Damascus, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, served as the capital.

Syrian Population and Ethnic Composition[13]:

  • Syria had a population of around 22 million people before the civil war. The population was ethnically and religiously diverse, with Arab being the majority ethnicity and Islam (Sunni and Alawite branches) being the predominant religion. There were also significant religious and ethnic minority communities, including Christians, Kurds, Druze, Yazidis and others.

Political Landscape:

  • Syria was governed by the Ba’ath Party, a secular Arab nationalist party, with the Ba’athist ideology serving as the basis for the country’s political structure. The Assad family, starting with Hafez al-Assad and later his son Bashar al-Assad, held political power. The country operated under a state of emergency that had been in place since 1963.

Economy:

  • Syria had a mixed economy with state control over key sectors. Agriculture, industry, and services played significant roles. Economic challenges included water scarcity, dependence on oil revenues, and a growing population.

Cultural and Historical Heritage:

  • Syria was known for its rich cultural and historical heritage. The country boasted several UNESCO World Heritage sites, including ancient cities like Aleppo and Palmyra, the Crusader castle Crac des Chevaliers, and the ancient city of Damascus. Syria had a reputation for tolerance and coexistence among its various religious and ethnic communities.

Regional Relations:

  • Syria was a key player in the geopolitics of the Middle East. It had a history of conflicts and alliances with neighbouring countries. Relations with Israel were strained, and Syria was an ally of Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The country had been involved in regional conflicts, including the Lebanese Civil War and the Arab-Israeli conflicts.

Social and Educational System:

  • Syria had made progress in education and had a compulsory education system. The country had several universities and educational institutions. However, political repression and limitations on freedom of expression were noted concerns.

Before the civil war, Syria faced challenges, including political authoritarianism, economic issues, and regional tensions. The outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011 marked a turning point, leading to significant changes in the country’s landscape and the lives of its people.

 

The Chief Peace Disruptor: President-Al-Assad of Syria[14]

 

Bashar al-Assad is the current President of Syria, having assumed office on July 17, 2000, following the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad. Here is an overview of Bashar al-Assad’s life, including his childhood, upbringing, political career, and present status:

Childhood and Upbringing:

  • Birth: Bashar Hafez al-Assad was born on September 11, 1965, in Damascus, Syria.
  • Family Background: He comes from a prominent political family. His father, Hafez al-Assad, was the President of Syria from 1971 until his death in 2000. Bashar’s mother is Anisa Makhlouf, and he has three siblings.

Education:

  • Educational Background: Bashar al-Assad studied ophthalmology in Damascus and later pursued additional training in London. He specialized in ophthalmology and worked as an eye doctor in Syria before entering politics.

Political Career:

  • Succession to the Presidency: Bashar al-Assad was not originally groomed for politics, as his older brother Basil was initially seen as the heir apparent. However, Basil died in a car accident in 1994, leading to Bashar’s return to Syria from London and his eventual entry into politics.
  • Presidential Election: After his father’s death in 2000, Bashar was elected as the President of Syria in a referendum, in which he ran unopposed.
  • Re-elections: He has been re-elected in subsequent elections, but these elections have been criticized for lacking genuine competition.

Presidency and Achievements:

  • Domestic Policies: Bashar al-Assad initially raised hopes for political and economic reforms, but these hopes were largely unfulfilled. Syria remained under tight political control.
  • Foreign Relations: Assad’s presidency has been marked by a complex and often controversial foreign policy. Syria has been involved in regional conflicts, including the civil war in Syria that began in 2011.
  • Civil War: The Syrian Civil War, which began as a series of protests against Assad’s government, escalated into a protracted conflict. The Assad government has faced accusations of human rights abuses, including the use of chemical weapons.

Present Status:

  • Ongoing Presidency:  Bashar al-Assad remains in power as the President of Syria. The situation in Syria is complex, with ongoing conflicts and geopolitical implications.

 

The Syrian History from Antiquity[15]

 

The history of Syria is rich and diverse, with a long and complex past that spans several millennia. Here is an overview of the origins of the Syrian people, major invasions, dynasties, and key historical events:

Antiquity:

  • Ancient Civilizations: The region that is now modern-day Syria has a history dating back to ancient times. It was home to several ancient civilizations, including the Eblaite, Akkadian, and Amorite cultures.
  • Arameans and Phoenicians: The Arameans and Phoenicians were influential groups in ancient Syria. The Arameans, in particular, played a significant role in shaping the region’s cultural and linguistic landscape.

Invasions and Empires:

  • Assyrian Empire: Syria was part of the Assyrian Empire in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE. The Assyrians established their dominance over the region, leaving a lasting impact on its history.
  • Persian Empire: The Achaemenid Persian Empire, led by Cyrus the Great, conquered Syria in the 6th century BCE. Later, it became part of the Seleucid Empire after the division of Alexander the Great’s empire.
  • Roman and Byzantine Rule: Syria came under Roman control in the 1st century BCE and later became part of the Byzantine Empire. During this time, Christianity spread throughout the region.

Islamic Era:

  • Islamic Conquests: In the 7th century CE, Arab armies led by the Rashidun Caliphs conquered Syria from the Byzantine Empire. This marked the beginning of the Islamic era in the region.
  • Umayyad Caliphate: Damascus became the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate, one of the earliest Islamic empires, in the 7th century. The Umayyads played a crucial role in the spread of Islam and the development of Islamic civilization.
  • Abbasid Caliphate: The Umayyads were eventually replaced by the Abbasids, who moved the capital to Baghdad. Despite the shift, Damascus remained an important cultural and economic center.

Medieval and Ottoman Period:

  • Seljuk and Crusader Periods: The Seljuk Turks and European Crusaders vied for control over Syria during the medieval period. Cities like Jerusalem changed hands multiple times.
  • Mamluk Sultanate: The Mamluks, slave-soldiers who rose to power, ruled over Syria and Egypt during the medieval period.
  • Ottoman Empire: Syria became part of the Ottoman Empire in the early 16th century. Ottoman rule lasted until the end of World War I.

Modern Period:

  • French Mandate[16]: After World War I, the League of Nations granted a mandate to France to administer Syria and Lebanon. This period lasted until Syria gained independence in 1946.
  • Modern Syria: After independence, Syria witnessed political instability, coups, and changes in leadership. The Ba’ath Party came to power in 1963, leading to the eventual rule of Hafez al-Assad and later his son, Bashar al-Assad.

This historical overview provides a broad perspective on the origins, invasions, and dynasties that have shaped the history of Syria. Keep in mind that this is a condensed summary, and there are many more details and nuances in Syria’s long and complex history.

 

The Golden Age of Syria[17]

 

The term “Golden Age” often refers to a historical period during which a civilization or region experiences significant cultural, economic, and scientific advancements. While there isn’t a specific universally recognized “Golden Age” for Syria, different periods in its history have been characterized by remarkable achievements. Here are a couple of periods that are often considered significant in the history of the region:

Umayyad Caliphate (661–750 CE):[18]

  • Capital in Damascus: The Umayyad Caliphate, with its capital in Damascus, is often referred to as the first great Islamic dynasty. This period is considered a cultural and architectural zenith.
  • Architectural Achievements: The Umayyads were responsible for the construction of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, one of the oldest and most important mosques in the world. The mosque’s architectural beauty and grandeur symbolize the achievements of the Umayyad period.
  • Cultural Flourishing: The Umayyad Caliphate played a significant role in the early development of Islamic art, literature, and science. It was a time of cultural flourishing and intellectual exchange.

Islamic Golden Age (8th–14th centuries):

  • Contributions to Science and Philosophy: While not specific to Syria alone, the broader Islamic Golden Age saw scholars in the region making significant contributions to various fields, including mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and philosophy.
  • House of Wisdom in Baghdad: Though the House of Wisdom, a major intellectual center, was in Baghdad, scholars from different parts of the Islamic world, including Syria, contributed to its activities.

