It’s been all over the news, in bar conversation, on your Facebook feed, and perhaps in class too; but what exactly is going on in Syria? Who is striking who? Who is in alliance with who? What’s the war all about? Who is winning? Is anyone winning? What is the Don going to do about it? What’s going to happen next? The seven-year-long conflict began as a result of the 2011 Arab Spring, a social and political upheaval in the Arab world that began with the 2010 Tunisian Revolution and worked its way across North Africa and into many Middle Eastern states. The regime of President Bashar al-Assad from the Syrian Arab Republic was facing much criticism at the time and it escalated when public protests calling for democratic reforms and the release of political prisoners were dealt with violently. It has been widely reported that the initial instance of violence was when Republican forces detained four teenage boys for acts of anti-regime graffitiing, which ultimately led to deaths while in custody. From then on, the situation has escalated into a crisis that has international, and even intercontinental ramifications.
There have been many books pertaining to the events that have been published since that day in 2011; not to mention the documentaries, commentaries, papers, and the untold amount of social media posts. I will do my best to give a basic rundown of events that have led to current conditions, with an analysis of where we all stand at the time of writing, with the understanding that I will, unfortunately, be leaving out many aspects that may be deemed vital by other parties. Since 2011, Ba-athist Party President Bashar al-Assad has fought what has been deemed by the United Nations as a fully-fledged civil war in Syria. Initially, his enemies were rebel groups that decried his policies and intended to overthrow the regime. At this point is pertinent to know that Assad’s circle of elites was comprised mostly of Shi’a Muslims, Christians, and a nominal amount of Sunni Muslims; which is a contrast to the mostly Sunni population of Syria. The clash of sects in the religious world has been well-documented over the course of history and the gravity of these rifts should be appreciated in the Middle East. The main opposition to the loyal forces of the republic is the Free Syrian Army (FSA), formed by and mostly comprised of defected army officers. Islamist (and later deemed terrorist groups by the UN) groups, such as the al-Nusra Front, initially linked to al-Qaeda but later split away from them, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also became heavily involved in fighting, attempting to further their own cause of creating an Islamic State of Syria. With armed conflict against both rebels and Islamic groups across the country, the violence led to an eruption of old rivalries with the Kurds of the north, the Kurdish being a minority ethnic group found across the political boundaries of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, who have long fought for political autonomy and cultural recognition.
International powers did not become more heavily involved until later on in the civil war but were dragged in with the massive surge in power of the self-styled ISIL. This terrorist group began in 1999 under the name Jama’at al-Tawhad wal-Jihad and in alliance with al-Qaeda, fought in the Iraqi insurgency of the early 2000’s. In 2014 they declared themselves a caliphate and began to refer to themselves as the Islamic State (IS). As a caliphate, they declared themselves to have total religious, political, and military power over the entire Muslim world. As a brutally violent and destructive group, they rapidly gained power and geographic influence during 2014, with an unforeseen and powerful military campaign across the area. This included a fiercely waged battle against the coalition of forces of the Islamic Front and the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo, effectively destroying the populous city. This year also marked a massive increase in Syrian refugees fleeing the country, bringing the crisis to an international stage. A large part of the reason as to why the West was brought into the war was the rapid expanse of the ISIL controlled territories as well as the influx of Syrian refugees across the Mediterranean; this coupled with their brutal style of indiscriminate public executions, acts of barbarity the required international condemnation.