“Understanding” The War in Syria
This article and its graphics will try to explain the origin of the war in Syria; who is fighting against who, and why.
Before we start with the current conflict, I think it would be helpful to explain some of the ideologies of the countries around Syria and Syria itself:
The region where Syria is today has been historically occupied by many different people from many different backgrounds. We have the Roman Empire, the Greek Empire, the Persian Empire, the Muslim Empire, and lastly, the Ottoman Empire — who stayed there for around 600 years, until the first World War.
Following World War I, some of the first countries to appear where the Ottoman Empire was included: Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine and others. But to understand who placed those countries there, we need to learn about the Sykes-Picot Agreement or the Asia Minor Agreement. They were secret pacts between the governments of the United Kingdom and France, defining their proposed spheres of influence and control in the Middle East should the Triple Entente (Russian Empire, the French Third Republic once the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland) succeed in defeating the Ottoman Empire in World War I.
As a result of this agreement, we have the United Kingdom controlling, Iraq, Jordan and Arabia and France controlling Syria.
Both the UK and France left these zones after WWII but before leaving they created a new country: Israel. As soon as the UK and France left, conflicts began. None of Israel’s neighbors recognized Israel as a country and refused to acknowledge their right to be there (mostly because of the different religions of the aforementioned parts.)
Later, the Arab Socialist Ba’Ath Party entered Syria. They were known for having spread across Northern Africa and introducing socialist ideas into Arabic countries.
During the Cold War, when Hafez al-Assad became the president of Syria (from the Ba’ath Party), they appeared as an opposition to the government: The Muslim Brotherhood (a Sunni Muslim Radical Group.) They opposed the government, mainly because those in control were Shia Muslims — which was the opposite of the majority, who were Sunni Muslims (around the 70%.)
Later, in 2000, Hafez al-Assad died and his son, Bashar al-Assad, the current president, substituted him at the head of the government. After a few years of political debates, the Muslim Brotherhood returned and their opposition (a mix of the FSA and around 70 Sunni groups) appeared to protest the government of al-Assad. After that, both groups were arrested and former-US president George W. Bush would include Syria in the “Axis of Evil.” That left Syria in a bad position when it came to political relationships with other countries.
In 2011 we had The Arab Spring, that was a revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests and riots. Civil wars in the Arab World began on December 18th, 2010 in Tunisia with the Tunisian Revolution, and spread throughout the countries of the Arab League and its surroundings, always with the same premise. They wanted their respective governments to be more democratic.
And this is how the current conflict began.
- When The Arab Spring arrived in Syria, al-Assad used the army to repress demonstrations by killing roughly 1000 civilians who were protesting peacefully. The violence, then, escalated until it became a Civil War.
- The Free Syrian Army, founded by several defected officers of the Syrian army, was then formed. The group defined “all Syrian security forces attacking civilians” as their enemies.
- Exremists and Jihadists from neighboring countries joined the rebels to fight Assad
- A branch of Al-Qaeda was born from this: Al-Nusra.
- By then, the Kurds also took up arms to fight the oppression of Assad (The Kurds are an ethnic group in the Middle East, mostly inhabiting a contiguous area spanning adjacent parts of southeastern Turkey–Northern or Turkish Kurdistan), western Iran (Eastern or Iranian Kurdistan), northern Iraq (Southern or Iraqi Kurdistan), and northern Syria (Western Kurdistan or Rojava.) I could expand upon this but this article will help you understand the importance of this group in the current war.
- Iran joined forces with Assad as some of the Gulf States sent money to help the rebels through Turkey and Jordan (who had also opposed Assad.)
- Hezbollah joins Assad (Hezbollah is a Shia Islamist militant group and political party based in Lebanon.)
- Assad uses chemical weapons against civilians in Ghouta (Syria) (Several opposition-controlled areas in the suburbs around Damascus, Syria, were struck by rockets containing the chemical agent sarin.)
- At this point, the United States has backed the rebels and Russia has backed Assad.