Mamluk Sultanate (1250–1517 CE):[19]

  • Art and Architecture: The Mamluks, who ruled over Syria and Egypt, made notable contributions to art and architecture. Mamluk architecture, including mosques and madrasas, is celebrated for its intricate designs and innovations.
  • Economic Prosperity: During the Mamluk period, Syria experienced economic prosperity, facilitated by its strategic location as a trade hub connecting Europe, Asia, and Africa.

While these periods are often highlighted as times of significant achievement, it’s essential to note that the notion of a “Golden Age” can be subjective and may vary depending on the criteria used to evaluate the historical periods. Additionally, Syria’s history is complex, with various rulers and dynasties contributing to its cultural and intellectual heritage over the centuries.

 

The Invasion of Syria over the Passage of Time[20]

Damascus, being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, has witnessed numerous invasions and changes in control over the course of its long history. Here are some of the major invaders and occupiers of Damascus:

  • Assyrians: The Assyrian Empire, led by kings such as Tiglath-Pileser III and Sargon II, conquered Damascus in the 8th century BCE. The city became part of the Assyrian Empire until the fall of Nineveh in 612 BCE.
  • Babylonians: After the fall of the Assyrian Empire, the Babylonians, under King Nebuchadnezzar II, took control of Damascus in the 6th century BCE.
  • Persians: Following the defeat of the Babylonians, the Achaemenid Persian Empire, led by Cyrus the Great, conquered Damascus in the 6th century BCE.
  • Greeks: Under the leadership of Alexander the Great, the Macedonian Greeks conquered the Persian Empire, including Damascus, in the 4th century BCE.
  • Seleucids: After Alexander’s death, his empire was divided among his generals, and Damascus came under the control of the Seleucid Empire, founded by Seleucus I Nicator.
  • Romans: Damascus became part of the Roman Empire in the 1st century BCE. It was a provincial capital and an important center during Roman rule.
  • Byzantines: After the division of the Roman Empire, Damascus fell under the control of the Byzantine Empire.
  • Arab Muslims: In the 7th century CE, Arab Muslims, led by the Rashidun Caliphs, conquered Damascus from the Byzantines. The Umayyad Caliphate, with its capital in Damascus, played a crucial role in shaping the city during this period.
  • Seljuk Turks: During the medieval period, Damascus was briefly captured by the Seljuk Turks in the 11th century.
  • Crusaders: Damascus was a target during the Crusades, and it was briefly captured by the Crusaders in 1148. However, they were unable to hold onto the city for an extended period.
  • Mamluks: The Mamluks, a slave-soldier dynasty, took control of Damascus in the 13th century and ruled the city until the rise of the Ottoman Empire.
  • Ottoman Empire: Damascus became part of the Ottoman Empire in the early 16th century and remained under Ottoman rule until the empire’s collapse after World War I.
  • French Mandate: After World War I, Damascus came under French control as part of the League of Nations mandate system.
  • Independence: Syria gained independence from French rule in 1946, and Damascus became the capital of the newly established Republic of Syria.

Throughout its history, Damascus has been a prize for various empires and civilizations, each leaving its mark on the city’s culture, architecture, and history. The city’s strategic location at the crossroads of major trade routes contributed to its historical significance and made it a target for numerous invasions.

 

The Emergence of Islam in Syria

 

The rise of Islam in Syria is a crucial chapter in the early history of the Islamic world. Syria played a significant role in the expansion of the Islamic empire, and its capital, Damascus, became a key center for the early caliphates. Here is an overview of the rise of Islam in Syria:

Conquest by Arab Muslims (7th Century CE):

  • Battle of Yarmouk (636 CE)[21]: One of the pivotal events in the Islamic conquest of Syria was the Battle of Yarmouk in 636 CE. The Arab Muslim forces, led by the Rashidun Caliphate’s military commanders, including Khalid ibn al-Walid, decisively defeated the Byzantine Empire’s armies. This victory marked the beginning of the Arab-Muslim rule in the region.

Damascus Captured (634 CE):[22]

  • Siege and Capture: Damascus, a major city in the region, was besieged by the Muslim forces in 634 CE. After a prolonged siege, the city surrendered to the Muslim forces. This event is considered a significant early conquest in the expansion of the Islamic empire.

Umayyad Caliphate (661–750 CE):

  • Establishment of the Umayyad Caliphate: Damascus became the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate, which was established after the assassination of the third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan. The first Umayyad Caliph, Muawiya I, moved the capital to Damascus, solidifying the city’s importance in the Islamic world.
  • Cultural and Architectural Achievements: The Umayyad Caliphate is often considered a period of cultural and architectural splendor. The Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, built by Caliph al-Walid I, stands as a testament to the architectural achievements of this era.

Abbasid Period (750 CE Onward):[23]

  • Shift of the Caliphate’s Capital: The Abbasid Caliphate, which succeeded the Umayyads, shifted the capital from Damascus to Baghdad in 750 CE. Despite the transfer of the political center, Damascus retained its cultural and economic significance.

Cultural and Economic Flourishing:

  • Centers of Learning: Under various caliphates, including the Umayyads and Abbasids, Syria, and particularly Damascus, became centers of learning and intellectual activity. Scholars in fields such as science, medicine, philosophy, and literature made significant contributions during this period.

Seljuk and Crusader Periods:

  • Challenges from the Seljuks and Crusaders: During the medieval period, Syria faced challenges from the Seljuk Turks and European Crusaders. The region changed hands multiple times between Muslim and Crusader rule.

Mamluk Sultanate (1250–1517 CE):

  • Mamluk Rule: The Mamluks, slave-soldiers who rose to power, ruled over Syria and Egypt. Damascus was an important city during the Mamluk Sultanate, and the Mamluks made significant contributions to art and architecture.

The rise of Islam in Syria not only transformed the political landscape but also had a profound impact on the cultural, economic, and intellectual development of the region. The early Islamic period laid the foundation for the rich historical and architectural heritage that can still be seen in Syria today.

 

General Saladin Ayoobi[24]

Saladin, also known as Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, did conquer Damascus. Saladin, a Kurdish military leader and statesman, played a key role during the Crusades and is best known for his recapture of Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187. However, prior to his renowned capture of Jerusalem, Saladin had already achieved significant military successes in the region.

In 1174, Saladin’s forces, representing the Ayyubid dynasty, successfully took control of Damascus. This event marked an important phase in Saladin’s rise to power and expanded his influence in the region. The capture of Damascus was part of Saladin’s broader efforts to unify various Muslim territories and establish the Ayyubid state.

It is worth noting that while Saladin conquered Damascus, he also pursued a policy of diplomacy and consolidation, seeking to create a unified Muslim front against the Crusaders. His eventual capture of Jerusalem in 1187 is one of the most well-known episodes of the Crusades and significantly altered the geopolitical landscape of the region. After taking Jerusalem, Saladin’s reputation as a chivalrous and just ruler grew, and he became an emblematic figure in Islamic history.

 

  • Early Career: Saladin began his military career serving under his uncle, Shirkuh, who was a general in the service of the Muslim states in the Middle East. He gained experience and recognition during various military campaigns.
  • Succession to Power: After the death of his uncle in 1169, Saladin assumed a leadership role, becoming the vizier (chief minister) to the Fatimid caliph in Egypt. Soon afterward, he deposed the last Fatimid caliph, effectively unifying Egypt and Syria under his rule.

