With the newest rounds of peace talks underway, the Syrian civil war has gone under the radar in American News, but the long and brutal conflict still persists. The Syrian state has gone through many changes that led it to its civil war and the war may create a very different Syria than we see today.
The Syrian state has been torn apart from various belligerents such as the Islamic State Group (ISIL), Rojava, the combined joint task force (CJTF), the anti-government, and government forces and their various allies. These groups have been fighting for control of the country, and no side has maintained the upper hand for any extended period of time.
The war has brought about a migration crisis that has had major impacts of the state of the European Union, America and the Middle East. According to European University Institute, more than 11 million Syrian refugees have fled the country, and more than 13 million are in need of humanitarian assistance in the country.
An increasing number of countries have gotten involved in the war, creating a large-scale war with outside powers influencing factions within the country. Major supporters of the war include America on the side of Rojava, the Kurdish Liberation Group; Russia on the side of the Syrian government; and Turkey on the side of the rebels. The CJTF United Nations effort also is present to eliminate ISIL.
This flashpoint is a result of lack of freedoms and global powers seeking to gain more allies in the Middle East.
During the Arab Spring of 2011, where two arab nations’ governments were overturned, the Syrian leadership became threatened and began heavily suppressing rights of free speech, protest and public gatherings, leading to violent outbreaks of resistance, eventually causing the full-blown civil war.
According to AP World History teacher Daniel Reilly, this was compounded by “Hassad, the leader of Syria, being an Alawite Muslim.” Alawites in Syria make up a small minority of the population that is mainly Sunni. Alawites are a branch of Shia Islam that is considered heretical by the Sunni population. This has led to “ISIS and other rebel groups trying to take over and establish their religion as the ruling party,” said Reilly.
The secular government of the country also caused Islamic extremists to attempt to seize control of the government to establish a caliphate. The civil war has given them the opportunity to attempt to seize control of a region they previously would not have been able to get access to. “When there is a power vacuum, people want to fill it,” Reilly said. He further explained that “extremist factions want to fill that power vacuum.” Groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS have the instability in the region they need to take control.
This is on top of the suppression of the democratic process and minority rights that had been present before tensions began to rise. The Assad family has maintained control of the government by restricting multiple parties in the government and harassing opposition to the family’s rule.
The government has also repressed the Kurdish minority in the country, leading to cries for freedom, causing another front to form in the eventual civil war. According to Reilly, “the Kurdish people want to break away from Syria. They have land in Turkey, Iraq and Iran, and want to make a Kurdish state.” Reilly said that America has been an ally of the Kurdish front but stops short of letting them create a state. “America doesn’t want to anger its other allies in the region such as Turkey or Iraq,” said Reilly. Creating a Kurdish state would increase tensions in ethnically Kurdish parts of Iraq and Turkey resulting in further conflict.
Global powers such as Russia, the United States and Turkey have entered the war as supporters or combatants for certain sides in an effort to secure the region as friendly to their governments. This is because Syria is in a vital spot in the Middle East where two major oil pipelines to Europe run through. Securing this area would entrench the victors’ side in the region and favorably impact their economy and relations between various nations. “Russia has trade deals in oil and trade and wants to keep Assad in power,” said Reilly. “America has been reluctant to intervene in Syria. There has been a lot of recent fighting in Afghanistan and Iran and it would be an unpopular war for the American people.”
The divides the country faces are rooted deeper than modern-day politics, however. The region has experienced major turbulence since its freedom from the Ottoman Empire, then the French Empire in 1946 where the country’s borders were created on artificial lines. Various Islamic sects and ethnic minorities such as the Kurds were lumped into one conglomerate country, resulting in tensions from the nation's inception.
The nation today stands as one of the most contested regions in the world with an outflow of war refugees that has strained the bounds of the European Union. The results of the Syrian Civil War remain unclear despite peace talks underway. “The outcome of the war is too soon to tell… and there is no guarantee there will be a better government if Assad is overthrown,” Reilly said.