In the spring of 2011, what began as peaceful anti-government protests quickly turned violent and divisive. How many of us view Syria now, an immensely fractured state in need of swift and powerful international action to counter and subdue the multitude of war crimes, complete demolishing of neighborhoods and infrastructure, and mass cruelty and murder towards civilians, is not what it once was. One of the most developed states in the middle east, Syria was home to one of the best education systems, a variety of industrialized towns and urban environments, and civilized, productive communities. Now nearing five years into the Syrian civil war, many wonder- who’s at fault here, the government? ISIL? What is happening amidst this civil war? Who are these people? Who’s helping? And what can WE do to help? I will discuss these questions during this post- hoping to shed some light onto this once thriving state and what comes next.
In its current state, it’s practically impossible to decipher who is the “good” and “bad” guys in Syria. There is no simple answer to this being that there is truly no “correct” dichotomy here. After the Syrian government’s forceful crackdown on the anti-government protestors, many Syrians called for President Bashar Al-Assad’s resignation. By July 2011, de facto rebel groups consisting of army defectors and others, along with many civilian Syrians, took up arms to oppose the current political climate and protect themselves and their communities. It didn’t take long for the war to divide in a multitude of ways, jihadist extremists such as ISIL and Lebanon-based Islamist extremist group Hezbollah, along with other armed opposition groups, have taken advantage of the vulnerable state and its citizens, targeting religious and ethnic minorities for attack. By 2012, the fighting between government security forces and armed rebel groups reached the populated Syrian capital of Damascus along with major city Aleppo, proof, if one couldn’t accept it already, that this nation was in severe disorder. Outside interference and humanitarian aid was absolutely necessary to cease the violence and keep the rest of the population intact.
The rate of civilian deaths, internally displaced peoples, and refugees have increased exponentially since the onslaught of the civil war. The number of civilian deaths has now reached about 11% of the pre-war population, with an approximation of about 12.2 million Syrians in need of immediate humanitarian assistance. Half of the refugees fleeing Syria are children– let that sink in. They are people who have lost everything, including their homes, neighbors, friends, families, schools, and every aspect of their identities and lives due to becoming completely uprooted, caught in the crossfire between the state security forces that have wholly failed to uphold their political Responsibility to Protect and the extremist groups who do not adhere to any sort of humanitarian laws in place.
What’s needed? Firstly, a way to provide critical humanitarian assistance to those in need. Next must come a strategy that transcends the necessary humanitarian aid and an end to violence, offering sustainability for refugees beyond Syria, in the neighboring countries of the Middle East and in Europe. Penalties by both the International Criminal Court and the United Nations must be enacted onto either side of the conflict. Eventually, a system of government must be renewed but one with proper goals to protect and sustain its civilians lives, yet without the hands of Western countries entangled within. Immediate resources must be provided to assist the IDPs and refugees, with the end goal of helping them get to a place of economic and mental stability. It will not be easy. It will not happen quickly. But if we don’t start asking what needs to be done, discussing how we can help, what these people need- then a generation of Syrians and their identities will be forever lost, and that is not a cost you and I, and the rest of the global community will want to pay.