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Seven years on: Remembering the origins of the crisis in Syria

Origins of the conflict

This protracted conflict has killed more than 500,000 people and contributed to the largest refugee crisis in recent history. But lost beneath the shocking images of death and destruction is a clear understanding of the origins of this conflict.

For decades autocrats across the Arab world cited domestic and international threats to justify their resistance to political reform. By 2010 unemployment levels in the Arab world ranged from 25% to 45%, impacting in a devastating way a huge population of young people. These young people, online and linked in with the rest of the world, experienced growing expectation, frustration and an appetite for change.

When the momentum of the Arab Spring reached Syria in 2011 many were hopeful about the prospect of real change, though also fearful and barely daring to hope. Others, more privileged and somehow immune from the socio-economic hardships and political exclusion experienced by the majority, did not welcome the rumblings of a new dawn in Syria.

Some prominent intellectuals and opposition figures again called for meaningful reforms to the political, electoral and judicial systems. They called for a national pact to establish a democratic, civilian and modern state.

They also called for the cancellation of the state of emergency which had been in place for more than fifty years and for its replacement by a new emergency law which would be triggered solely in situations of war and natural disasters.

Largely peaceful demonstrations in pockets of the country were met by violence, and so the anger grew, violence flared and over seven years the contagion spread.

During that time, outside agents, mercenaries, foreign powers all fanned the flames of conflict, Syria became the territory within which multiple proxy conflicts were played out, many dimensions of which had little enough to do with ordinary Syrians. Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey key amongst them.

Seven year later

Seven years later, half a million people have been killed, tens of thousands more have been injured and four million are now refugees and living in settlements in Lebanon and neighbouring countries. In addition more than seven million have been displaced at least once, many multiple times in their own homeland.

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Syrian children growing up in the Beqaa Valley Refugee camp, Lebanon.

The future, though bleak, is not without hope. For many Syrians a threshold has been crossed, people have glimpsed a different way of belonging. Those who were ignorant or in denial of the fear-filled and oppressive reality experienced by many prior to 2011 can no longer be under any illusion. The growth in civil society confidence and initiative that has taken place in the past seven years will not be contained. A lid cannot be placed over people’s experiences and the growing expectation that they give rise to – no matter how hard the political powers domestically and internationally may try.

The Syrian people are exhausted by grand political statements of outrage and intent emanating from the international community, followed by little or no concrete action. The outrage rings hollow.

In 1992, having visited Somalia, President Mary Robinson said she was “shamed, shamed, shamed that the developed world had lost its humanity and watched as others suffered’ and, in 2012 we marked the tragedy of neglect of twenty years before.

In 2014 we remembered Rwanda 20 years on, and wondered why no one did anything to prevent the slaughter of innocents then.

Between 2011 and 2018 similar expressions of outrage were made with regard to Syria, ‘Not another Homs’, ‘Not another Aleppo’, ‘Not another, not another….’, and still, UN Resolutions regarding Syria continue to be vetoed and violated, International Humanitarian Law continues to be trampled under-foot, and humanity continues to be diminished.    

[[{“fid”:”13131″,”view_mode”:”default”,”fields”:{“format”:”default”},”link_text”:null,”type”:”media”,”field_deltas”:{“1”:{“format”:”default”}},”attributes”:{“height”:225,”width”:150,”style”:”float: left; margin-left: 20px; margin-right: 20px;”,”class”:”media-element file-default”,”data-delta”:”1″}}]]Noelle Fitzpatrick is Trócaire’s Programme Officer for Syria

Trócaire in Syria and Lebanon

Trócaire works in partnership with local community initiatives in Lebanon and Syria to bring relief to those exiled in Lebanon and displaced within the borders of Syria. This support includes a range of shelter, food, educational, income generation and psychological and counselling support initiatives in the Bekaa Valley and Beirut (Lebanon) and in the coastal region of Lattakia, and Aleppo City in Syria. Find out more about Trócaire’s work in Syria.

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