Capture of Damascus:

  • Rivalry with Shi’a Fatimids: Saladin’s capture of Damascus in 1174 was part of his larger efforts to consolidate power and unite the Muslim territories. Despite his initial loyalty to the Shi’a Fatimid caliphate, Saladin’s growing power and the changing political landscape led to a shift in alliances.
  • Conflict with the Crusaders: Saladin recognized the threat posed by the Crusader states in the Levant. He sought to unite Muslim forces to counter the Crusaders, who had established their presence in the region after the First Crusade (1096–1099).
  • Strategic Importance: Damascus, a major city with strategic significance, was a key target for Saladin. Its capture allowed him to strengthen his control over the region and establish a base for further military campaigns against the Crusaders.

Character and Leadership:

  • Chivalry and Justice: Saladin was known for his chivalry and sense of justice, earning the respect of both Muslim and Crusader contemporaries. His reputation for fairness extended to his treatment of prisoners and conquered territories.
  • Religious Tolerance: Saladin practiced a form of religious tolerance uncommon in his time. After capturing Jerusalem in 1187, he allowed Christians to buy their freedom and permitted Jews and Muslims to continue living in the city.
  • Legacy: Saladin’s legacy is often celebrated for his role in reclaiming Jerusalem from the Crusaders. He left a lasting impact on the Muslim world and is remembered as a symbol of unity, piety, and military prowess.

 

Saladin was not Egyptian by birth; he was born in Tikrit, Iraq, in 1137. He belonged to a Kurdish family with origins in the region. His full name is Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, and he rose to prominence as a military leader and statesman in the Middle East.  Saladin’s career began in the service of the Muslim states in the Middle East, and he eventually became a prominent figure in Egypt. He served as the vizier (chief minister) to the Fatimid caliph in Egypt and later played a crucial role in unifying Egypt and Syria under his rule. Saladin’s capture of Damascus in 1174 marked a significant step in his consolidation of power in the region.

While he spent much of his career in Egypt and the Levant, Saladin’s influence extended beyond these regions. His most famous accomplishment was the recapture of Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187. Saladin’s reputation as a military leader, statesman, and symbol of chivalry transcends national boundaries, and he is often celebrated in the broader context of Islamic history. In summary, Saladin’s capture of Damascus was a strategic move in his broader efforts to unite Muslim territories and counter the Crusader threat. His leadership qualities, military achievements, and sense of justice have contributed to his enduring legacy in the history of the Middle East.

 

The Shared Significance of Damascus in Abrahamic Faiths[25]

 

The significance of Damascus in each of these Abrahamic religions:

Judaism:

  • Ancient History: Damascus has a long history dating back to ancient times. In the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), Damascus is mentioned multiple times, and it is believed to have been an ancient city during the time of Abraham.
  • King David: According to the Bible, King David defeated the Arameans of Damascus and established control over the region (2 Samuel 8:5-6).
  • Damascus Road Experience: Perhaps most famously, Damascus is associated with the conversion experience of the Apostle Paul (Saul of Tarsus) in the New Testament. According to the Christian Bible (New Testament), Paul had a vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus, which led to his conversion (Acts 9:1-19).

Christianity:

  • Damascus Road Experience: As mentioned, Damascus holds great significance in Christianity due to the Damascus Road experience of the Apostle Paul. This event is considered a pivotal moment in early Christian history, marking Paul’s conversion from a persecutor of Christians to one of the most influential figures in the spread of Christianity.

Islam:

  • Early Islamic History: Damascus played a crucial role in early Islamic history. After the death of the Prophet Muhammad, the Rashidun Caliphs, including Umar ibn al-Khattab, expanded the Islamic empire into the Levant. Damascus was conquered by Muslim forces in the 7th century during the caliphate of Umar.
  • Umayyad Caliphate: Damascus became the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate under Caliph Muawiya I. The Umayyad Mosque, constructed during this period, stands as one of the oldest and most significant mosques in the world.
  • Cultural and Intellectual Center: Under various Islamic dynasties, including the Umayyads and later the Abbasids, Damascus became a center of learning, culture, and architecture.

Shared Significance:

  • Historical Crossroads: Damascus has served as a cultural and commercial crossroads for centuries, connecting different civilizations and fostering cultural exchange.
  • Religious Coexistence: The city has historically been a place of religious coexistence, where Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities have coexisted.
  • Architectural Heritage: The Umayyad Mosque, also known as the Great Mosque of Damascus, is a shared architectural treasure and an important pilgrimage site for Muslims.

In summary, Damascus holds multifaceted significance in the religious and historical narratives of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Its ancient history, association with biblical figures, and role in the spread of monotheistic religions make it a city of great religious and cultural importance in the Middle East

 

The Assad Dynasty[26]

The Assad family has played a significant role in the modern history of Syria. The dynasty, led by Hafez al-Assad and later his son Bashar al-Assad, has been a dominant political force in the country. Here is an overview of the Assad family’s origins to the present:

Hafez al-Assad (1930–2000):

  • Early Life: Hafez al-Assad was born in the village of Qardaha in northwest Syria.
  • Military Career: Hafez rose through the ranks of the Syrian military, eventually becoming Defense Minister in 1966.
  • Ba’ath Party: Hafez aligned with the Ba’ath Party and played a role in the party’s internal power struggles.
  • Seizure of Power: Hafez assumed the presidency of Syria in 1971 through a coup d’état, consolidating power and establishing an authoritarian regime.
  • Authoritarian Rule: Hafez’s rule was characterized by centralized authority, suppression of dissent, and a strong security apparatus.
  • Regional Influence: Hafez pursued an assertive foreign policy, intervening in Lebanese civil war and aligning with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Bashar al-Assad (Born 1965):

  • Early Life and Education: Bashar al-Assad, the son of Hafez, studied ophthalmology in London.
  • Unexpected Succession: Bashar was not initially groomed for political leadership. However, after the death of his older brother Bassel in 1994, he became the heir apparent.
  • Assumption of Power: Bashar assumed the presidency in 2000 after Hafez’s death. His presidency marked a period of hope for political openness, which became known as the “Damascus Spring.”
  • Challenges and Repression: The period of relative openness was short-lived, and Bashar faced challenges from political dissidents. The regime cracked down on dissent, and the country continued to be governed under an authoritarian model.
  • Regional Conflicts: Bashar faced challenges related to the Iraq War, tensions with Israel, and involvement in the Lebanese political landscape.
  • Arab Spring and Syrian Civil War: The Arab Spring protests in 2011 led to widespread unrest in Syria, evolving into a protracted civil war. The conflict has been marked by brutality, humanitarian crises, and complex geopolitical dynamics.
  • Russian Support: Bashar al-Assad’s regime received crucial military support from Russia, which played a significant role in the course of the Syrian Civil War.
  • Re-elections: Bashar al-Assad won controversial presidential elections in 2014 and 2021, maintaining his grip on power.

Legacy and Criticisms:

  • The Assad family’s rule has been characterized by authoritarianism, political repression, and human rights abuses.
  • Supporters argue that the Assads’ provided stability and protected religious minorities, while critics point to the suppression of dissent and alleged war crimes during the Syrian Civil War.

The Assad family’s rule in Syria has been marked by a complex interplay of regional politics, authoritarian governance, and ongoing conflicts. The legacy of the Assad dynasty is deeply intertwined with the modern history of Syria.

 

The Syrian Civil War

 

The Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011, is a complex and multifaceted conflict with roots in a combination of political, social, and economic factors. The war has involved various actors with differing interests, making it challenging to pinpoint a single cause. However, some key factors contributed to the outbreak of the conflict:

Authoritarian Rule and Repression:

  • Decades of authoritarian rule under the Assad family, particularly Hafez al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad, led to political repression, limited political freedoms, and a lack of open political discourse.
  • Economic challenges, corruption, and social inequality fueled discontent among the population.

Arab Spring Uprisings:[27]

  • Inspired by the wave of protests during the Arab Spring in early 2011, Syrians began expressing their dissatisfaction with the government.
  • Protests initially focused on calls for political reforms, greater civil liberties, and an end to corruption.

