24 July 2018

7 motives why the war in Syria should have ended yesterday

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

The war in Syria lasts already for too long and its consequences were felt not only in the country and the region, but also further, in Europe. Probably, by the end of this war, the situation will be as the one from the beginning of 2011, an authoritarian regime that will dominate the internal politic life, and an opposition, as big as this will be, that will want reforms. Meanwhile, 50% from the country’s population received the internal or external refugee status, with a generation of kids and teenagers that got blocked outside the schools desks, and 400.000 died just to witness the time of changes coming back to the same hour. There are a lot of arguments suggesting that the wise solution is stopping the conflict. Today. Even better, yesterday. Or at least tomorrow. Unfortunately, the regional realities, the external influences, the internal disagreements, all of these postpone, push away such a conflict resolution.

Image source: Mediafax

Slowly, methodically, measuring carefully its forces and operations, the Damascus regime takes the control over the rebel enclave from south and east the country. With Russia assuring the aerial support of the land operations, or playing the mediating role to convince the rebel administration to rise up the white flag, thus avoiding the effects of an massive assault, the Syrian governmental forces are concentrating, in this period, on taking under control of Daraa’s governorate territory, located at the border with Jordan, as well as the city with the same name, known in the last 7 years as “Syria’s revolution craddle”.

Here, in Daraa, on 6th march 2011, 15 Syrian teenagers were arrested for writing anti-regime graffiti on their school’s walls. It has been followed by the protest marches of the city’s residents, the first bullets, the first dead people, government’s buildings on fire, the division of the city according to the loyalty camps, pro or against the regime. Until June of the same year, there were already over 240 dead people, as an ONU report says. Then, the war began.

One year, two, three, four… seven years passed since that moment when the  Arab Spring designed to become the season of renaissance and reform, turned out to be the moment when Syria turned to a trajectory of destruction and desolation.

A study published in 2013 by The Washington Post[1], projected that the war in Syria will last at least 10 years, considering academic studies regarding the civil war’s character and the other circumstances: the foreign intervention, official or not official, internal divisions, the existence of an impressive weaponry and munition arsenal stock all over the country’s territory, the quite equal balance between the combat factions.

We are in July 2018, the Syrian governmental forces surrounded almost all Daraa’s districts, still under the rebel’s control, massing the forces, deploying artillery and tanks, the city could have the fate of the other rebel enclaves, levelled by cannon projectiles and aerial bombs. Or could be an reconciliation agreement, which means re-dislocating the combats from the territory still under the opposition’s control, in North of Syria, and thus avoiding the destruction and human losses.

For now. Because the counting continues, as will continue the destructions, the human losses, the reciprocal accusations, the external intervention (which already is about to become permanent) and the regional instability.

But what if the war in Syria would end today? There are a lot of reasons/arguments justifying why this internal conflict should not have been, firstly, catalyzed and escalated, but also there are more motives justifying its stopping now, or even better, yesterday.

Several of them:

One. Because this conflict made already to many victims

The estimates regarding the human losses are different, but in general, it is said that in the last 7 years of conflict there were killed around 400.000 people, “distributed” almost equally between the regime and the armed opposition. Maybe more, among the Allawi minority, the supporters of the regime. The numbers are based on partial information, each side exaggerating the enemy’s losses and minimizing its own. There were kids and women killed. A report of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), appreciated, at the beginning of this years, that 19.811 kids and 12.513 women were killed since 2011, until March 2018. There were also foreigners killed: 2.062 Iranians, 2.037 Afghans, 870 Palestinians, but also 2.960 Russian citizens, 400-500 French, 160 Germans, 106 Belgians and 50 Americans.  From the regime or from the opposition. Losses were also among the military contingents of Syria`s neighbor states, or from the Russian military contingent, after being dislocated in Syria in 2015. Over 350 foreign militaries were killed, especially at the borders: 16 Iraqi, 8 Jordanians, 60 Lebanese, 93 Russians, 173 Turks, and 5 Americans.     


Two. Because the war destroyed the country’s infrastructure

A 2017 World Bank report mentioned, at the end of that year, that the war in Syria destroyed one third of the country’s local estate, as well as a half of the medical facilities. The document shows that the losses for the country’s economy were 225 billion dollars, around 4 times higher than the Syrian GDP before the war. The thousands years old urban centers,  Alep, Homs or Raqqa, lost forever the historical relicves of their past. 4000 schools and more than 1500 religious sites became ruins. The aerial photos show better the proportions of the destruction.

Three. Because the regional instability increased.

Over half of the Syrian population was dislocated, in almost equal percentages, between the ones that remained in Syria and those who found refuge in the nearby states. Communities of hundreds of thousands, million people live now in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan. The regions where refugee’s camps were located are mostly close to the borders. Some states, as Jordan, preferred accommodating the Syrian refugees according the local capacities. But, soon, the Syrian population exceeded the local one. For thousands of Syrian kids, there were adapted the school curricula. The bill for services, water, electricity, aliments affected the national budget.   

Meanwhile, in the refugee camps, extremist groups and terrorist cells showed up. Politically, the Arab states divided between the ones that no longer have contacts with the Damascus regime, and the ones that continued to maintain the diplomatic representation, or just communicational lines. Damascus and Riyadh, for example, insulted each other a lot. Damascus and Ankara, another example, reminded their Ottoman past, of course, from different perspectives.

