Most of you reading this will probably be aware of the conflict going on in Syria- at least vaguely, anyway. It has not, over the past year, garnered the same press coverage as Libya or Egypt, and it’s main mention in the news has been ‘Meanwhile, a fresh wave of protests erupted this week in Syria as…’ etc. etc., with a 10 second video bite running in the background. As such, the proverbial image of the conflict (for me at least) has basically been one massive, year-long protest- the entire population decamping at weekends to shout at government buildings. My image is of a repeat of Egypt- some government violence here, the odd crowd running away from soldiers there, the odd outbreak of machine-gun fire, but no organised conflict.
Then I did a bit of research on the subject. This image could not be more wrong.
As a quick FYI, the modern state of Syria was founded in the post-WW2 carving up of territories, in 1946. No less than 8 coups have since occurred, the most recent (in 1970), bringing President Hafez al-Assad to power. The Ba’ath Party is the only real party within Syria- Syrians vote to approve a president, but not to select a party. He oversaw the crushing of several uprisings against his regime, including an infamous massacre in the town of Hama against an Islamist insurgency, before his death in 2000. The current President, Bashar al-Assad (Hafez’ son) has ruled since then (after the constitution was altered to reduce the minimum age for Presidency from 40 to 34), and he has also had to face many opponents to his regime. His country also has an appalling human rights record (mainly due to the ’emergency state’ brought on by its permanent state of war with Israel that lasted from 1963-2011), high unemployment and few political freedom’s.
The current state of protests began in the the first waves of the Arab Spring last January, when Hasan Ali Akleh set himself on fire in a protest against the government. The scale of protests grew throughout February, but it wasn’t until March that things began to get serious. By April, borders were being closed and the state police were getting more violent in their oposition to the increasingly aggressive protests, resulting in around 250 deaths. In May, the army was deployed, including extensive use of tanks and snipers. The government opposition began to arm itself- 11 soldiers were reported shot on 6th May.
I won’t go into the rest of the details, but suffice it to say that the situation has now degenerated into an all-out civil war. Large sections of the population (at least partly for religious reasons) support al-Assad and the government, and multiple opposition cities are under siege. The Syrian National Council (the opposition) and the government are in a full-on blame game, continually pointing fingers at one another and arguing over event causes. The official Syrian Army are engaged in a bloody guerilla war with the Free Syrian Army, made up of army deserters, and have employed snipers, air strikes and artillery against besieged cities.
This is not another Eypt. This is Libya gone mad.
I could argue over the politics of the situation all day if I so wished (even Al-Qaeda have thrown their lot in and picked a side (opposition, for the record)), but only one statistic really matters. Depending on who you believe, between 5,000 and over 8,000 people have been killed in the conflict so far, and the majority have been in cities which are under siege and being attacked by government forces. The army is attacking cities such as Homs completely indiscriminately, attacking normal civilian buildings containing normal civilian Syrians. The level of destruction is appalling, as is some of the content coming out of the country- videos of young children refusing to let go of their dead father amid gut-wrenching cries of anguish are not to be forgotten in a hurry.
And the worst thing? The world is sitting around and, by and large, doing nothing. While many countries have declared their abhorrence of the violence, and most their support for the rebel fighters, they have all rejected the idea of intervention, in a country where thousands of ordinary people are being slaughtered every day. Much of the footage coming out of Syria has not come from news agencies, few of whom are in the besieged cities, but from normal Syrians. One such man, a young British-born Homs resident, said the reason that countries don’t want to get involved is simply due to oil “we don’t have oil, so our blood is not worth the same as Libyan blood”
A cynic’s perspective maybe, but if there is even a shred of truth in it, then the very idea is absolutely appalling. The whole point of having an international community, the whole point of having ARMIES in the developed world, is to defend those in need. Right now the Syrian people are in more need of help than any other group on planet Earth, and the world is not responding.
My voice may mean nothing in this matter, but it should not go unsaid. This is wrong. This must end. This is inhuman. Humanity is failing. Something needs to be done.