Government Response:

  • The Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, responded to protests with force, using the military and security apparatus to suppress dissent.
  • The violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators escalated tensions and led to increased demands for regime change.

Fragmentation and Militarization:

  • As protests grew in intensity, opposition groups began to form, comprised of defected military personnel and civilians.
  • The conflict became increasingly militarized as some factions took up arms against the government.

International Involvement:

  • The conflict attracted the involvement of regional and international actors, each with its own interests and agendas.
  • Opposition forces received support from various countries, including Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, while the Syrian government had support from Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah.

ISIS and Extremist Elements:[28]

  • The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) added another dimension to the conflict. ISIS took advantage of the power vacuum and sectarian tensions to seize territory in Syria and Iraq.

Humanitarian Crisis:

  • The conflict resulted in a severe humanitarian crisis, with millions of people displaced internally and externally, widespread destruction, and a significant loss of life.

The warring parties in the Syrian Civil War were numerous and complex:

  • Syrian Government Forces: Led by President Bashar al-Assad, government forces included the Syrian Arab Army, security forces, and allied militias.
  • Opposition Forces: Comprising various groups with diverse ideologies and goals, the opposition included secular and moderate factions as well as more Islamist and extremist groups.
  • Kurdish Forces: The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), emerged as a significant player, particularly in northern Syria.
  • ISIS: The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) sought to establish a caliphate and controlled significant territory in Syria and Iraq.
  • International Actors: Russia supported the Syrian government, providing military assistance. The United States and its coalition allies supported various factions within the opposition.

The Syrian Civil War is an ongoing and fluid conflict with changing dynamics, making it challenging to provide a comprehensive overview. It has resulted in significant geopolitical shifts, human suffering, and a complex web of alliances and rivalries.  The Syrian Civil War was not initiated by a single individual or a specific event involving a boy. The conflict has deep-rooted causes that evolved over time and involve a combination of political, economic, social, and regional factors. The uprising and subsequent civil war were triggered by a series of events and factors rather than a single incident.  The conflict began in 2011 with peaceful protests inspired by the broader Arab Spring movement, calling for political reforms, greater freedoms, and an end to government corruption. The Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, responded to these protests with force, leading to a cycle of violence and a growing opposition movement. As the situation escalated, various factions, including defected military personnel and civilians, formed armed groups to challenge the government. The mention of a boy in the context of the Syrian Civil War may refer to a specific incident that garnered international attention. In March 2011, a group of teenagers in the southern city of Daraa was arrested and tortured by security forces for painting anti-government graffiti. One of the boys, 13-year-old Hamza al-Khateeb, became a symbol of the brutality of the regime after his death, and images of his mutilated body circulated online, further fuelling public anger and protests.  While Hamza al-Khateeb’s case was a tragic and notable incident, it would be an oversimplification to attribute the entire Syrian Civil War to this single event. The conflict’s roots go much deeper and involve complex geopolitical, sectarian, and socio-economic factors that have fuelled a protracted and devastating war in Syria

 

The Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011, affected numerous cities across the country[29]. The conflict’s intensity and dynamics led to different cities experiencing varying degrees of violence, displacement, and destruction. Here are some of the cities that played significant roles in the Syrian Civil War:

  • Damascus: The capital city and seat of the Syrian government, Damascus witnessed both anti-government protests and government crackdowns. While the city itself was not a major battleground in the early stages, it faced sporadic violence, and some suburbs experienced heavy fighting.
  • Aleppo: Syria’s largest city and an economic hub, Aleppo became a major battleground. It was divided between government-controlled western parts and opposition-held eastern parts for several years. The battle for Aleppo, which lasted from 2012 to 2016, resulted in widespread destruction.
  • Homs: Homs, located in central Syria, saw early protests and a significant government crackdown. The city was heavily damaged during the conflict, particularly the Old City, which witnessed intense fighting.
  • Hama: Like Homs, Hama experienced anti-government protests and government repression early in the conflict. It also saw periods of heavy fighting, with the city and its surroundings witnessing military offensives and clashes.
  • Daraa: The southern city of Daraa is often considered the birthplace of the Syrian uprising. Protests began here in March 2011, triggered by the arrest and torture of teenagers who had painted anti-government graffiti. Daraa saw some of the earliest and most intense confrontations between protesters and security forces.
  • Raqqa: Raqqa gained international attention when it became the de facto capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The city was held by ISIS from 2014 until its liberation by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in 2017.
  • Deir ez-Zor: Located in eastern Syria, Deir ez-Zor became a focal point in the later stages of the conflict, especially with battles against ISIS. The city and its surroundings faced both ISIS attacks and government offensives.
  • Idlib: Idlib province, including the city of Idlib, became a stronghold for various opposition groups. The province witnessed multiple military offensives, displacing a significant portion of the population.
  • Qamishli: Qamishli is a city in north-eastern Syria and has been a key area for Kurdish forces. It is situated in a region with a significant Kurdish population and has been relatively stable compared to other parts of Syria.

These are just a few examples, and numerous other cities and towns across Syria experienced the impact of the conflict. The Syrian Civil War’s complex dynamics involved various factions, including the Syrian government, opposition forces, Kurdish forces, and extremist groups, contributing to the widespread devastation and humanitarian crisis in the country.

 

ISIS and the Syrian War

 

ISIS and ISIL both refer to the same extremist group, but they are different acronyms for its name:

  • ISIS: Stands for the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.” This term emphasizes the group’s territorial focus on Iraq and Syria.
  • ISIL: Stands for the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” The term “Levant” is a broader geographical designation that includes a larger region beyond just Iraq and Syria, encompassing parts of the eastern Mediterranean.

ISIS became involved in the Syrian Civil War for several reasons:

  • Power Vacuum: The Syrian Civil War created a power vacuum, particularly in areas that were either contested between government and opposition forces or had limited governance. This vacuum allowed extremist groups like ISIS to exploit the situation and establish a presence.
  • Anti-Government Sentiment: ISIS capitalized on anti-government sentiments and grievances within certain segments of the population. The group presented itself as a force opposing the Syrian government and sought to establish its version of an Islamic state.
  • Regional Instability: The wider regional instability, including the conflict in Iraq and the Syrian Civil War, provided favorable conditions for ISIS to expand its operations and gain control over territory. The group took advantage of porous borders and the flow of fighters and weapons across the region.
  • Strategic Goals: ISIS aimed to establish a caliphate across Iraq and Syria, seeking to erase borders and create a transnational Islamic state. Syria, with its ongoing conflict, presented an opportunity for ISIS to advance its territorial ambitions.
  • Recruitment and Resources: The conflict in Syria provided ISIS with a recruiting ground, drawing foreign fighters who were attracted to the group’s radical ideology. Additionally, the control of territory allowed ISIS to exploit resources, including oil fields, providing funding for its operations.
  • Weak Governance: In areas with weak or fragmented governance, ISIS found opportunities to exert control, impose its version of Islamic law, and establish a foothold. This was particularly evident in regions where various factions were vying for control.

The involvement of ISIS in the Syrian Civil War added a layer of complexity to an already multifaceted conflict. The group’s brutality, expansion, and attempts to establish a self-declared caliphate contributed to the humanitarian crisis and further destabilized the region.

