“Imagine a conflict that killed off everyone in Atlanta, wounded every single9 person in San Francisco and Dallas and led everyone in Chicago and Houston to leave the country in search of safety.” While this scenario is thankfully imaginary, the numbers, according to an article by PBS.org, are very real for the small middle-eastern nation of Syria which has been undergoing a devastating war since 2011. The conflict, known as the Syrian Civil war, began when rebel forces began an insurgency against the Syrian government and has greatly impacted world affairs, including that of our nation. I found myself drawn to this topic when I read of the great human suffering the war has wrought and so decided to research both the background and consequences of this terrible conflict to better understand its significance. Today, I’d like to go over the two major causes of the Syrian civil war as well as two key effects the conflict has created.
The primary cause of the Syrian Civil war was the overbearing and brutal rule of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. Throughout his 17 year rule, Assad has heavily restricted free speech and democracy in Syria. In one such example of the latter, Assad won the 2000 Syrian presidential election with a whopping 99.7 percent of the vote. A 2014 report by the Carnegie Middle East Center found that the reason for this unlikely number was due to the fact that no one else was allowed to run in the election. Opposition to Assad’s regime would reach a boiling point in March of 2011, when numerous protestors demanding democratic reform erupted across Syria. In response, Assad violently attempted to repress this opposition by authorizing acts such as mass arrests and the use of military force on unarmed crowds. The regime’s violent reaction would only spur the uprising as anti-government militias were quickly formed alongside that of Syrian army defectors. By the summer of 2011, what began as protests had morphed into an all-out civil war in less than four months as a result of Assad’s reaction. Though Assad’s authoritarianism was the most obvious reason of the war, a catastrophic natural disaster played a significant part as well.
The secondary, more indirect, cause of the conflict in Syria was none other than a severe drought. A climateandsecurity.org article states that, starting in 2006 and lasting for seven years, Syria experienced “the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures in the country since agricultural civilizations began.” The effects of this were devastating as total crop failure and loss of livestock became commonplace throughout Syria’s farms while available food and water became hard to come by. Additionally, as their livelihoods were lost, hundreds of thousands of Syrian farmers and herders, alongside with their families, migrated to cities in the hope of achieving jobs or aid. This massive influx of population caused extreme strain on city infrastructure, in addition to the water scarcity and food shortages. This social chaos that resulted from the drought would inflame the already present anti-government sentiment that was growing at the time, creating a perfect storm that ultimately contributed to the formation of the civil war. Now that I have spoken with you all regarding the main causes of the Syrian civil war, I’ll now discuss several primary effects of the conflict.
One of the most visible and tragic effects of the Syrian war is the massive amount of refugees that the conflict has created. Wishing to escape from the violence, persecution, or poverty brought about by the war, millions of Syrians have fled their country in search of safety and security. In a report by the United Nations Refugee Agency, Fillip Grando, the high chancellor of the organization, illustrates how extensive the crisis is by stating that “Syria is the biggest refugee crisis of our time, a continuing cause of suffering for millions.” Many of the refugees have fled to the neighboring countries of Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey where many face poor conditions as their host countries struggle to provide care for them. Others have crossed the Mediterranean, facing treacherous conditions and dishonest smugglers, in an attempt to reach the more secure countries of Europe. As the Syrian civil war continues to drag on into its 7th year, this mass exodus occurring in Syria shows no signs of stopping, much less slowing.
In summary, the Syrian civil war has spawned from a dictator’s reckless cruelty as well as a disastrous drought. The conflict has resulted in heightened tensions between our country and Russia in addition to a colossal refugee crisis. While these causes and present effects of the wars are certain, the future of Syria and its people are unknown. As the philosopher Bertrand Russel once wrote, “War doesn’t determine who’s right, but who’s left.”