As the conflict in Syria continues to escalate, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep track of the various groups fighting for control of the country. EducationWorld offers the following synopsis that teachers can use to answer students’ questions. In addition, we provide class discussion questions for educators who prefer to dig a little deeper.
Syria – The Basics (From U.S. CIA)
Situated between Lebanon and Turkey on the Mediterranean cost, Syria is home to roughly 20 million people. Formerly a part of the Ottoman Empire, the country gained its independence from France in 1946. It wasn’t until Ba’th party leader Hafiz al-Assad took control via a bloodless coup in 1970 that Syria attained political stability. Assad’s son, Bashar al-Assad, won the election for the Syrian presidency in 2000 and has been in power since.
The country is largely Muslim, with three quarters Sunni Muslim and 16% other Muslim (including Alawite and Druze). Headquartered in Damascus, the official government type is republic under an authoritarian regime, and it operates according to a mix of civilian and Islamic law.
How the Conflict Started (From The Guardian UK)
Many believe the official start of the past two years of Syrian violence began with the creation of a Facebook page in March 2011. That page called for Syrian civilians to protest what many felt were anti-humanitarian acts perpetrated by the government under President Assad.
As tensions mounted, the government faced pressure from the international community to reach a peaceful resolution. The U.S. and Europe advocated for strict sanctions against Syria if the violence continued. China and Russia, however, vetoed those United Nations actions.
Al-Quaida joined the anti-Assad rebels in what many experts believe was an act designed to improve the group’s profile in the Arab world. The Syrian government would use the development to support its claims that the revolution was merely the act of “terrorists.”
The violence continued to escalate—government planes bombed civilian targets such as bread lines, and rebels launched counter-attacks against government officials.
By December 2012 the U.S., Turkey, Gulf states, France and Britain recognized the main opposition National Coalition of the Syrian Revolution as the "sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people", signalling their belief that the Assad government was beyond redemption.
As of June 2013, pro-government groups— including Hezbollah, which is loyal to Assad and to Iran—maintained tenuous control of Syria. Anti-government groups included Kurds (who had ties to Turkey and Iraq and had solidified several strongholds) and Sunnis, Islamic jihadists who were also battling for control. The result was that 80,000 people had died in Syria, Turkey and Lebanon since 2011.
Unfortunately, the situation in the region has continued to de-stabilize. The Obama administration has suggested that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad bears responsibility for what U.S. officials have called an “undeniable” chemical attack that killed hundreds August 21, 2013 outside the Syrian capital of Damascus. (Syrian government and opposition forces have accused each other of unleashing the poison gas.)
U.S. Intervention (from The New York Times)
In late August 2013, President Obama began considering a short strike against Syrian military units (command and control centers, etc.) that reportedly carried out chemical attacks. The strike would involve cruise missiles launched from destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. President Obama sought authorization for the action from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (The United Nations and ally Britain had failed to support military intervention.) The Committee approved the action on Sept. 4, 2013, but a full Congressional vote was still needed.
De-escalation? (from NBCNews)
On September 10, 2013, the day President Obama was to make a prime-time address to the nation to detail his case for attacking Syria, news broke of a diplomatic breakthrough. An offer by Russia to turn over all chemical weapons to the international community was supposedly accepted by Syria. This development prompted Obama to request that Congress delay a vote to authorize U.S. military action against the Assad regime. The president was clear that if the current deal--described by some as tenuous--were to fall apart, military action would be required.