Main Picture:  A General Map of Syria showing the neighbouring Countries and the Military situation build-up in Syria in August 2012
Inset: Military situation in Syria in August 2015.  Note the difference in proportions of takeover of Syria

 Involvement of the United States in the Syrian War Crisis.[30]

The United States became involved in the Syrian Civil War, although its involvement was multifaceted and evolved over time. The U.S. engagement included both direct military actions and support for various groups involved in the conflict. Here are key aspects of U.S. involvement:

  • Arming and Training Opposition Forces: The U.S. government, particularly under the Obama administration, provided support to certain Syrian opposition groups. This support included the arming and training of rebel forces deemed moderate and non-extremist. The goal was to bolster opposition efforts against the Assad government.
  • Coalition Against ISIS: In response to the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the U.S. formed an international coalition in 2014 to combat the extremist group. The coalition included airstrikes against ISIS targets in both Syria and Iraq. The U.S. led these efforts alongside partners from Europe and the Middle East.
  • Airstrikes in Syria: The U.S. conducted targeted airstrikes in Syria against ISIS positions and infrastructure. These airstrikes aimed to weaken ISIS and limit its territorial control.
  • Support for Kurdish Forces: The U.S. provided support to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a predominantly Kurdish militia, in their fight against ISIS. This support included air cover, training, and arming. The SDF played a crucial role in the defeat of ISIS in areas such as Raqqa.
  • Limited Direct Involvement: While the U.S. engaged in military operations against ISIS in Syria, it refrained from direct military involvement against the Syrian government. The U.S. focused on the counterterrorism aspect of the conflict rather than taking a side in the broader civil war.
  • Missile Strikes: In response to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, the U.S. conducted limited missile strikes against Syrian government targets. These strikes were intended as a deterrent against the use of chemical weapons.

It is important to note that the Syrian Civil War involved numerous regional and international actors, each with its own interests and agendas. U.S. involvement was part of a broader international response to the complex and multifaceted conflict in Syria. The dynamics of the conflict were fluid, and the situation evolved over time.

 

ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) or Daesh, played a significant role in the Syrian Civil War. Here are key points about ISIS in the context of the conflict:

  • Emergence: ISIS emerged in the early 2000s as an offshoot of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. It gained strength during the U.S. occupation of Iraq and later expanded its operations into Syria.
  • Expansion into Syria: In 2013, ISIS expanded its operations into Syria, taking advantage of the power vacuum created by the Syrian Civil War. The group sought to establish a transnational Islamic caliphate that spanned both Iraq and Syria.
  • Territorial Control: Between 2014 and 2017, ISIS controlled significant portions of Syria, including key cities like Raqqa and Palmyra. The group’s control over territory allowed it to impose its extremist interpretation of Islamic law and exploit local resources.
  • Brutality and Atrocities: ISIS gained notoriety for its brutal tactics, including mass executions, beheadings, and the use of violence to instill fear. The group targeted religious and ethnic minorities, committing atrocities against groups such as the Yazidis.
  • International Response: The rise of ISIS prompted an international response, with a coalition led by the United States conducting airstrikes against ISIS targets in both Iraq and Syria. The coalition included a range of countries from the Middle East and Europe.
  • Loss of Territory: Over the course of 2017, the U.S.-led coalition, along with local partners, recaptured significant territories from ISIS. Raqqa, the de facto capital of the self-declared caliphate, fell in October 2017.
  • Transition to Insurgency: Despite losing territorial control, ISIS transitioned into an insurgent and terrorist organization. It continued to carry out attacks in Syria and Iraq, employing guerrilla warfare tactics.
  • Impact on the Conflict: The presence of ISIS added complexity to the Syrian Civil War, as various actors, including the Syrian government, opposition groups, and Kurdish forces, had to contend with the threat posed by the extremist group in addition to the broader conflict dynamics.

While ISIS has lost much of its territorial control, it remains a security concern in the region, and efforts to counter its influence continue.  The defeat of ISIS was a result of the collective efforts of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, led by the United States, along with various local and international partners. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-Arab alliance, played a crucial role in the ground offensive against ISIS in Syria. Raqqa, the self-declared capital of the ISIS caliphate, fell in October 2017, marking a significant turning point. The Iraqi Security Forces also contributed to the defeat of ISIS in Iraq.

 

The Purposeful and Wanton destruction of Ancient Structures and Artefacts in Syria by ISIS[31]

ISIS destroyed ancient heritage structures for ideological reasons, driven by their interpretation of extreme religious beliefs. The group considered these structures as symbols of idolatry and pre-Islamic paganism, viewing their destruction as a way to purify the land and enforce their strict interpretation of Sunni Islam.

In Palmyra, Syria, ISIS targeted the ancient archaeological site, including the Temple of Bel and the Arch of Triumph. In Afghanistan, the Taliban, not ISIS, destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001. The Buddhas were colossal statues carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamiyan Valley and were considered masterpieces of Gandhara Buddhist art[32]. The destruction was also motivated by extremist ideologies that deemed the statues as un-Islamic and idolatrous.

 

In Syria, various actors fought against ISIS, including:

  • United States-led Coalition: A coalition of countries, primarily led by the United States, conducted airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq. The coalition included Western and Middle Eastern nations.
  • Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF): The SDF, a multi-ethnic alliance comprising Kurdish and Arab fighters, played a crucial role in the ground offensive against ISIS in northeastern Syria. The SDF received support from the U.S.-led coalition.
  • Syrian Government Forces: While the Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad primarily focused on combating opposition groups, it also engaged in clashes with ISIS, particularly in central and eastern Syria.
  • Russian Military: Russia, a key ally of the Syrian government, conducted its own military operations against ISIS in Syria, primarily through airstrikes.
  • Iraqi Security Forces: In coordination with the U.S.-led coalition, Iraqi forces fought against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria.
  • Iran and Iranian-backed Militias: Iranian-backed militias, such as Hezbollah, were involved in the conflict against ISIS in coordination with the Syrian government and Iranian military advisers.

The fight against ISIS involved a complex network of local, regional, and international actors with differing interests and alliances.

Main Photo: The Ancient Temple of Baal in Palmyra, which was destroyed by ISIL in August 2015
Inset, Bottom Right:  U.S.-led coalition airstrike targeting Islamic State positions during the Siege of Kobanî.
Inset, Top Left: The Great Mosque at Aleppo with the ancient, iconic 12th century minaret lying in a pile of rubble, probably caused by US led coalition, heavy airstrikes, against the ISIS.

The Yazidis in Syria [33]

The Yazidis are an ethno-religious group with a distinct religious identity that incorporates elements from various ancient religions, including Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam. The Yazidi religion is monotheistic and centers around a supreme deity, often represented as a peacock angel known as Melek Taus. Yazidism has its own religious practices, rituals, and beliefs, making it a distinct faith.

Key points about the Yazidis, include:

  • Religious Beliefs: Yazidis believe in one God and revere Melek Taus as a central figure in their faith. They consider Melek Taus to be a benevolent angel who symbolizes divine attributes.
  • Persecution and Misunderstanding: Throughout history, the Yazidis have faced persecution and misunderstanding due to their unique religious beliefs. Misconceptions about Melek Taus being equated with Satan have led to discrimination and attacks against the Yazidi community.
  • Community and Culture: The Yazidis have a close-knit community with a strong emphasis on cultural and religious traditions. They have their own religious leaders and sacred places, such as the Lalish temple in Iraq.
  • Genocide by ISIS: One of the most tragic events in recent Yazidi history is the genocide perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2014. ISIS targeted Yazidis in northern Iraq, particularly in the Sinjar region. Thousands were killed, and Yazidi women and girls were subjected to horrific acts of violence, including sexual slavery.

ISIS considered the Yazidis to be “devil-worshippers” and launched a campaign of extermination against them. Thousands of Yazidis were displaced, and many fled to escape the brutal persecution. The intentinal genocide against the Yazidi community by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2014 was primarily motivated by religious reasons. ISIS considered the Yazidis to be “devil-worshippers” due to their unique religious beliefs, which include the veneration of Melek Taus, a figure associated with a peacock angel. The misconceptions about Melek Taus, coupled with ISIS’s extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam, led to the targeting and persecution of the Yazidis.

