As the Syrian Conflict persists in the Middle East, the Syrian government agreed
to enter into peace talks. These discussions are scheduled for January in Geneva, Switzerland with the intention of finding an end to the Syrian Civil War. The Syrian government stated that it would be attending with President Bashar al-Assad’s permission, but he made it clear that he wouldn’t be handing over his presidential reins anytime in the near future. In fact, any negotiations will most likely be difficult because neither party seems to show any signs of interest in compromise. Additionally it is unknown who would represent the opposition forces.
President Bashar al-Assad regards the rebel opposition as terrorists against the Syrian people. To many others, it may seem that Bashar al-Assad views the Syrian public as the opposition as well. “We are fighting terrorists,” the Syrian President said. “80-90 percent of those we are fighting belong to al-Qaeda. They are not interested in reform or in politics. The only way to deal with them is to annihilate them.” This past August, the government allegedly used chemical warfare against Damascus suburbs that were taken by the opposition. Currently the Syrian government is cooperating with the U.S. and Russia for the destruction of its chemical weapons. Working with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Syria has requested to convert their chemical facilities into storage areas.
The previous chemical attacks along with violent and persistent warfare throughout Syria has contributed to the growing consensus that a revolution of the Syrian people has turned into a civil war. Similar to how the Arab Spring spread through Northern Africa and parts of the Middle East from the protests that began in Tunisia during late 2010, it seems as though the Syrian crisis might cross over to its neighbors. On Nov. 19, two suicide bombers exploded in Beirut,Lebanon. A Sunni jihadist group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, claimed responsibility for the bombing near the Iranian Embassy in the capital. They warned that there would be similar attacks in the future if the Shiite militia Hezbollah, supported by Iran continued to send military support to Syria. Although there has been a long lasting divide between the two branches of the Muslim religion, the Sunni and Shiite conflict has recently become politically focused in the Syrian war.
What started as a possible replication of the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen have turned into a bloody conflict of opposing religions, powers, and race.
Leena Mazid ’16 has a unique perspective on the Syrian Crisis because much of her extended family still resides in Syria. She is mostly concerned for her aunts and cousins who live in Aleppo and Damascus. One of her cousins attends college in Damascus and lives near many government buildings, which is an area that often is the target of attacks. “It changes … sometimes it’s more dangerous in Damascus and more in Aleppo,” Mazid says. “There’s always poverty in Syria and there has always been poverty in Aleppo but now people’s children are getting shot.”
She takes many of her memories from visiting the country and compares them with what is most likely the country’s reality today. She remembers the warm Syrian nights when outdoor restaurants would suddenly appear after sundown, the underground gold markets, and people smoking hookah. She also remembers the vast amount of homeless, people and children trying to make money by selling cigarettes or shining shoes. She also reflects on how Syria is one of the oldest countries in the world and Aleppo is one of the oldest cities that has been continuously inhabited by people. And when she thinks of the conflict she thinks of the historical ruins that are being bombed. “I think of the orphans, when lives are lost for no reason, that’s what I think about.”
Mazid believes that through the president’s violent actions, he will be killed soon. She and her family are Sunni-Muslims and supported the rebel cause but not the groups that have been trying to gain power through the opposition force. She believes that citizens thought they could take back their countries much like the other Middle Eastern nations but Assad was much stronger than anticipated. “The war makes other Arab countries scared, this doesn’t empower anyone. And it gives a sense of hopelessness for all marginalized people,” Mazid emphasizes about the global implications of the war.
Mazid’s father is a representative for a Syrian American council for the greater Philadelphia area. She has not been able to visit her Syrian family for several years because of the crisis. “It has been the longest Arab Spring and most gruesome as well, so we can all wish that it ends soon.”