Ten years of war in Syria and the current situation (I)
I will focus on Syria in several articles, given the importance the country has had in international relations for centuries.
Ten years ago, a civil war broke out in Syria. What is the particularity of this conflict? What is happening in the country now? How do Syrians live and what do they live? Is there a prospect of achieving peace?
On March 15, 2011, one of the first major demonstrations against Bashar al-Assad’s regime took place in Damascus. At this point, the force of the remote-controlled “Arab Spring” has put on the table the likelihood that a relatively young Bashar al-Assad (at the start of the crisis, he was 45 years old, eleven of whom had been president of the country). would not remain in power. However, the reality turned out to be different, given the traditional strength of Syrian Arab secularism, an adversary of Islamist terrorism since time immemorial – with Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Iraq and Libya at the time.
As a result, the war in Syria has become the deadliest conflict of the 21st century. In 2021, the death toll has reached around 600,000 people and several million Syrians have become refugees. Looking at the conflicts of the second half of the last century in terms of casualties, the Syrian war is still overtaken by the first Iranian-Iraqi Gulf War, which left some 700,000 dead from 1980 to 1988.
The migration of refugees has considerably changed the internal political situation of the countries where they have been forced to take refuge: mainly Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, as well as the Member States of the European Union, including Germany which cleverly cornered the intellectual elite of refugees while, as usual, Italy lags behind like a third wheel.
Syria has become a territory of open rivalry between world and regional powers: Russia, Iran, Turkey and the United States of America openly maintain their troops on its territory. Dozens of countries are involved in the war through various paramilitary and political groups supporting the different factions.
For ten years, the conflict went through several phases. From 2013 to 2017, Syria became the territory on which the first “caliphate” was established since March 3, 1924. The civil war, with the participation of other countries, was complemented by a war with terrorists – in beginning supported by the usual suspects – whose permanence in Syria caused not only thousands of new victims, but also the destruction of cultural monuments of world value.
Once one of the region’s most prosperous countries and a beacon of Islamic secularism, Syria has become a center of gravity for political extremists and international terrorists – a test case in relations between Iranians and Israelis, Turks and Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis, as well as Russia and the USA. This war has described a mixed picture of the conflict.
The duration of the war is not accidental but quite natural. From the start, there was a strong presence of forces and actors from outside the country, who predetermined everything.
On July 15, 2011, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced that it considered the internal political situation in Syria to be a civil war and demanded that international humanitarian law be respected in the country.
On July 29, the rebels already had an army funded by the usual suspects: Syrian officers disloyal to the regime, led by Colonel Riyad Assad, announced the creation of the so-called Free Syrian Army.
Almost from the start, the interests of the countries of the region and of the world powers were manifested in the conflict. In 2014, fighters from the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group began infiltrating from neighboring Iraq. In the fall of 2015, the terrorists were at the gates of Damascus.
In 2014, the United States, which led the counterterrorism coalition, began targeting their positions in Syria. In October 2015, Russia launched its own counterterrorism operation. At the end of 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the defeat of the terrorists and the United States of America also acknowledged the defeat of ISIS.
At this point, the military forces of Assad’s legitimate government began to regain control of the country’s territory.
Attempts to resolve the conflict peacefully have so far failed. The basis of the agreement are the principles adopted in Geneva in 2012: the creation of a transitional government with the participation of all stakeholders; the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections; the creation of new authorities. One of the elements of the agreement should be the adoption of a new Constitution: on October 30, 2019, the Syrian Constitutional Commission began its work. However, its participants (meeting in Geneva) have not yet started to draft the new text directly. Thus, the presidential elections (held on May 26, 2021) were held according to the legislation in force, and saw the victory of Bashar al-Assad with 95.19% of the votes – i.e. 13,540,860 Syrians (including refugees in abroad), with their vote, rejected the attempts of those from abroad who were trying to change the political system of their country.
Ten years after the start of the war, most of the country is again under the control of traditional Syrian institutions.
It should be noted that legislative elections were held in July 2020, which brought the following 250 representatives to the People’s Assembly: 167 seats for the Arab Socialist Party (transnational) Baath; 50 seats for Independents not aligned with the Syrian government; 17 seats for Independents aligned with the Syrian government; 3 seats for the Syrian Arab Socialist Union Party (Nasserites); 3 seats for the Syrian Nationalist Social Party (Great Syrians); 2 seats for the National Covenant Party (nationalists); 2 seats for the Syrian Unionist Socialist Party (left-wing Nasserites); 2 seats for the Syrian Communist Party (anti-revisionist) -Bakdash; 2 seats for the Syrian-Unified Communist Party (Gorbacheviens); 1 seat for the Syrian Democratic Union Party (Nasserites); 1 seat for the Arab Democratic Unionist Party (Nasserites); 1 seat for the Democratic Socialist Unionist Party (Nasserites).
Nonetheless, large areas to the north along the border with Turkey are currently controlled by pro-Turkish forces: Turkey’s three military operations have created a buffer zone at the border. Turkey is building hospitals and medical schools, opening university branches and disconnecting power lines in its territory in order to supply the region with electricity (at a price of $ 0.09 per kilowatt).
Along the border closest to Iraq is the area of responsibility of the Kurds, who historically live there but opposed Assad during the war. They are supported by the United States of America, which maintains bases in Syria, especially for the protection of oil fields. In fact, the areas controlled by Russia and the United States are larger due to their use of aviation.
Two other areas remain under terrorist control: in Idlib, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nosra) and ISIS. The southwestern areas (Daraa and Quneitra provinces) are controlled by several armed opposition groups who have reconciled with Assad’s government.
Syria has been under US sanctions since December 1979. Currently, along with Syria, the US list of countries supporting terrorism includes Cuba, Iran and North Korea. These countries are not eligible for financial assistance from the United States of America and are also subject to a dual-use export ban and financial restrictions. The United States later imposed new restrictions, which were tightened after the outbreak of war in 2011. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) threatened to restrict individuals and organizations providing financial assistance to the government. Syrian government.
Before the war broke out, however, Syria was one of the wealthiest countries in the region. Between 2011 and 2018, the country’s annual GDP fell by nearly two-thirds, from US $ 55 billion to US $ 20 billion. During the war years, the lives of 80% of Syrians fell below the poverty line and the average life expectancy was reduced by 20 years. The country suffers from a shortage of doctors and nurses, teachers, technicians and qualified civil servants.
During the war years, centers of influence and phantom structures were created, which were not concerned with the transition to peaceful development, albeit in Syrian society, in economic circles of sectors of the economy and among some officials, a demand for reforms was emerging. In an atmosphere of constant fear, however, dialogue does not seem to open.
This could be one of the most difficult years for Syria: the budget is lower than that of any year of the conflict. In Syrian pound, its volume has increased, but it is only 3.36 billion US dollars, 10% less than the previous year. The main problems are: the depreciation of the Syrian pound (before the conflict the exchange rate was 45 Syrian liras to the dollar, this year it reached an all-time low – 1,257.86 lira to the dollar – and on the black market, it can reach four thousand lire); rising food prices (for many products, prices have doubled); the lack of oil and gas. The United Nations World Food Program estimates that 60% of Syrians (about 12.4 million people) are at risk of going hungry. For example, a vegetable seller in Damascus with a family of nine children earns five dollars a day. Two of his children do not go to school because he cannot afford to pay. One of her children goes to Germany and tries to support them. Another child spends three to five hours a day queuing for bread, the price of which is subsidized by the state. Without the subsidy, six loaves cost $ 0.35: six times the price of publicly subsidized bread. However, due to a shortage of flour, many state-subsidized bakeries operate intermittently.