We hear about the Syrian War everywhere - it's been going on for 7 years now, and has caused a huge refugee crisis. But who actually knows what’s going on? Here’s a quick recap.
Who are the main groups involved?
OG Syrian government and their army
Rebels against the Syrian government
IS, and other terrorist groups
How it all happened
Some people decided to rebel against the Syrian government. This started a civil war between the government and the rebels.
The rebels have much fewer weapons and resources than the government. Desperate times, desperate measures – they reluctantly ask for help from IS and other extreme Islamist groups from the region. Surprise surprise, soon the whole terrorist alliance thing doesn’t work out. After using the chaos of the war to enter Syria, IS ditch the rebels and start doing their own thing. IS and the rebels are now also fighting against each other.
Russia’s military becomes directly involved in the fighting. They support the government, but are also fighting terrorism.
The US is lowkey also worried about IS becoming more powerful in the region. To fight IS, they have to join forces with the rebels (and go against Russia).
That’s normal. Here’s an expansion of those 4 broad steps.
1. CIVIL WAR
(Note: civil war means a war between the people in one country)
In early 2011, heaps of anti-government protests occurred around the Middle East. This was called the Arab Spring. Why did people protest against the government? Basically, some of the governments weren’t great – they weren’t super democratic, some were corrupt and/or rigged elections, and many did a bad job of taking care of the economy. With heaps of unemployment and rising prices, and a government more interested in maintaining its power than helping the people, obviously some people were going to protest.
Since Syria is in the Middle East, it's affected by these protests too. Some Syrian people peacefully protest against their government, which is led by a man called President Bashar al-Assad. They believe that Assad’s actions have been bad for the economy and the freedom of the people. (Interestingly, Assad is not hated by everyone in Syria – most of the middle class prefer him to everybody else.)
Assad does not take the protests well. He kills and imprisons protesters using the official Syrian Army.
After that, a group of angry citizens form a rebel group called the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Their overall goal was to overthrow the government, but different sections within it have different ideas as to how, and what to do after that.
2. IS ENTERS
The language is a little tricky here – words like Islamists, jihadists and terrorists are thrown around, but no one can really seem to decide what they all mean. But when we say “IS”, we probably have a pretty good picture of what kind of people we’re talking about.
IS, and other groups like it, see the chaos in Syria and use it as an excuse to enter the war (they want to turn Syria into an Islamic state.) The FSA is running low on manpower and weapons, and so accept the help of IS. Genuine Syrian freedom fighters are then joined by people with their own Islamist goals. Soon enough, the genuine Syrian rebels are fighting against IS as well.
The line between government and rebels is blurry – one group isn’t simply good or bad. The official Syrian Army does terrible things (2013 and 2018 chemical attacks). But the various rebel groups do terrible things too (Assad is part of a religious group called the Alawites, but the majority religion group is the Sunni Muslims. Some Sunni Muslim rebel groups massacred Alawite villages.)
3: RUSSIA ENTERS
Russia has always kind of always been friends with Assad’s regime (selling them weapons etc.) So their military support of the government in the Syrian War is expected. Russia actually had a bunch of friends in the Middle East, but some of the important ones got overthrown during the Arab Spring (remember that?), so Russia seems keen to strengthen its friendship with Assad. Also, Russia wants to show the rest of world that it’s a force to be reckoned with, showing off its military technology, and attracting customers for its weapons.
4. US ENTERS
Know that thing between the US and Russia (then the Soviet Union) called the Cold War? (If not, give it a quick Google. It’s very famous.)
Also, everyone knows that the US is super touchy about terrorism. So when they hear about IS in Syria, they are understandably worried. In 2016, the US starts having a “presence” in Syria – meaning that they are bringing in resources and training, but not actually using their own troops to fight. The US obviously wants to fight IS, which puts them on the same side as the rebels (the US is not a fan of Assad because of, well, this thing called democracy that Assad doesn’t exactly represent.) So the US supports the rebels, which includes a group called the Kurds.
The Kurds are their own ethnic group, with a distinct culture and race. However, they don’t have their own country, and are instead scattered in clumps around the Middle East. The Kurds living in Syria are fighting against IS, because IS is persecuting Kurdish groups (who don’t follow IS’s religion) and taking control of northern parts of Syria.
The US starts a trend – soon, France and the UK have joined to form an anti-IS group. In 2017, the US makes its first direct military action against Assad’s government forces.
Congratulations, you've just done your daily 5 minutes of being an actually engaged citizen! Of course, there's so much more to be learned and known about the Syrian War that you should look into if you're interested. But for now, this was Recap: Syrian War.
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