By Dr. Monique M. Maldonado
Contributor, In Homeland Security
As the Syrian War escalated during the past five years, international news sources and scholars have raised questions about the causes of this war. Why does it get so much media coverage? Why is it important to the United States?
With the assassination of Andrei Karlov, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, it is important to discuss the inception of the Syrian war and the world events that led to it. Karlov’s assassination has possible links to alleged Russian involvement in the Syrian war and other matters, such as overzealous interest in Syria’s oil industry.
According to Al Jazeera, more than 450,000 Syrians have died since the beginning of the Syrian War. That number continues to rise, along with the uncertainty of peace negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition.
The Media Network also reported that enemy forces have driven more than 12 million people from their homes and into neighboring countries to escape the violence and attacks. That exodus has created a diaspora, as the displaced seek refuge in any country that will shelter them.
Syria’s Inception of War: The Tunisian Revolution
The Syrian civil war began with numerous revolutionary periods that occurred consecutively across the Middle East. There were violent protests, riots, coups and civilian unrest within the Arab communities.
On December 17, 2010, the Tunisian Revolution (also called the Jasmine Revolution) became the first of many global protests in the Arab world. These political outbursts were the largest revolutionary wave in three decades within the country. Demonstrators were upset over government corruption, social inequalities, high unemployment and political oppression.
Their answer was to force long-time President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his family to flee to Saudi Arabia.
The self-immolation of Tunisian street vendor Tarek el-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi as a protest against government harassment led to the overthrow of the Ben Ali administration. On January 14, 2011, Ben Ali resigned, opening the country for democratic freedom.
The Tunisian Revolution was a pivotal moment for the Arabic League nations. The revolution led to numerous insurgencies and civil wars in countries around the Arabian Peninsula. There was major civil unrest in Bahrain and Egypt and large-scale demonstrations in Algeria, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman and Sudan. Together, the revolts became the Arab Spring.
Origin of Arab Spring Revolution
The Arab Spring was a series of revolutionary events causing uproar within the Middle East in 2011. The term “Arab Spring” came into popular use (allegedly, Foreign Policy magazine coined the term) when Western media began publicizing the events in Tunisia, especially during the successful coup against Ben Ali.
Additionally, the term was in response to the devastation in Eastern Europe in 1989 when global protests within the region began overturning communist regimes. Zoe Watkins and Eileen Wu wrote of the Role of Social Media in Modern Revolutions, that the actions of European protests resulted in “most countries adopting democratic systems with a market economy.” Cornell University stated the “pro-democracy movements revolted against the dictatorial regimes and corrupt leaders that had ruled for decades” in some countries.
In mid-2012, the violent responses by law enforcement to the demonstrations ended the “Arab Spring.” But large-scale upheavals followed, including the Egyptian crisis, the Libyan crisis, the Yemeni crisis, the Iraqi insurgency, the Iraq civil war and the Syrian War.
Arab Spring Leads to Civil War in Syria
The Syrian civil war was spawned in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Protests began in Damascus, when citizens demanded democratic reforms as well as freedom for political prisoners.
Consequently, law enforcement threatened and arrested many protesters. That police action convinced Syrians that they did not have a right to freedom and would be arrested if they fought the government.
When a group of children was arrested for vandalism protests and violence in 2011, protesters retaliated and destroyed a political party headquarters. That provoked Syrian President Bashar al-Assad into condemning the conspirators and blaming Israeli propaganda.
The opposition was an established group of Syrian military officers who called themselves the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Syrian Armed Forces. Political opposition groups formed the Syrian National Council.
As the war progressed, some of the Syrian opposition separated from FSA to espouse an Islamic regime for Syria, such as ISIS. Turkey supported the opposition, which gave it an advantage by being able to operate within southern Turkey and by operating a cell inside Syria.
The armed conflict escalated and violence and protests grew after al-Assad ignored protesters’ demands that he be removed from office. Because the Syrian government refused to negotiate with terrorists, the war continued and more than 450,000 people died. Nearly 12 million Syrians were forced to leave the country. The Arab League, the European Union and the United States, among other entities, have condemned the Syrian government’s.
The Future of Syria
On Feb. 1, 2016, the United Nations announced mediated peace talks with Syria, but the war continued. On December 29, 2016, the Syrian and Russian governments agreed to a cease-fire when Turkey and Syrian rebels won back the Syrian city of Aleppo in December 2016. It was the country’s biggest victory since the war began. But no one knows when the war will end.
The talks came a day after Karlov’s assassination by an off-duty Turkish officer. Relations between Turkey and Russia presumably were not affected by the assassination, but it shows that the Syrian war has a global impact.
In addition to establishing peace talks, the U.N.’s General Assembly passed a resolution calling for an examination of war crimes within the country. The resolution calls for a special team to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence as well as prepare cases of war crimes and human rights abuses.
U.S. involvement has been in a support role, providing funding, supplies, air strikes, weapons and ground forces primarily to defeat ISIS. In 2014, a U.S.-led coalition that included Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates attacked ISIL, the Khorasan group, and the al-Nursa Front as part of a global effort to destroy the Islamist extremist group.
As Syria slowly attempts to return to the status quo, much work needs to be done to ensure that the Syrian civil war officially ends and that ISIS is completely defeated.
The assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey shows that there is still turmoil and struggle for democratic freedom in Syria. The danger is that hostile actors will do whatever they deem necessary, even killing political officials, to make their arguments and ideologies heard. That is called self-preservation and if the fighting continues, it could have a global domino effect.