- Isis was born from internal differences with Al-Qaeda
- Isis did not fight Assad directly, but the rebels and the Kurds.
- Turkey started bombing kurds in Iraq, even though the Kurds are mostly fighting Isis. Turkey, however, does not bomb Isis at that point.
- Russia, who backed Assad, decides to join in and bombed Isis and their locations, but accidentally also bombs the rebels who oppose Assad.
So, now that we’ve learned a bit more about all that, here’s another graphic to show you who fights who and also some of the information about the different groups involved in the conflict.
There are 4 groups and its allies:
Group 1: Bashar al-Assad:
- His allies are Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.
- His enemies are: The Kurds, Isis (apparently) and the Rebels.
Group 2: Isis
- They have no allies and fight against pretty much everyone.
Group 3: The Kurds
- They fight against Isis, oppose to Assad, and basically just want Kurdistan to be recognized as a country. The United States is its only ally.
- They are constantly attacked by Isis and Turkey (even though Turkey apparently is also fighting against ISIS)
Group 4: The Rebels
- They fight Assad and Isis and their allies are the USA, Jordan, some Gulf States, and Turkey.
We also have a 5th “group” who are the Refugees. They are civilians who escaped from the Syrian War and from Isis, mostly through Turkey and other surrounding countries, to Europe (because certain Gulf monarchies do not want to offer shelter to them like Kuwait, Qatar, or the EAU.) If the refugees were rich, they’d have been more than welcome there…
So, why is Syria important? Why are there so many countries involved in the Syrian War and why have they all joined forces to fight ISIS — despite letting Boko Haram act as its own will in other African countries, where atrocities have been committed that are similar to those of Isis’?
Well, as always, the answer is simple. Oil. Syria, as you can see in the map below is placed strategically in a place that would allow people to export the oil from its window to the sea to Europe or America and would not require them to make a more expensive trip around the Arabic Gulf or through the Suez Canal where they’d have to pay to get across.
Notice how nobody cares about African countries, like Nigeria, threatened by similar terrorists to Isis because they don’t have any resources to control.
Again, let’s not forget religion. It plays an important part in this whole conflict.
This graphic shows the main religions/ideologies involved in the conflict.
The conflict originates when the Sunni majority opposes to the Shia minority (a minority that is in control of the government.)
Isis uses religion as a decoy to invite more people to join them and, according to them, help them establish a caliphate in that zone, but what they really want is to kill, rape, and repeat.
We then have the Kurds, who are mostly secular and want to establish a more democratic state and are hated by pretty much everyone even though they are ‘the good guys.’ (In my opinion, because none of the countries where Kurds inhabit are willing to lose land and give it to a hypothetical Kurdish state.)
Does this conflict has an ending? A good one?
Answer is: So far, I don’t believe so.
The conflict between Rebels and Assad is a clear example of a totalitarist government that uses the army to fight the opposing civilians and refuses any dialogue between either parts, which would be the only way to reach a civilized solution.
The Kurdish conflict can also only be solved through dialogue, even though it’s probably more complicated because Kurdistan is a region that spreads through 4 different countries and thus, a dialogue between all is, as of now, impossible.
As for Isis, their strength is also their weakness. In part, occidental countries are responsible for their wealth because of our dependance on oil. Isis’ wealth comes mostly from owning strategic oil locations and from countries who fight them yet also buy their oil or sell them weapons.
Their other strength is religion. By claiming that what they do is in the name of Allah, they get two things: ignorant people generalizing and calling every Muslim person a terrorist and also the ability to use that ignorance and hatred as a recruiting tool for young Muslims who are suffering from discrimination.
One of the things you can learn from this is that there are too many ideologies, religions, and other concepts that make humans feel different from one another. Not enough people understand that every person is equal and deserves as much respect as the other, no matter their religion, gender, race, or sexuality.
If politicians themselves were the ones having to fight wars, I’m pretty sure they’d rush to find a diplomatic solution. But we are stupid and we let our governments brainwash us into thinking that a line painted on the ground is more important than our own lives.
“Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.” – George Bernard Shaw
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