The Syrian Civil War
The Syrian War Started March 15, in 2011 and continues on to this day. In just six years, the war has already claimed 470,000 lives. The majority of them were civilians. The syrian war has made many refugees, both in and outside of Syria and continues to do so at an alarming rate. The Syrian Civil war is an ever growing issue today, affecting international relations inside and outside the country.
The civil war started when the Syrian government acted with lethal and excessive force upon protestors who only wanted to see change in their country. This was the spark that started the civil war. A time known as the Arab springs occured in 2011, it was a successful uprising that overthrew Tunisia and Egypt’s presidents. This gave much needed hope and inspiration to pro-democracy activists in Syria. They eventually started their own peaceful protests to promote their ideals in March (Bahouth).
The following March, sometime after the Arab Spring, peaceful protests erupted in Syria as well. They protested only after fifteen boys were taken and tortured. It was so bad that a thirteen year old boy was killed. Their crime was graffitti supporting the Arab Spring (Syria’s Civil War).
The Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, response to these protests was swift and harsh. He responded to these protests by killing hundreds of demonstrators and imprisoning many more.
In July 2011 after the protests, defectors from the military announced the formation of the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group aiming to overthrow the government. This formation of the army is when the actual fighting of the civil war began in Syria. Some other important factors to note that may have also contributed to the start of the war is the harsh drought conditions that occured in the region during the years of 2007 – 2010. This drought caused the majority farms to fail and in return, many people moved into the cities in search of jobs and food (Syria’s Civil War). This mass movement of people caused cities to be overpopulated and resulted in the amount of citizens below the poverty line increasing. As the war rages on today, there is a distinct lack of food,water, shelter and healthcare for those who need it most (Goldstein). The combination of all these issues lets disease spread rapidly in the region. The war in Syria is causing large effects beyond the country’s borders as well. Many Syrian citizens have left their homes to seek safety from the civil war elsewhere in Syria or beyond (Bahouth).
A large number of refugees have resulted from the civil war. As of February of this year, the United Nations refugee agency had registered over 5.5 million refugees from Syria and estimated that there are over 6.5 million displaced persons within Syria’s borders. Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan are hosting the majority of the Syrian refugees, many of whom are attempting to journey onwards to Europe in search of better conditions and lives for their families (Syria’s Civil War).
The 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as any person who, “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country” (Syria’s Civil War).
There are many different groups involved in the Syrian War despite it being a civil war. The regional actors of this war are the governments of majority-Shia Iran and Iraq and Lebanon-based Hezbollah. These two groups support Assad, while the Sunni-majority countries, including Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia support the anti-Assad rebels.
Since 2016, Turkish troops have launched a number of operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant near its borders. They also launched operations against Kurdish groups armed by the United States. The United States has armed anti-Assad rebel groups with weapons and led an international coalition bombing against ISIS targets since 2014. In turn, Israel has also carried out air raids inside Syria. Reports say that they were targeting Hezbollah along with pro-government fighters and facilities (Syria’s Civil War).
The first time ever recorded that Syrian air defences shot down an Israeli warplane was in February of 2018.
The Chemical red line has been a huge topic for the former US President, Barack Obama. Obama had warned many times that the use of chemical weapons in Syria was a “red line” that would prompt military intervention by the United States. In April 2017, the United States carried out its first direct military action against Assad’s forces. The United States launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air force base. The reason for this strike was that the United States believed a chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun had been launched from that location (Syria’s Civil War).
One year later, on April 14 in 2018,the United States launched an attack together with France and the UK, at “chemical weapon sites”, despite the warnings Russia gave.
In September 2015, Russia started a campaign. This campaign started bombing what was referred to as terrorist groups that resided in Syria. These groups included ISIL members as well as anti-Assad rebel groups who were supported and armed by the United States (Syria’s Civil War).
During the United Nations Security Council, Russia and China have also repeatedly vetoed the Western-backed resolutions on Syria. Since the beginning of the conflict, many new groups of rebels have joined the civil war in Syria and have frequently fought one another multiple times (Goldstein).
The Free Syrian Army is a loose group of armed brigades formed in 2011 by people who left from the Syrian army and civilians. THe free Syrian Army is backed by the United States, Turkey, and several other Gulf countries.
During December in 2016, the Free Syrian Army achieved its biggest victory against the rebels when it recaptured the strategic city of Aleppo. Since then, the Free Syrian Army has controlled small areas in northwestern part of Syria.
During 2018 near Damascu, Syrian opposition fighters fled from their last rebel stronghold. However, backed by Turkey, the free Syrian Army took control Afrin, a city near the Turkey-Syrian border. They liberated Afrin from Kurdish rebel fighters seeking self-rule.
Since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War, the Kurdish people have gained a great deal of autonomy all the while straddling the fence politically between the government and the rebels. During 2014 – 2015, the Kurdish people gained international support from other countries (Bahouth).
ISIL emerged in northern and eastern Syria during 2013, after overrunning large portions of Iraq. The group quickly became known internationally for its brutal executions and its use of social media to recruit fighters from around the world.
Some other groups who are fighting in Syria as well include Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, Hezbollah who are backed by Iran, and the Syrian Democratic Forces who are dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units.
Peace negotiations are an important part of ending any war and have been ongoing between the Syrian government and the opposition fighters in order to achieve a military ceasefire and political transition in Syria. The main sticking point that has been holding back peace negotiations is what will become of Assad.
The first round of United Nations run peace-talks took place during June 2012 in Geneva, Switzerland. These talks were between the Syrian government and opposition delegates. The most recent round of peace talks took place in December 2017. These peace talks failed. The Syrian government and opposition delegates disagreed over statements about the future role of Assad in a transitional government (Goldstein).
During May 2017, Russia, Iran and Turkey called for the setup of four de-escalation zones in Syria, over which Syrian and Russian fighter jets were not expected to fly. Once plans to partition Syria were dismissed in March 2018, a follow-up trilateral summit was held in Turkey to discuss any other potential ways to move on.
In January 2018, Russia hosted peace talks that discussed the future of Syria in the Black Sea city of Sochi. Unfortunately, the opposition boycotted the conference, claiming it was an attempt to undercut the United Nations effort to make a deal (Syria’s Civil War). Fighting in Syria continues on several fronts. Despite all the fighting still going on today, it is hoped that the syrian war will soon come to an end.