What began with the graffiti of teenagers led to a civil war. From the U.S. and U.N. backing rebels as Russia assists the Assad regime, to President Donald Trump speaking to President Vladimir Putin about stability and the possible end of the war last Tuesday, this is as complicated as it gets for the Syrian conflict.
The conflict started back in 2011 when the Arab Spring uprisings were gaining international attention. More than a dozen Syrian school boys were arrested and tortured over some graffiti, which alluded to President Bashar Al-Assad’s turn to step down from power. This very action unfolded a chain of events, which lead to peaceful protests in March 2011 and a wrongful response from the Assad regime.
UNO professor Ramazan Kilinc says the initial request of the protesters was to open the system to have more representation, freedom and democracy. However, initially people did not request Assad to go. The problem suddenly escalated when the Assad regimes’ security forces killed protesters in the city of Deraa following the subsequent unrest and more killings that lead to the civil war.
“He did not take the demands of the people seriously and he responded to their demands with brutality and bloodshed,” Kilinc said.
Since then, the Assad regime, the opposition and the Islamic State, countries like Russia, Iran, Turkey, the U.S. and other organizations have been participating and taking stands that have worsened the conditions of the conflict. These interventions have complicated the war to a major level causing the proxy war to become a complex, multi-layered conflict.
As the war progressed, priorities changed not only from the opposition, but for the other countries involved according to their own interests. This added to the complexity of the conflict and made it harder to understand.
“You can really come to the conclusion that there are so many different narratives being spoken here because there are so many actors being involved that it really complicates it further,” Professor Michelle Black, who served as a government civilian for the Department of Defense from 2009 to 2016 specializing in deterrence analysis and adversary decision-making, said.
It is important to mention that during these six years, the use of chemical weapons has been a major element that has brought on the reaction of international organizations and countries like Russia and the U.S. One example of this is when former President Barack Obama warned intervention back in 2012 under any circumstances where chemical weapons were used in the conflict.
The U.S. policy under the Obama administration got criticized when U.S. intervention never came to fruition after lethal chemical attacks were allegedly used in 2013 by the Assad regime. The U.S. did start backing up rebels with humanitarian aid and arms to fight the Assad regime, but never intervened directly.
In Kilinc’s opinion, this disengagement decreased the credibility of the U.S. for not following up on their initial promises.
“Since the U.S. somehow encouraged the rebels against the Assad regime, I think it had the responsibility to protect them and help them,” Kilinc said.
This leads to the question of whether the U.S. should intervene directly in the conflict. Although the U.S. already intervened earlier this year under the Trump administration after another chemical attack by the regime, many believe now is a very complicated time to do so.
“If we are saying we are going to be more involved, then that means we need to have strict foreign policy,” Black said. “What is difficult is that we are very vague about that right now.”
Following the 2013 chemical attacks would come sanctions, the Russian intervention, more chemical attacks and the rising threat of the Islamic State. Now, the U.S. hopes the Assad regime will regain stability after all the deaths and unrest the war has caused. It seems now that the initial reasons for the conflict have been overshadowed by the agenda of the foreign and domestic powers involved.
UNO Syrian-American student Denna Keilany said, “Some people who originally backed the rebels are so burned out by the turmoil that they have lost hope in even the potential for the success of the revolution.”