The conflict in Syria has now been going on for over 3 years. It has killed over 130,000 and displaced almost two million, half of whom are children.
What started out as protests against the dictatorship of President Bashar Al-Assad has grown into an all out civil war between Assad’s troops on the one hand, and a fractured group of rebels fighting for his overthrow on the other.
Compared to most other Middle Eastern countries, Syria is considered one of the most demographically heterogeneous regions. There are large populations of Sunni and Shia Muslims of several derivations as well as a large Christian population.
Because of this diversity Syria has become a sort of proxy war for regional actors to fight their ideological battles. Saudi Arabia, the Sunni theocracy, has been backing the rebels, and Iran, the Shia theocracy, has been backing the Assad government.
Then there are the surrounding countries that have been bearing the burden of refugees that need to be cared for. Each of them hopes for a particular outcome to the conflict. There is also the Mujahideen who come from far and wide to participate in the fighting, and there are also the moderates who hope to establish a real democracy.
As well, to add to the conflict there are the Western powers that hope for yet another outcome but must deal with the realities of their own relations and allegiances with Middle Eastern countries.
As more and more actors, each with their own agenda, enter the conflict, the war takes on another level of complexity and the stakes continue to rise.
Looking at this conflict from a bird’s eye view it can be easy to desensitize ourselves to its realities. It is easy to forget that there are real people down there fighting for their lives. On Monday, some of the most graphic images of systematic starvation and torture were released ahead of the peace talks in Geneva. It was a stark reminder of what is really at stake in Geneva, the lives of millions of Syrians who are suffering unspeakable horrors.
Although the peace talks in Geneva are not perfect, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reminded us of their significance. “For the first time, the Syrian Government and the Syria opposition, countries of the region, and the wider international community are convening to seek a political solution to the death, destruction and displacement that is the dire reality of life in Syria today.”
Those powers that are sitting in that room should constantly remind themselves, that it is in the interest of humanity to end the bloodshed and to end it soon.
In the meantime, the 1 million refugee children will continue to suffer and live with the consequences of this brutal war.
In my next blog I will talk about the devastating effects of this war on children.