Field Guide to Syria

Amidst all the important twerking related news these past few weeks, a much graver situation – one at play for years – has been coming to a head in Syria. The current Syrian civil war and potential of United States involvement is something that is going to need your attention in the coming days and months.

Here’s what you need to know, extremely simplified and shortened:

The History:

In the 1960s, the Ba’ath Syrian Regional Branch, originally an Arab Socialist party, seized power in Syria via coup d’état. The Ba’ath party was originally formed mostly of teachers, students and the peasant class, supporting Pan-Arabism and a moderate form of socialism.

Later, in a second coup d’état in 1970, Syrian Minster of Defense Hafez Al-Assad seized control of Syria. Al-Assad called the coup a “corrective revolution” towards a militaristic-pragmatic government. Al-Assad would, over the next few years, declare himself Prime Minister and President. He would hold those positions until his death in 2000, where he passed control to his son.

The change of power, despite being from father to son, gave Syrians hope for change in their country; specifically a change away from the single-state “democracy” that their nation had had. The Damascus Spring, as it was called, marked a period of lots of open dialogue about the government, featuring many “muntadayāt,” Arabic for ‘salon’ or ‘forum.’ These debates and discussions looked like a path towards reform at the time.

But as soon as things got started, the government began to suppress the dissidents. In August, 2011, the Spring ended with the arrest of several prominent protesters.

During the Arab Spring in 2010, there was protest in Syria that didn’t grow like in other nations.

The Civil War:

In 2011, protests became more prominent, with desperate actions like self-immolation becoming part of life. Syria was called the “kingdom of silence,” it’s government control, religious diversity and a cult of personality around its President. Reuters describes a 2011 sermon in Syria well here:

Sermons in Syria were government controlled, and this young man’s action was a sign of fear of dissent breaking down.

In the city of of Deraa, tensions rose when 15 school children were “arrested – and reportedly tortured – for writing anti-government graffiti on a wall.” Violence escalated at the Deraa protests, including deaths at the funerals of protesters killed in the first wave.

Assad began to launch full-scale military operations against his own people, sending troops into dissenting towns. While most of the upper circle of the government are from the same sect as Assad, many lower level soldiers and officers refused to fire on civilians and were executed.

After much massacre of protesters, in April 2011 the dissenters – specifically dissenting Syrian soldiers – formed the Free Syrian Army, and the real civil war began.

Without going into details of each battle, the Free Syrian Army has been fighting the Syrian government throughout Syria. The FSA received support and safe harbor from neighboring Turkey. Battles in cities led to indiscriminate shelling which has led to tons of civilian deaths and destruction. Any attempt at ceasefire by the UN or the FSA has fallen apart within days. Fighting spread across the country, as the FSA gained territory.


In the past few months, things have changed. Within cities, there have been battles between the Kurds and the jihadists, as factions continue to break up and cause more internal fighting.

The most horrific and important change is the use of chemical weapons. The Syrian government has been using cluster bombs, Sarin and other advanced weaponry against civilians and rebels in Aleppo.

Jihadists like Jabhat al-Nusra have also taken part in unjust warfare, with over 75 suicide bombings having occurred in Syria. Iraqi Islamists claim al-Nusra to be their Syrian branch, but the leader of al-Nusra claims loyalty to al-Qaeda which the FSA obviously wants to distance itself from.

The Syrian government itself claims to have 8000 soldiers ready to Kamikaze themselves if the UN intervenes.

Multiple groups being part of the rebel movement complicates matters, because the extremist Muslims may get confused with the perfectly sane, and more secular FSA.

Outside intervention:

Turkey has been supporting the rebel movement, the FSA specifically and Hezbollah, a militant Islam group, has been supporting the Syrian government. Russia has provided the Assad regime with weapons.

The use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government against the rebels has sparked worldwide attention to Syria.

Last week, the United States discussed it’s strategy for Syria – Assad’s usage of chemical weapons to kill thousands of citizens cannot stand–and the situation in general. The Presidential cabinet discussed war for a better part of the week, but ended up not invading, instead choosing to wait for Congressional approval, because you know that’s how the government is supposed to work. The British also denied to attack.

All attempts by the United Nations to investigate have had to end due to the violence. They can’t send armed troops without a consensus, and Russia and China are blocking that consensus.

As soon as Congress reconvenes next week, this whole situation could change very quickly.

Meanwhile, thousands are dying, and hundreds of thousands are being displaced. This is a situation that will be very important for the world, and one you should be aware of.

Image courtesy of NPR