Meanwhile, a pseudo-Islamic state, built on terror and a brutal Coran reinterpretation, broke large territories from Syria and Iraq, expelled, when they did not kill, whole minorities, blocked a generation of kids, influenced and continue to do so, thousands of teenagers, the futures “Ione Wolf” from the Middle East, Europe, US, Russia.                                                                                                  

Four. Because one of the oldest Christian communities of the world left on exile.

Around 10% of Syria’s population was Christian, before the conflict, mostly Eastern sects, the Orthodox Syrian Church and the Greco-Orthodox Church. From those 1, 5 -2 million of Syrian Christians, two-thirds are no longer in the country. Syria had the largest community of Aramaic speakers, Jesus Christ’s language, and in East of the country used to live, before the war, around 46.00 Assyrian Christians, organized in the East Assyrian Church, one of the oldest in the world. Those who could not find refugee before the ISIS assault, had to sign dhimmi, a contract of abandonment to any civil or religious rights. The Christian communities in Homs, Alep, from the center of the country, were dispersed under the fights pressure, and the international Christian solidarity was manifested sporadically.


Five. Because it produced one of the most severe refugee crisis in Europe

According to data from a World Vision Organization report, 5, 6 million Syrians left the country, starting from 2011, until the spring of 2018. Meanwhile 6, 1 million persons are internally dislocated. Half of them are children and teenagers. The nearby countries dealt with hosting the Syrian refugees: Turkey - 3, 5 million, Lebanon - 1 million, Jordan - 658.000, Iraq - 247.000 and Egypt - 127.00. In 2015, the year with the highest Syrian refugee crisis, 1,3 million Syrians crossed afoot the unprotected borders of Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Austria and Germany. The refugees provoked reflexive protection decisions coming from European states, where fences were installed at the borders, the political spirits got disturbed, the electorate radicalized, the nationalism became stronger at the parliamentary elections in Germany, Austria, Poland, Turkey, and the EU found its gap in the internal solidarity and loyalty. 


Six. Because it produced irretrievable losses for the historical heritage of the country and the region

At war, the military camps are installed in historic buildings, the tanks find their place in the temple’s colonnades, the artillery takes aim for their shooting to the bell tower or the minaret of the mosques, and the planes discharge their bombs over the old centers of the cities. All the six Syrian monuments that are on UNESCO’s list were touched by the war. In the old city of Palmyra, the destructions are so big, that its reconstruction could be made only virtually, with holograms. Vandalizing the museums and the archeological places became something usual, when they are not simply destroyed, especially on the territory occupied by ISIS. Syria’s history, with thousands of years artifacts, was sometimes, carefully sent abroad. From time to time, at some European border point, an historic object shows up, or some British antique store[2] sells objects which still have the Syrian desert sand from Palmyra. According to an article published by The Guardian, the traffic routes of these objects includes the nearby states Syria, as well as the international organized crime groups. In 2017, ISIS was gaining around 100 million dollars from selling the Syrian past. Of course, under the market’s and history’s price.

Seven. Because it produced and exacerbation of the religious extremism.

The Arab Spring, devoured, in Syria, its democratic and secular options, being seized by the radical, extremist religious forces, which imposed their black and white vision over the inhabitants from the controlled territories.  The fanatic militias, from all sides, proclaimed emirates and caliphates, killed and expelled, introduced educational curricula which produces and will continue to produce damages to an entire generation of teenagers without a vision.  The war in Syria brought Iran and Saudi Arabia face to face, consolidated the “Shia Crescent”, according to a phrase of the Jordanian king Abullah II[3] and it increased the disagreements in the Arabian League. It exported the extremism in Europe and the European capital cities felt the cold shiver of the terrorist attacks.

The war in Syria showed that states are hard to build, in thousands of years, and disappear easily, in a confuse spring, when internal and external unstable factors meet. And, through these effects,  also show that the lack of action in identifying a political, diplomatic solution of the conflicts, negatively turn back against the states that if they would have used their military power, diplomatic openness, direct influence against the combatants, they could stop the war. And they did not.

There are not only 7 arguments why the war in Syria should have stopped at least yesterday. There could be more. Among the un-projected consequences of the war there is also Russia’s comeback in the Middle East, Iran coming closer to Mediterranean Sea, increasing the nationalist feeling in Turkey, the high economic crisis in the nearby states of Syria, blocking the Israelian-Palestinian peace process, the US losing prestige and authority in the Arab world, the return of the authoritarian state model in the Middle East.

After the operation in South of Syria, and taking over of Daraa and Quneitra governorates, the Syrian governmental forces will go to North, to destroy also the rebel safe haven in Idlib. Here the things are more complicated. There are also territories under the Kurdish forces control. Turkey has, through local allies, the control over some North-West Syria cantons. Also in the North, there are US and France Special Forces contingents. In east of Syria, the Iraqi forces are still hunting in the desert the last remnants of ISIS. Let’s not forget those around 4000 Russian soldiers placed in several military air and naval in Khmeimim and Tartus, in tens of locations on the Syrian territory. And the Iraqi, Afghans, Saudis, Jordanians, Kosovars, mercenaries, regulated forces, militias, volunteers that lived in this war in Syria as this was their home for the last 7 years.

Tomorrow is another day for this war to end. If…




[1] The Washington Post, Political science says Syria’s civil war will probably last at least another decade, Max Fisher, October 23, 2013

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/03/antiquities-looted-by-isis-end-up-in-london-shops

[3] https://eastwest.eu/en/opinions/iran-today-tomorrow-economy/shia-crescent-myth-reality-map