ISIS viewed the Yazidis as heretics and non-believers, justifying their brutal campaign against the community on religious grounds. The militants sought to impose their version of Sunni Islam and considered anyone who did not adhere to their strict interpretation as enemies. The atrocities committed against the Yazidis, including mass killings, enslavement, and sexual violence, were part of a systematic campaign to eliminate the Yazidi community based on religious differences.

The genocide against the Yazidis highlighted the religious dimension of the conflict in Iraq and Syria and underscored the importance of protecting religious and ethnic minorities in the face of extremist ideologies. The international community condemned the actions of ISIS as genocide, recognizing the deliberate targeting of the Yazidis based on their religious identity. Efforts have been made to document the crimes, seek justice for the victims, and address the humanitarian needs of the Yazidi community.  The ISIS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is a jihadist extremist group that emerged from Sunni Islam. However, it is crucial to note that the vast majority of Muslims around the world reject and condemn the ideology and actions of ISIS. The group’s interpretation of Islam is widely considered extreme and does not represent the beliefs of the broader Muslim population community recognised the atrocities committed by ISIS against the Yazidis as genocide.

ISIS has been responsible for the beheading of several individuals, including Americans. The group carried out these brutal acts as a form of propaganda, aiming to instill fear, gain attention, and further its extremist agenda. The victims, often journalists or aid workers, were targeted for their nationality and perceived association with Western governments or values. The beheadings were widely condemned as acts of terrorism and gross human rights violations.

 

Atrocities committed by the Assad Regime against Syrians as measures of Oppression.[34]

 

The Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011, has witnessed numerous human rights abuses and atrocities committed by various parties, including the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad. These atrocities have been widely documented by international organizations, humanitarian groups, and investigative journalists. Some of the key atrocities attributed to the Assad regime include:

  • Use of Chemical Weapons: The Syrian government has been accused of using chemical weapons against civilians. The most infamous incident occurred in August 2013 in the Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, where hundreds of people, including many children, were killed in a chemical weapons attack. Subsequent incidents were reported in other parts of Syria.
  • Siege Warfare: The Syrian government, through its military forces, has implemented siege warfare tactics against opposition-held areas. This has led to widespread suffering among civilian populations, with reports of starvation, lack of access to medical care, and dire humanitarian conditions.
  • Barrel Bomb Attacks: The Syrian government has been accused of conducting barrel bomb attacks on civilian areas. Barrel bombs, often improvised explosive devices filled with shrapnel and explosives, have caused significant civilian casualties and destruction of infrastructure.
  • Torture and Arbitrary Detentions: Reports of widespread torture and arbitrary detentions of political dissidents, activists, and opposition members by Syrian security forces have been documented. Prisons, including notorious facilities like Saydnaya Prison, have been the sites of alleged systematic torture and extrajudicial killings.
  • Targeting of Hospitals and Medical Personnel: There have been allegations of deliberate targeting of hospitals and medical personnel by Syrian government forces. This has resulted in the denial of essential medical care to civilians in need.

It is important to note that various armed groups involved in the Syrian Civil War, including extremist factions, have also been implicated in human rights abuses. The conflict has caused immense suffering, displacement, and loss of life, with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence.  International human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have extensively documented these atrocities, and calls for accountability and justice continue to be made by the international community. The situation is complex, and multiple actors have contributed to the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

 

The Syrian Civil War has had profound and far-reaching impacts, both locally and globally. Here are some of the present-day consequences:

Humanitarian Crisis:

  • Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and Refugees: Millions of Syrians have been displaced internally, and many others have sought refuge in neighboring countries and beyond. This has led to one of the largest refugee crises in the world, impacting countries in the Middle East, Europe, and beyond.

Regional Destabilization:

  • Impact on Neighbouring Countries: The conflict has had spill-over effects on neighbouring countries, contributing to political, social, and economic challenges. Countries like Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey have faced the burden of hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees.

Economic Consequences:

  • Destruction of Infrastructure: The war has caused widespread destruction of infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, and economic facilities, leading to long-term economic challenges for Syria’s recovery.

Global Terrorism and Security Concerns:

  • Rise of Extremist Groups: The conflict provided fertile ground for the rise of extremist groups, including ISIS, with global security implications. The presence of foreign fighters in the region has raised concerns about the potential spread of radical ideologies.

Diplomatic and Geopolitical Shifts:

  • International Involvement: The Syrian conflict has led to complex geopolitical dynamics with various international actors supporting different factions. The involvement of Russia, Iran, the United States, and other regional powers has shaped the course of the conflict.

Cultural and Historical Losses:

  • Destruction of Heritage: The conflict has resulted in the destruction of historical and cultural heritage sites, causing irreparable losses to Syria’s rich history.

Ongoing Human Rights Concerns:

  • Continued Human Rights Violations: Human rights abuses continue to be reported, including arbitrary detentions, torture, and violence against civilians.

Challenges for Reconstruction:

  • Reconstruction Challenges: Rebuilding Syria in the aftermath of the conflict poses significant challenges, including the need for massive financial resources, political stability, and international cooperation.

The impact of the Syrian Civil War is multifaceted, affecting not only the people directly involved but also neighbouring regions and the global community. Addressing the aftermath of the conflict requires comprehensive efforts from the international community to provide humanitarian assistance, support reconstruction, and work towards lasting political solutions

The Syrian Civil War: Wounded civilians arrive at a hospital in Aleppo, October 2012 in a good pick up vehicle.  Note a parent carrying an injured child in the top left-hand corner.

The Bottom Line is that the conflict in Syria has had significant global implications in the 21st century, affecting various aspects of international relations, security, and humanitarian concerns. Some key global impacts include:

  • Refugee Crisis: The Syrian Civil War has contributed to one of the largest refugee crises in recent history. Millions of Syrians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries and beyond, leading to a significant strain on regional and global resources.
  • Humanitarian Challenges: The conflict has resulted in a severe humanitarian crisis, with millions of Syrians in need of assistance. International humanitarian organizations have been actively involved in providing aid, but the scale of the crisis poses ongoing challenges.
  • Geopolitical Dynamics: The Syrian conflict has been a focal point of complex geopolitical dynamics, involving regional and global powers. Competing interests among major players, including Russia, the United States, Iran, and others, have shaped the course of the conflict.
  • Rise of Extremism: The emergence of extremist groups, such as ISIS, has heightened global concerns about terrorism. The conflict in Syria provided a breeding ground for radicalization and the recruitment of foreign fighters.
  • Strain on Regional Stability: The spillover effects of the Syrian conflict have contributed to instability in neighboring countries, impacting the political, economic, and social landscape of the broader region.
  • Global Diplomatic Efforts: International efforts to address the Syrian crisis have involved diplomatic initiatives, peace talks, and negotiations. The conflict has been a focal point in discussions within the United Nations and among major powers.
  • Impact on Global Security: The presence of extremist groups in Syria, including those with global aspirations, has raised concerns about the potential for the conflict to have broader security implications beyond the region.
  • Human Rights Concerns: The conflict has brought attention to widespread human rights abuses, including chemical weapon attacks, indiscriminate bombings, and displacement. The international community has expressed condemnation and sought accountability for these violations.
  • Economic Repercussions: The economic challenges faced by Syria, including the destruction of infrastructure and the displacement of the population, have contributed to global economic concerns, particularly for countries directly impacted by the crisis.

The Syrian conflict underscores the interconnectedness of global challenges and the need for coordinated international responses to address complex crises. The war’s impact on refugees, regional stability, security, and humanitarian concerns has reverberated far beyond the borders of Syria, shaping the geopolitical landscape of the 21st  century. Key statistics related to the Syrian Civil War:

Casualties:

  • Estimates of the death toll vary, but it is widely acknowledged to be in the hundreds of thousands.
  • Millions of people have been injured, and many more have been displaced.

