The Syrian civil war that has decimated the country for 10 years now, provoking a regional humanitarian crisis and drawing in actors ranging from the United States to Russia, appears to be drawing inexorably to a conclusion. President Bashar al-Assad, with the backing of Iran and Russia, seems to have emerged militarily victorious from the conflict, which began after his government violently repressed civilian protests in 2011. The armed insurgency that followed soon morphed into a regional and global proxy war that, at the height of the fighting, saw radical Islamist groups seize control over vast swathes of the country, only to lose it in the face of sustained counteroffensives by pro-government forces as well as a U.S.-led coalition of Western militaries. The fighting is not yet fully over, though, with the northwestern Idlib region remaining outside of government control. In early 2020, the Syrian army’s Russian-backed campaign to retake Idlib from the last remaining armed opposition groups concentrated there resulted in clashes with Turkish forces deployed to protect Ankara’s client militias. The skirmishes were a reminder that the conflict, though seemingly in its final stages, could still escalate into a regional conflagration. The situation in the northeast also remains volatile following the removal of U.S. forces from the border with Turkey, with Turkish.
Syrian and Russian forces all now deployed in the region, alongside proxies and Syrian Kurdish militias. Syria Relief, the UK’s largest Syria-focused charity, announced today that the Syrian conflict is being “forgotten and ignored” as it is about to commemorate 10 years since the start of the civil war. Syria Relief have released today the results of a YouGov poll which shows that only 58% of Britons are aware that the Syrian conflict is ongoing. When Syria Relief and YouGov last conducted this poll in August 2019, the results showed that 77% of Britons were aware that the conflict was ongoing showing a 19% decrease in awareness. March 15th 2021 will make 10 years since the start of the Syrian Civil War. In response to this lack of UK awareness and the grim milestone of the Syrian conflict, Syria Relief are launching their This Is Not Their History, This Is Their Future campaign. The campaign aims to educate the British public of the growing humanitarian needs being exacerbated by the Syrian conflict. This tragic commemoration of 10 years of this brutal conflict is being compounded by the fact that in the UK and throughout the West, the suffering of the Syrian people is being forgotten and ignored. The YouGov poll commissioned by Syria relief today reveals that almost 2 in 5 people aren’t aware that the Syrian conflict is still happening, when the reality is, for Syrians.
The situation is getting worse. We want the world to know that the Syrian conflict and the suffering of the Syrian people is not history. It’s happening now and it will keep on happening unless action is taken. Within Syria there are now over 80% of the population living in poverty, 9.3 million people are food insecure and a further 2.2 million are on the brink of becoming food insecure. 15.5 million Syrians lack the basic access to clean and hygienic water, something we take for granted. The healthcare system has been crippled, long-before COVID-19, and 2.4 million children are out of education. This is all mostly due to the deliberate and indiscriminate bombing of civilian life; homes, schools, hospitals, markets and vital infrastructure. The global pandemic has further worsened the misery and suffering, Syrians are also facing spiraling inflation and growing unemployment. People are being priced out of affording basic items. Regular meals are a distant memory for many Syrians. Whilst 6.2 million people remain internally displaced in Syria, 5.6 million Syrians are refugees in the neighboring countries, approximately half of whom are children. Many have to live in tents and makeshift huts, even during freezing temperatures in the winter. The widespread human suffering isn’t a tragic symptom of this war, it has been an intentional tactic to achieve a military victory.
The sadness we feel over the fate that has befallen Syrian children was greatly amplified as we perused a report released earlier this week by UNICEF the United Nations agency responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide - in which we were told that 12,000 of them have died during the war. Twelve thousand! Twelve thousand young souls that their Maker had delivered unto our custody to fulfil a purpose and that purpose assuredly was not that they fall victim to, say, barrel bombs and poison gas. Let's pause for a moment here and in our mind's eye look at these astounding numbers again, much in the manner of a visitor in a museum stepping back from a painting on a wall in order to perceive it better except, in this case, it is fitting that the painting be Guernica, Picasso's 1937 iconic masterwork, which depicts, in apocalyptic imagery, the suffering, violence and chaos that accompany all wars.
When we look at these numbers, after we've placed them in a lived world where human existence anchors its meaning, they begin to acquire an autonomous, almost sentient feel of their own that speaks to us, about us, from us. If we have ceased at one point in this ten-year-long, bloody conflict, between ruler and ruled, to turn away in nauseated disbelief at the carnage in Syria, surely it must have been because that carnage had become so unspeakable.
So beyond all rational understanding, so alien to our sensibility, that no arsenal of insight in our possession could've grasped its intimations. The return to high-intensity fighting in Idlib has created yet another humanitarian crisis, sending waves of refugees toward the Turkish border and adding to the war’s already staggering humanitarian cost. The estimated death toll is 400,000 people, but it could actually be much higher. And at various points in the conflict, more than half of the country’s population was displaced. The United Nations Refugee Agency estimates that 5.6 million people have fled Syria since the fighting started, putting a significant strain on neighboring countries as well as Europe. Even as the conflict winds down, it is unclear when or if they will be able to return. Once the fighting finally comes to an end, Assad will still face the challenge of rebuilding the country, including areas where he allegedly deployed chemical weapons against his own citizens. The question of who will foot the bill remains an open one. The U.S. and European countries are loath to work with Assad. And Moscow is unlikely to take on the costs of reconstruction, which the United Nations has estimated at $250 billion. Former U.S. President Donald Trump was eager to distance the U.S. from the situation in Syria, but President Joe Biden has yet to articulate his approach to a conflict whose endpoint seems, as ever, vaguely visible on the horizon.
But whose destructive impact is clear and present. WPR has covered the Syrian civil war in detail and continues to examine key questions about what will happen next. Will Russia and Turkey prevent the crisis in Idlib from escalating? Can Russia force the Assad regime to make key institutional reforms to satisfy Western nations’ conditions for helping to fund Syria’s reconstruction? What role will Iran and the militias it supports continue to play in the country. More than 100,000 people have been killed, and millions of people have either been displaced or become refugees in neighboring countries,” Ban told reporters as he headed in to his closed-door meeting with Kerry. We have to bring this to an end. There is no military solution to Syria, Kerry added. “There is only a political solution, and that will require leadership in order to bring people to the table. Both senior diplomats pledged to intensify efforts to get the Syrian combatants to Geneva. But neither offered any indication that the increasingly sectarian war is any closer to an end than during last year’s abortive U.N.-led attempt to negotiate a solution. Bashar al-Assad’s presidency has failed to live up to the hopes for far-reaching domestic reform that greeted it in 2000. After a brief opening, Syria clamped down on dissent, and economic change remains painfully slow. Syria should turn hints into reality and the international community should find ways to encourage and to assist it.
Rayhan Ahmed Topader is a writer and columnist .
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