A truly hor­rific sum­mer for Syr­i­ans


Syria con­tin­ues to de­scend into the inferno while the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity stands trans­fixed. A po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion seems elu­sive as ever, the civil war grinds on hav­ing killed over 250,000 peo­ple, and over 12 mil­lion peo­ple have fled their home­land. Alarmed by these de­vel­op­ments, the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil has af­firmed its sup­port for find­ing a durable po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment to a cri­sis which af­ter four years of fight­ing not only threat­ens Syria, but dan­ger­ously has mor­phed into a re­gional threat.

“The Se­cu­rity Coun­cil stresses that the only sus­tain­able so­lu­tion to the cur­rent cri­sis in Syria is through an in­clu­sive Syr­ian-led po­lit­i­cal process that meets the le­git­i­mate as­pi­ra­tions of the Syr­ian peo­ple,” a con­sen­sus state­ment says. The French-led ini­tia­tive was the first time in two years that the coun­cil specif­i­cally put forth a po­lit­i­cal state­ment con­cern­ing the con­flict.

Sig­nif­i­cantly Rus­sia has agreed to this neb­u­lous po­lit­i­cal process along with the USA and UK.

Im­por­tantly, the coun­cil fo­cused its at­ten­tion on ter­ror­ist groups such as the Is­lamic State in Iraq and the Le­vant (ISIL), the al-Nusra front, as well as al-Qaida af­fil­i­ates. The fif­teen-mem­ber coun­cil, “con­demns the on­go­ing and mul­ti­ple ter­ror­ist” acts by these groups that “desta­bi­lize Syria and the re­gion with a dev­as­tat­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian im­pact on the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion.”

Let’s re­view the cir­cles of hell into which Syria has de­scended.

The Po­lit­i­cal

U.N. Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Ban Kimoon stated yet again that there can be no mil­i­tary so­lu­tion to the Syr­ian con­flict and calls for a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion. Op­po­si­tion to the As­sad fam­ily regime, which ex­ploded dur­ing the Arab Spring in 2011, has evolved from a quasi-demo­cratic op­po­si­tion move­ment into a plethora of ter­ror­ist groups in­tent at top­pling the au­thor­i­tar­ian As­sad with the in­tent of in­stalling a rad­i­cal theo­cratic Is­lamic regime.

Both the al-Nusra front and ISIL form the lead­ing edge of a lethal op­po­si­tion which, if they tri­umph, would cre­ate a fun­da­men­tal­ist Sunni state that borders five coun­tries, all of them Amer­i­can al­lies, and in­clud­ing Is­rael, Le­banon and Jor­dan. Naive at­tempts by the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­cruit and sup­port “mod­er­ate” re­sis­tance fight­ers have turned out to be a sad and costly joke.

The Mil­i­tary

ISIL’s stun­ning mil­i­tary sweeps across north­ern Syria and in­deed Iraq have con­cen­trated at­ten­tion. The thou­sands of for­eign fight­ers from Western Europe and even the USA who have joined the “Ji­had In­ter­na­tionale” fight­ing in Syria have added a dan­ger­ous in­gre­di­ent to the con­flict. While the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces and regime-al­lied mili­tias have been blood­ied and pum­meled, the fact re­mains that weapons from Rus­sia and Iran have been suf­fi­cient to keep a per­ilous bal­ance in parts of the coun­try. Moscow and Tehran have, re­spec­tively, sup­ported As­sad’s Syria for both strate­gic and re­li­gious rea­sons.

Syria’s multi-eth­nic, once sec­u­lar so­ci­ety has now de­scended into a vi­cious sec­tar­ian con­flict as much as a po­lit­i­cal one. The Mus­lim Sunni ma­jor­ity is bat­tling the rul­ing Shi­ite (Alaw­ite) sect for power; ISIL Sunni ter­ror­ists tar­get the coun­try’s an­cient Chris­tian com­mu­nity as well as the Kurds. Re­al­is­ti­cally Syria could split and har­den into re­li­gious/eth­nic en­claves.

The Hu­man­i­tar­ian

Twelve-mil­lion Syr­i­ans have been forced to flee their homes; that’s about half the pre-war pop­u­la­tion! Four mil­lion have be­come refugees and are flood­ing into neigh­bor­ing states, es­pe­cially Le­banon and Tur­key.

Ac­cord­ing to the U.N. High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Tur­key hosts 1.8 mil­lion dis­placed per­sons, tiny Le­banon 1.2 mil­lion, Jor­dan 629,000, and Iraq 250,000.

Many of the flee­ing Syr­i­ans in turn are try­ing to get into Europe by makeshift and dan­ger­ous means to seek po­lit­i­cal asy­lum.

The Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal

ISIL’s wan­ton pil­lag­ing and loot­ing through­out north­ern Syria and Iraq has de­lib­er­ately tar­geted and strayed an im­por­tant and ir­re­place­able artis­tic her­itage. Be­sides smash­ing stat­ues and loot­ing mu­se­ums, and with­out ques­tion se­cretly selling some stat­ues to the lu­cra­tive in­ter­na­tional art black mar­ket. ISIL re­cently mur­dered a prom­i­nent ar­chae­ol­o­gist in Palmyra, the an­cient city seized by these thugs in the spring.

So can the world com­mu­nity re­ally con­vince the Syr­i­ans to stop fight­ing and de­stroy­ing their his­toric home­land? Or is the cult of death and vi­o­lence, the lure of power, and sec­tar­ian ha­treds, too strong a toxin as to stop the con­flict? John J. Met­zler is a United Na­tions cor­re­spon­dent cov­er­ing diplo­matic and de­fense is­sues. He is the au­thor of “Di­vided Dy­namism: The Diplo­macy of Sep­a­rated Na­tions: Ger­many, Korea, China” (2014). Con­tact: jjm­col­umn@earth­link.net

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