Displacement:

  • Over 13 million Syrians have been displaced within the country.
  • More than 5.6 million Syrians have sought refuge in neighboring countries.
  • The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees has contributed to one of the largest humanitarian crises globally.

Refugees:

  • Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan have hosted a significant number of Syrian refugees.
  • There are also Syrian refugees in other countries, contributing to a broader global refugee crisis.

Destruction and Infrastructure:

  • Widespread destruction of infrastructure, including homes, hospitals, and schools.
  • The economic cost of the destruction is immense, with estimates in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

Humanitarian Needs:

  • A large portion of the Syrian population is in need of humanitarian assistance, including food, shelter, and healthcare.
  • Humanitarian organizations have faced challenges in accessing affected areas.

Chemical Weapons Attacks:

  • Several documented instances of chemical weapons attacks, including the use of sarin and chlorine gas.
  • These attacks have resulted in civilian casualties and have been widely condemned.

Geopolitical Involvement:

  • The conflict has drawn in various international and regional actors, each supporting different factions and pursuing their strategic interests.

Impact on Children:

  • Children have been disproportionately affected, with many experiencing trauma, displacement, and disruption of education.

Human Rights Abuses:

  • Widespread reports of human rights abuses, including arbitrary detentions, torture, and extrajudicial killings.

Economic Challenges:

  • The Syrian economy has faced severe challenges, including currency depreciation and a contraction of economic activity.

It is important to note that these statistics provide a broad overview, and the Syrian Civil War is a complex conflict with numerous dimensions. The situation on the ground is subject to change, and obtaining accurate and up-to-date statistics can be challenging due to the dynamic nature of the conflict.

 

There have been numerous reports and documented cases of sexual crimes committed during the Syrian Civil War. These crimes have been perpetrated by various parties involved in the conflict, including government forces, opposition groups, and extremist factions. The types of sexual violence reported include:

Sexual Assault and Rape:

  • Numerous reports have detailed cases of sexual assault and rape committed against both men and women, including in detention facilities and during military operations.

Sexual Slavery:

  • Instances of sexual slavery have been reported, particularly involving extremist groups such as ISIS. Women and girls, including members of the Yazidi community, have been subjected to systematic sexual violence and exploitation.

Forced Marriage:

  • Cases of forced marriage, often accompanied by sexual violence, have been documented. Women and girls have been forced into marriages against their will, sometimes as a form of coercion or punishment.

Trafficking and Exploitation:

  • Human trafficking for sexual exploitation has been reported, with vulnerable populations, including displaced persons and refugees, being targeted.

Targeting of LGBTQ+ Individuals:[35]

  • Members of the LGBTQ+ community have faced persecution and targeted sexual violence due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The use of sexual violence as a tactic of war is a grave violation of international humanitarian law and human rights principles. It is important to note that sexual crimes during armed conflicts often go underreported due to stigma, fear of reprisals, and challenges in documentation. Various international organizations, including the United Nations, have been working to document and address sexual violence in the context of the Syrian Civil War. Efforts have been made to seek justice for survivors, provide support and services, and raise awareness about the impact of sexual violence on affected communities.

 

The sad reality is that Bashar al-Assad, the President of Syria, has not been prosecuted for crimes against humanity related to the Syrian Civil War. The issue of accountability for the numerous allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international law in Syria has been a complex and challenging one. Several efforts have been made to address accountability, including:

  • International Criminal Court (ICC):[36] The ICC is the principal international court for prosecuting individuals for the most serious crimes, including crimes against humanity. However, Syria is not a party to the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, and the Security Council has not referred the situation in Syria to the ICC.
  • Independent Commissions and Investigations: Various independent commissions and organizations, such as the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, have been established to investigate human rights violations and document evidence of crimes committed during the conflict. These efforts contribute to a body of evidence that could be used in future legal proceedings.
  • National Prosecutions: Some countries have pursued legal action against individuals implicated in war crimes in Syria through the principle of universal jurisdiction. However, these cases face numerous challenges, including the difficulty of apprehending suspects.
  • Peace Negotiations: Accountability issues have also been discussed in the context of peace negotiations for Syria. The question of justice and accountability is often a challenging aspect of peace processes.

Syria remains suspended from the Arab League. Syria’s suspension from the Arab League took place in 2011 in response to the government’s violent crackdown on protests during the early stages of the Syrian Civil War. The Arab League cited the Syrian government’s failure to implement an Arab League initiative aimed at resolving the crisis peacefully.

 

The Arab League’s decision to suspend Syria led to diplomatic isolation and strained relations between Syria and other Arab countries. Efforts to reinstate Syria’s membership have faced obstacles due to ongoing conflicts and divergent views among Arab League member states regarding the Syrian government’s actions and the overall situation in the country.  However, on May 7th, the body agreed to readmit Syria and said it would invite Mr Assad to a summit in Saudi Arabia on May 19th, 2023.

 

 

The Syrian Refugee Camps[37]

Several refugee camps have been established to accommodate Syrians who have been displaced by the civil war. These camps are located primarily in neighbouring countries, and some are managed by international organizations and host governments. Here are some notable Syrian refugee camps:

In Turkey:

  • Kilis Camp: Located in the Kilis province near the Syrian-Turkish border.
  • Nizip Camp: Situated in the Gaziantep province, hosting a significant number of Syrian refugees.
  • Atmeh Camp: Near the Syrian-Turkish border, in the Idlib Governorate. It is not officially managed by the Turkish government but is a key location for displaced Syrians.

In Lebanon:

  • Bekaa Valley Camps: Numerous informal settlements and tented settlements in the Bekaa Valley host Syrian refugees.
  • Aarsal: Aarsal, a town near the Syrian border, has hosted Syrian refugees, both in camps and informal settlements.

In Jordan:

  • Zaatari Refugee Camp: One of the largest Syrian refugee camps in the world, located near Mafraq in northern Jordan.
  • Azraq Refugee Camp: Another major camp, situated east of Amman, designed to accommodate a large number of Syrian refugees.

In Iraq:

  • Domiz Camp: Located in the Kurdistan Region, Domiz is one of the larger camps for Syrian refugees in Iraq.
  • Kawergosk Camp: Situated in the Kurdistan Region, this camp hosts Syrian refugees and has transitioned into a semi-permanent settlement.

These are just a few examples, and there are numerous informal settlements, urban areas, and other locations where displaced Syrians have sought refuge. The situation is dynamic, and new camps may be established or existing ones may evolve over time. For the most up-to-date information, it is advisable to refer to reports from international organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and relevant host government.

The future for Syrians remains uncertain and depends on several complex factors, including the resolution of the ongoing conflict, efforts at reconstruction and rehabilitation, and geopolitical dynamics. Some key aspects to consider:

Resolution of the Conflict:

  • The most critical factor for the future of Syrians is the resolution of the conflict. A comprehensive and inclusive political solution is essential to bring stability to the country and pave the way for rebuilding.

Reconstruction and Rehabilitation:

  • Post-conflict reconstruction is a monumental task that involves rebuilding infrastructure, homes, and communities. This process will require substantial international support and cooperation.

Humanitarian Challenges:

  • Addressing the humanitarian needs of the population, including access to healthcare, education, and basic services, is crucial for improving the well-being of Syrians.

Displaced Populations:

  • The return and resettlement of displaced populations, both within Syria and in neighboring countries, will be a significant aspect of the future. This process needs to be voluntary, safe, and dignified.

Political Transition:

  • A sustainable and inclusive political transition is essential for building a stable and representative government that reflects the diverse interests of the Syrian population.

Economic Recovery:

  • Rebuilding Syria’s economy is a key component of the country’s recovery. This involves addressing economic challenges, fostering investment, and creating job opportunities.

