Chances are that if you’ve turned on your television, picked up a newspaper, or even swiped through your newsfeed at some point over the past few months you’ve heard about Syria. Maybe not much in detail, but enough to recognize there’s a whole lot going on in the country. Does refugee crisis ring a bell? While attention to Syria has dramatically increased over the past year or so, the conflict actually goes back way further than that. Here’s some quick information to put into context what has been going on throughout the past several years.
A massive thing called the Arab Spring happened in the Middle East during 2011. Many authoritarian regimes were toppled and Syrians decided they wanted in on the movement. In short, the people wanted President Bashar al-Assad out of office and they made it known in March 2011. What began as peaceful protests in the Syrian city of Deraa quickly turned into brutality. President Assad was not at all happy about the anti-government demonstrations and responded violently and forcefully with a major crackdown. The government’s crackdown however did not silence the people. Instead, the Syrian’s want for democracy and more freedom paired with the anti-government demonstrations only sparked more protests in areas all throughout the country. Meanwhile, Assad continued holding tightly to his refusal to step down. The protesters soon created groups and armed themselves against Assad’s violence. Rapidly, a full on civil war erupted within Syria.
What started as the Syrians unified against the Assad regime really only lasted a short while before different ethic and religious groups emerged with plans of their own. ISIS came along, as well as the birth of at least a thousand rebel groups – all with different agendas. Goals are no longer unified and each group is aiming for something different. The disunity remains a huge issue. ISIS used this civil war and already unstable government as an opportunity to build a totalitarian state of their own. The jihadist group has been attacking, executing, and torturing anyone standing in their way of creating an “Islamic State” and Assad really couldn’t care less. Assad hasn’t been too focus on ISIS, in fact the jihadist group is fighting off rebel groups (those wanting Assad out of power) so in a sense ISIS is indirectly helping Assad. At least for the time being. We are in year 5 now and the civil war continues, while ISIS remains a problem of its own.
The international community is a mess. Especially when it comes to Syria. Who are the key players? Team Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, and Team Take-Assad-And-ISIS-Down, backed by the U.S, other Western counties, and Turkey. In August 2013 some chemical weapon suspicion almost resulted in the U.S storming into the country with military intervention, but after a deal with the UN Assad gave up all his chemical weapons (well, supposedly… there are current questions revolving how truthful that was). After that, Western countries really placed Syria on the back burner and put intervention talk on pause. Although, finally, in September 2015 the U.S and other international friends decided to intervene in Syria. That came in the form of airstrikes and was mainly because of the rising threat of ISIS. Meanwhile, every moment the international communities waits and sits back, the number of deaths continue to rise.
It is estimated that 220,000 people have been killed and 12.8 million within Syria are in critical need of humanitarian assistance. Fear of persecution has led most to flee, either completely or to another part of the country. Out of all the Syrian refugees nearly half are under the age of 18. The majority of refugees are fleeing to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt; however, many are also escaping to northern Iraq (which is another story altogether). Overall, more than 4 million refugees are spread throughout these 5 countries and over 50% of Syria’s population is displaced within the country. Many are also risking their lives as they travel across the Mediterranean Sea and into Europe for safety. They are desperate for help and each moment that passes by and we don’t do anything is another life taken.
I encourage you to learn more about what’s going on in Syria. We have only briefly skimmed the surface of all that has happened and is currently happening. Join me in staying informed and keeping up to date with all that’s taking place. Talk about it with others. Spread the word. Erase indifference.