An Uncertain Future
As gunfire rings in the distance and explosions from mortar volleys rattle the earth, the people of Syria flee to bomb shelters, nervously waiting to discover what their future holds.
For about half a century Hafez al-Assad’s and Bashar al-Assad’s regime violently ruled the country. Hafez al-Assad controlled Syria by oppressing his people’s religious and speech freedoms as he saw fit and ruled with an iron fist by detaining and using excessive force to engrain his power. Bashar al-Assad took control after his father’s death in June 2000 and implemented similar ruling styles used by his father. Bashar is more laid back but still oppresses anyone who speaks negatively toward the government and the way he rules the country.
Two years ago, Syrians began to rally for change. In March 2011, protesters gathered in the capital city of Damascus and the southern city of Deraa, demanding the release of political prisoners, who were being held for 5+ years for reasons like criticizing the government.
According to Katherine Marsh’s article, Syria’s Political PrisonersIt’s hard to imagine how I got through it, published by The Guardian, Marsh explains the government was detaining political leaders and normal citizens for simply expressing their views. They would be detained and weren’t allowed to contact their families to let them know that they had been taken.
Another portion of Marsh’s article explained well-documented cases were falsely denying torture claims, though many say they were forced to stand for multiple days in a row or were beaten by government agents or military officials.
These beatings and injustices caused many Syrians to protest the methods in which al-Assad was running the country. However, what started as a peaceful protest ended in violence when security forces opened fire, killing many protesters.
The remainder of 2011 brought heightened violence and eventually erupted to civil war by June 2012. By then, thousands of Syrians had escaped to neighboring countries like Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon because it was becoming too dangerous to stay in Syria.
Pockets of combat zones quickly appeared along the western side of the country, with the most action taking place in the country’s northwestern area around Aleppo and the Mediterranean Sea, some suburbs of Damascus, and Dara’a, just east of the Golan Heights. Sporadic skirmishes were also being fought all over the countryside and within smaller towns and villages.
Louai Alsaman, who is currently working on his masters in architecture at Ball State, was accepted to the college on a full-ride scholarship shortly after violence erupted in Syria. Born in Syria, he graduated from Damascus University in 2010 and planned to continue studying architecture in the U.S. But in order to enter the U.S. for school, he had to apply for a full-ride scholarship. Due to the amount of tests and requirements it takes to obtain a scholarship abroad, it took him around three years to be accepted.
Meanwhile, violence in his hometown of Damascus had been steadily increasing. Alsaman says he was only two months away from moving to Indiana when the violence became almost unbearable.
“At lot of people [are] victims right now. Like from each party. It’s madness over there right now,” Alsaman says.
Innocent civilians are being caught in the crossfire between the FSA and the Syrian military. Rocket propelled grenades and stray bullets are striking homes and are injuring thousands of innocent civilians. A New York Times Article, Scattered by War, Syrian Family Struggles to Start Over, states that a woman was watering plants on her balcony and after turning to go inside, an RPG struck the balcony wounding both her granddaughters; blowing one’s leg off. Stories like this can be heard all across the country.
Alsaman says his family fled Syria for fear of being killed in the crossfire and is staying with his brother who has been living in the U.S. They have been here for nearly four months and are still unsure of when they can go home.
“They’re trying to survive. They are trying to do what they were doing before war.. they’re trying to do whatever is possible [so they can live] some kind of a normal life,” he says.
The same can be said for Alsaman’s friends who are still in Syria. He contacts them daily to receive updates on the war. He says his friends are taking it day by day and just want the war to be over. They feel it’s not going anywhere and that all it’s doing is costing the lives of their family and friends.
“No one knows if it will work itself out…People have been dying, friends have been [killed], and surely there’s a relative of some kind who’s a martyr from either side. They have had enough of it,” Alsaman says.
THE BIG PICTURE
The war in Syria may be taking place on another continent, but it has a greater impact on the U.S. than many realize. Its outcome directly effects the U.S.’s relations within the Middle East and whether or not we have to get militarily involved to protect our interests in the Middle East like Israel and Turkey. Either way it’s a lose-lose situation for the U.S.
Right now, the war has stagnated. Neither the FSA nor the Syrian government military has a distinct advantage over one another, which raises concerns as to where the direction of the war might go.
Assistant English professor Brent Blackwell, who specializes in the Middle Eastern affairs, thinks the U.S. has to step back and allow Syria to sort out the war itself unless al-Assad provokes a war with a neighboring country.
Due to political concerns, Blackwell says, the U.S. has to step back from its traditional role of being “the world policeman” for human rights violations. Unlike the Israeli Palestinian conflict, which Blackwell teaches a course on, it seems the U.S. has been more passive this time around. The recent gassing that killed 100 Syrians in a suburb of Damascus was more than enough grounds for the U.S. to intervene but the U.S. didn’t.
War with a neighboring country is a plausible thought because according to a New York Times article, Turkey shot down a Syrian military helicopter on Sept. 16, which increased tensions between the neighboring countries, too.
If al-Assad starts a war with a neighboring country, the U.S. will be forced to police the fight. The U.S.’s political ties to Israel will force ground troops to be sent to help protect Israel first and then help Turkey if Turkey is involved.
“Whenever anybody starts [talking] of military action in the Middle East, Israel gets really nervous…that’s going to be our first priority,” says Blackwell.
The U.S. has backed Israel since its formation in 1949 and through its various conflicts and wars. According to the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. has provided Israel $3 billion in funds annually since 1985. The U.S. has provided Israel with fighter jets and other military hardware to help protect the nation. The U.S. is obligated to protect Israel if a war in the Middle East.
Another reason why the war has stagnated is that the only common trait the Free Syrian Army has is that they want al-Assad ousted from control. The FSA is comprised of many groups with entirely different agendas and all of who want to take control if al-Assad is ousted.
Blackwell stated that all the different groups within the FSA are united now because they want to topple al-Assad. The risk of toppling al-Assad is that there could be a potential backlash like what is happening in Egypt. One group might fight argue they have been ostracized by another and lash out to regain control.
The war in Syria is showing no signs of letting up. Alsaman says no one knows where the war is headed, only that people continue to die on a daily basis. Recent political talks have been attempting to restore peace within the area but the FSA and the Syrian government continues to skirmish and attempt to gain an advantage.
Looking at U.S. involvement, only time will tell if more than political discussions will be needed. Either way, the war in Syria not only damaging the country itself, but it is damaging relations between surrounding countries and the U.S. The only hope is that Syria can restore order before neighboring countries are forced to engage in combat.