The Historical Roots of the Syrian Refugee Crisis

The Historical Roots of the Syrian Refugee Crisis


Why should we care about Syria today? Syria matters because the humanitarian crisis has created such a mass migration of people out of Syria and into the neighboring countries that these numbers in 2016 are equivalent to the number of Europeans who fled Europe in World War II. Syria is a country at the center of an area that has been in conflict for for a very long time and for very many reasons. Syria is a country on the eastern Mediterranean. It borders on the south Israel, on the east Iraq, on the north Turkey and that’s going to be very important when we understand why it is that so many Syrian refugees are now in these countries. In 1919, after World War I there was a treaty was signed by the the British and the French and in it the French took Lebanon and Syria as a mandate and the British took Iraq and Jordan and Palestine. Syria gained its independence in 1946 and between 1946 and 1970 there was series of coups one military coup after the other and finally in 1970 Hafez Assad took over power. Hafez Assad is an Alawite. Alawites are a minority in a country that had for centuries had been run by Sunnis. As an Alawite he had to try and keep control of a country that was in opposition to his minority rule by 1980-82 a group that had originated in Egypt called the Muslim brothers had developed a strong presence in inside Damascus and the Muslim brothers were very opposed to the the rule of Hafez Assad. When they attempted to assassinate him he cracked down on them through many of the Muslim brothers into jail. In 1982 Hafez Assad sent his military North to a place called Hama and he razed the old city to the ground and he did so because it was where the Muslim brothers had their headquarters it’s where a lot of the anti-government activism had taken place. So, he from that time on realized of course that opposition to his rule was becoming stronger and as a result became so terrifying that people were afraid even to talk to each other at home. In 2000, Hafez Assad dies and his son Bashar Assad takes over. There was great hope that at that point he would become much more open, much more lenient would allow for the kinds of freedoms that his father had not and while he did in the beginning he then realized that by letting go some of the absolute control he was opening up a Pandora’s box. So, it’s into this context of growing freedoms anxiety on the part of the Bashar Assad regime that we have in December 2010 the beginning of the Arab Spring. There was a sense around the region is that tyrannical rule had come to an end and that it was time for the people to have the kind of government that would give them the basic human rights that people should enjoy around the world. So, it’s not surprising that in March of 2011 the same happened in Syria but what happened was tragically different. It started with a group of schoolboys and they spray-painted this slogan, “the people want the fall of the regime” the slogan of the Arab Spring at that point on two walls of Daraa. Very differently from what had happened elsewhere the regime cracked down and they cracked down on school boys- 15, 16 year olds and not only did they arrest them they also tortured them and it was the regime response this unwarranted violence of the regime that led to the Syrian Revolution. Now what’s been different in Syria from these other countries where the revolutions in the beginning were successful in ousting their rulers is that the revolution spread across the country it was not just in the capital city of Damascus it was everywhere. A year and two months after the beginning of the revolution the whole country of Syria is up in arms against its regime. Now the arming came with the establishment of the Free Syrian Army and the army was made up primarily of people who had defected from the regime’s army and had the equipment to be able to start a real opposition. Of course what has helped to exacerbate the situation is the fact that the regime has sought and received support from allies. The Bashar Assad regime run by Alawites who have connected themselves very strongly with the Shiite Islamic Creed have attracted Shiites supports from neighbors. We have Sunni countries who are supporting the anti Assad regime’s inside Syria primarily we have support coming in from the Arab Gulf and from Saudi Arabia. So in 2014 Islamic State established itself in Raqqa in northeastern Syria. So, they have become an increasingly important element in the war in in Syria and what has happened is that Bashar Assad attacks civilians people who are not connected to Islamic state very often using the excuse that he is bombing Islamic State to save the world from Islamic extremism and in fact is bombing his own people. So, fast forward to where we are now 2016 much has happened in the five years that have intervened. First of all we have 450,000 people who have been killed- most of them civilians. We have countless numbers of people who have disappeared and the assumption is that they are either dead or a majority of them are in the prisons. We have 9 million internally displaced people and we have five million refugees. 14 million people 14 million Syrians out of their homes and that is over half the population because the population of Syria at the time that the revolution broke out was 23 million. So, that goes back to the incalculable humanitarian crisis that we’re facing today Oh

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About the Author: Oren Garnes

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