International Involvement:

  • The involvement of the international community, including regional and global powers, will play a crucial role in shaping the future of Syria. Diplomatic efforts, humanitarian aid, and support for reconstruction will require international cooperation.

Justice and Accountability:

  • Addressing issues of justice and accountability for human rights abuses and war crimes committed during the conflict will be important for reconciliation and rebuilding trust within Syrian society.

It is important to note that the situation is dynamic, and the trajectory of Syria’s future will depend on ongoing developments. The path to recovery is likely to be challenging, with numerous obstacles to overcome. The well-being and future prospects of Syrians will hinge on the concerted efforts of the international community and the commitment of local and regional actors to finding sustainable solutions for peace and reconstruction.

 

The situation in Syria is complex, involving multiple layers of political, humanitarian, and socio-economic challenges. Here are some key messages for different stakeholders:

For Bashar al-Assad:

  • Work towards a genuine and inclusive political solution that addresses the grievances of various segments of the population.
  • Prioritize the well-being and rights of Syrians, ensuring that their needs are met, and work towards national reconciliation.
  • Engage constructively with the international community to facilitate post-conflict reconstruction and stability.

For Syria and Syrians:

  • Aspire to build a united and inclusive Syria where all citizens, regardless of their background, have equal rights and opportunities.
  • Engage in efforts for national reconciliation, acknowledging the diversity within the country and promoting unity.
  • Advocate for justice, accountability, and respect for human rights to ensure a foundation for a more stable and just society.

For the Middle East:

  • Recognize the interconnectedness of regional stability and the importance of collaborative efforts in addressing common challenges.
  • Support diplomatic initiatives aimed at resolving conflicts and promoting stability in the region.
  • Foster dialogue and cooperation to address shared concerns, including humanitarian crises, extremism, and economic challenges.

For the Global Community:

  • Continue supporting humanitarian efforts to address the needs of the Syrian population, both inside the country and among refugees.
  • Promote and contribute to diplomatic initiatives that seek a political solution to the conflict.
  • Support post-conflict reconstruction, economic recovery, and efforts to rebuild institutions in Syria.
  • Uphold international norms and principles, including human rights, and hold accountable those responsible for violations.

The Real Bottom Line, excluding rhetoric:

  • The real bottom line is a collective commitment to peace, justice, and the well-being of the Syrian people.
  • International cooperation is essential to address the multifaceted challenges in Syria and the broader Middle East.
  • Diplomacy and dialogue should be prioritized to find political solutions and prevent further humanitarian suffering.
  • The global community must remain engaged in supporting Syrians on their path to recovery and rebuilding.

The messages emphasize the importance of collaboration, inclusivity, and a commitment to the well-being of the Syrian people and the region as a whole. Achieving lasting peace and stability in Syria requires the concerted efforts of local, regional, and international stakeholders.

Main Photo:  Lifeless bodies of father and two children siblings lie in a makeshift morgue as victims of the Ghouta chemical attack perpetrated by Syrian regime forces in August 2013.  There is not even the slightest iota of evidence of Dignity in Death of nearly an entire family.
Inset:  What a contrast; Syria peace talks in in lavish settings in Vienna, 30th  October 2015

References:

[1] Personal quote by author, November 2023

[2] https://www.transcend.org/tms/2023/11/the-forgotten-part-1-kashmir-heaven-on-earth-turned-hell-on-earth-by-21st-century-india/

[3] https://www.transcend.org/tms/2023/11/the-forgotten-part-2-the-uyghurs-of-xinjiang-from-sinicization-to-genocide/

[4] https://www.transcend.org/tms/2023/12/the-forgotten-part-3-buddhist-directed-ethnic-cleansing-genocide-of-rohingyas-in-myanmar/

[5] https://www.transcend.org/tms/2022/08/the-children-of-the-gods-of-war-part-1/

[6] https://www.britannica.com/event/Syrian-Civil-War

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Syria

[8] https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/middle-east/who-are-the-yazidi-people-and-what-are-their-beliefs-1.1894940#:~:text=The%20Yazidis%E2%80%99%20syncretic%20religion%20has%20a%20rich%20oral,in%20the%20eastern%20Mediterranean%2C%20and%20some%20Christian%20practices.

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Assad_family

[10]  https://www.reuters.com/world/syria-censured-global-chemical-weapons-watchdog-2023-11-30/#:~:text=Repeated%20investigations%20by%20the%20United%20Nations%20and%20the,2018%20that%20investigators%20said%20killed%20or%20injured%20thousands.

[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarin

[12] https://www.theatlantic.com/membership/archive/2018/04/remembering-syria-before-the-war/558716/

[13] https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/syria/

[14] https://www.cfr.org/article/syrias-civil-war

[15] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Syria

[16] https://www.bing.com/search?q=Syria+French+Mandate&FORM=AWRE

[17] https://fanack.com/syria/history-of-syria/syria-the-golden-age-of-the-ottoman-empire-in-the-16th-century/

[18] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Umayyad-dynasty-Islamic-history

[19] https://www.cambridge.org/gb/academic/subjects/history/middle-east-history/mamluk-sultanate-history?format=PB#:~:text=The%20Mamluk%20Sultanate%20ruled%20Egypt%2C%20Syria%20and%20the,cultural%20traditions%20of%20its%20Fatimid%20and%20Ayyubid%20predecessors.

[20] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_intervention_in_the_Syrian_civil_war

[21] https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Battle_of_the_Yarmuk#:~:text=The%20Battle%20of%20the%20Yarmuk%20was%20a%20major,and%20Syria-Israel%2C%20southeast%20of%20the%20Sea%20of%20Galilee.

[22] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Damascus_(634)

[23] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Abbasid-caliphate

[24] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saladin

[25] https://www.gotquestions.org/Damascus-in-the-Bible.html

[26] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Assad_family

[27] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_Spring

[28] http://news.principia.edu/node/2240

[29] https://pomeps.org/the-politics-and-economics-of-urbicide-why-were-syrian-cities-destroyed

[30] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/US_intervention_in_the_Syrian_civil_war

[31] https://theconversation.com/erasing-history-why-islamic-state-is-blowing-up-ancient-artefacts-78667

[32] https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=gandhara+style+buddhist+art&qpvt=gandhara+style+buddhist+art&form=IGRE&first=1

[33] https://euaa.europa.eu/country-guidance-syria/2116-yazidis#:~:text=The%20Yazidi%20minority%20consisted%20of%20around%20550%20000,of%20Syrian%20Yazidis%20were%20estimated%20to%20have%20fled.

[34] https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/10/16/assads-horrible-war-crimes-are-finally-coming-to-light/

[35] https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/02/21/middle-east-north-africa-digital-targeting-lgbt-people

[36] https://www.bing.com/alink/link?url=https%3a%2f%2fwww.icc-cpi.int%2f&source=serp-local&h=JX8sQE7OmuKeFrVCKx2hcg4GkMLyE4y2MApqmX0hzO4%3d&p=lw_gbt&ig=1E778155E08447E1A75BA3A89E287BEB&ypid=YN8000x15018082882582188691

[37] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrian_refugee_camps

______________________________________________

READ: PART 1PART 2PART 3PART 5 PART 6

Professor G. Hoosen M. Vawda (Bsc; MBChB; PhD.Wits) is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment.
Director: Glastonbury Medical Research Centre; Community Health and Indigent Programme Services; Body Donor Foundation SA.

Principal Investigator: Multinational Clinical Trials
Consultant: Medical and General Research Ethics; Internal Medicine and Clinical Psychiatry:UKZN, Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine
Executive Member: Inter Religious Council KZN SA
Public Liaison: Medical Misadventures
Activism: Justice for All
Email: vawda@ukzn.ac.za


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 11 Dec 2023.

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