The Conflict in Syria

Taylor Nelson, Intern Spring 2013


Syria; one could say is a misfortunate country with past ties to conquering nations such as France, Britain and the late Ottoman Empire. Syria has only been free of foreign rule for around sixty years. These years have been nowhere near peaceful or stable with continuous power struggles between the Baath party, more conservative parties and the dominant Sunni ethnic group rebel for democratic rule.

Currently in the country of Syria there are 400,000 homeless refugees and more than 40,000 have died. It began when the current President Bashar al-Assad sent military combat to the peaceful protests that began in March of 2011 which started a war on his very own people. It is said that 150-200 civilians continue to die each day. (Kadr 2012).

Syrian History

As the military began to grow students grew aware of freedom, democracy and human rights. They began to protest injustices going on in Palestine and rallied against labor laws in the late 1940’s, early 50’s. The riots became too much and chief of staff HusniAz-Zaim declared martial law and closed the schools. (1969).

During the first three years of the Republic there was a drought along with locusts. These events severely affected Syria’s economy but with the help of the Soviets for financial support they pulled through. The Baath party begins to weaken at this time due to its lack of a united front and four Baath party members resign from the UAR parliament. (1969).

The instability of Syria has been around since it first became a sovereign state. Alliances have come and gone and the switch of military and “democratic” power has continued to go back and forth. But one thing has remained the same; Syria’s people have continued to fight for democracy. That can be seen with the countless protests and riots by students and civilians. These trends have been repeated up until now. (1969).

In 1963, Syria’s tie’s with UAR weakens leaving Syria isolated. The country is taken into the hands of military dictatorship. The peasants tend to enjoy the Baath regimes since they imposed an agrarian reform which was very beneficial to them. (1969).

The Baath party starts to put Islamic traditions aside starting a slow uprising in the people of Syria. Mosques begin to deny Baath party members from entering and University students protest in the street. 65 members of a congregation where shotcausing a state of emergency. On April 24, 1964, an interim constitution is formed stating that Syria is a democratic and socialist republic and the inhabitants are a part of an Arab nation and believe in Arab unity. In 1965, the mosques begin telling it’s congregation to oppose the government in defense of religion. The government confiscates 69 shops due to protesting. As the people begin to rebel more, the governments’ military control increases.(1969).

The Baath party consists predominately of the minority ethnic group, the Alewites. The Alewite sect; was originally called Nusairism and emerged in Syria around the 9th and 10th century. Alawite means “follower of Ali”, who was a cousin of the prophet Muhammad. They believe Ali was the true heir to Muhammad. Since they believe Ali is like a deity or god, Sunni Muslims tend to look down on them. Many practice in secret to avoid persecution. Only 12 %( under 3 million) of the population of Syria areAlewite. Alawites are seen be other Muslims as very liberal and even secular. Women are not encouraged to wear the hejab and may choose not to fast or pray. Alawites practices include: celebrating Christmas and observing the zoroastrain new year. Hafez al-Asaad’s identity as an Alawite helped him gain loyalty of the minority groups in Syria to whom he promised rights and protection. (BBC May).

The Baath party was founded in1947, by Michel Aflaq who was a Syrian teacher. (July 9th). The party is described as Arab nationalistic party. One of the Baath party members was Sadaam Hussein who had close ties with the founder;Aflaq. Their slogan is, “Unity, freedom and Socialism”.  When the Baath gained control Baath ideologies began to be taught in public schools across Syria. They also controlled trade unions and the Baath military committee monitored the military. All other political parties were banned except the NPF (National Progressive Front) which in fact accept Baath politics.(July 9th).

Sadaam and Aflaqeventually split the Baath party and moved to Iraq. Aflaq was then put on trial along with other Baath party veterans and they were then sentenced to death by the Syrian government. (July 9th).

When Bashar al-Assad inherited power in 2000, after his father’s death; he presented himself as a “reformer”. He released political prisoners and allowed the nation’s first independent newspaper. Yet his economic liberalism continued to only affect the elite. In 2001, his reforming days were over he began to make many restrictions including detaining political activists without warrants.

Throughout his rule Bashar al-Asaad continues to keep ties with Russia and China. In 2003, he vocally apposed U.S.’s invasion of Iraq. He was also found a suspect in the assassination of the Lebanese prime minister;RafikHarin in 2005 by the United Nations. (Dec. 7th).

When teenage student activist were arrested and tortured in Deraa in March of 2011, pro-democracy groups in Syria began to protest. The Bashar administrations responded by shooting down four of the protesters. It did not end there; attendees of the protesters funerals were also shot by the military. This events triggered more rebellions among many groups now demanding the overthrow of Assad. In 2012 the UN proposed cease fire; it failed. Violent massacres then occurred that were also brought on by the military. Many were killed in multiple different villages. (BBC Aug. 6th). After the failed cease fire Arab UN leader Kofi Annad tried calling for stronger international attention and action but Russia and China remain loyal to their allies and refused.In December of 2011, 4,000 members of the military are accused of crimes against humanity by the UN. Civilians continue to face the threat of violence every day.

The fighting has also affected the nation’s economy. Aleppo; Syria’s largest city which holds the industrial and financial power house to the country’s wealth is struggling. The government knows of its importance and says it’s the city that essentially “feeds Syria”.

 The FSA (Free Syria Army) is brave front against Assad military it is a large group of 40,000 composed mostly of military men. The army was first formed in August of 2011 by Syrian government army deserters based in Turkey. Their leader;Niyid al-Assad was a former air force colonel for Bashar al-Assad. The battle is hard against Bashar Asaad’s army of 200,000. When small victories occur; hope arises.

 Early November of 2012, The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces was developed as an umbrella organization to unite all opposing forces. ) In addition to uniting all the opposition groups the coalition also makes it easier for foreign policy to send their help which increases the chance of beating Assad. Rad Seif is one of major leaders in the council and helped draft the original documentation of the group. He is an opposition leader of Damascus declaration group and has been arrested multiple times for criticizing Assad.

On November 13th, France becomes the 1st western country to recognize the newly formed Syrian opposition coalition called the national coalition of Syrian revolutionary and opposition forces and talks of possibly arming the group. Also on November 13th the Arab League says it will now acknowledge the council as representation of Syria. The fate of Syria is still unknown as long as the rebels and Asaad keep fighting more will be killed. Perhaps, it will see peace soon.