Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Editorial | The Syrian Revolution 13 years on: From protest to persistence

Credit: Marc Nelson

The Syrian Revolution had its beginnings in the wake of what came to be known as the Arab Spring. For most of us, its first spark came as a surprise because the Assad regime had never allowed dissension to grow in Syria. In January of 2011, Bashar Assad had officially declared Syrian society stable, and the government immune to revolt. 

The first peaceful protests in Dara’a came in response to the arrest of 15 young children who had dared to write anti-regime graffiti on the walls of their school. The detention and torture of those young Syrians motivated the adults in the city of Dara’a to hit the streets with their first peaceful protests, calling for their release. Assad responded by sending the army and snipers to shoot at unarmed protesters in order to intimidate them into being silent once more. But the Syrian people had finally heard the sound of their own voices and refused to be silenced any longer. Instead, their demonstrations turned into demands for government reforms after more than 40 years of oppression, corruption and brutality by the ruling Assad family and its supporters.

Even though the Syrian people were committed to remaining peaceful, as the momentum of the revolution grew, so did the violent response of the regime

In the months that followed, Assad continued to try to silence the people with violence but thousands of ordinary Syrians took to the streets and began calling for his removal. They adopted the slogan “Death with dignity is preferable to life with humiliation” and continued to go out week after week in ever increasing numbers to protest the brutality of the regime. Even though the Syrian people were committed to remaining peaceful, as the momentum of the revolution grew, so did the violent response of the regime and the number of martyrs for Syria’s freedom continued to climb. 

As the regime’s violence against the people grew, soldiers began to defect from the national army and the Free Syrian Army was born. Its members vowed to protect their fellow Syrians rather than kill them as they had been ordered to by Assad. In time, more and more civilians added to the numbers of the Free Syrian Army in an effort to protect their families and their homes. When the regime appeared to be on the verge of collapsing, Assad welcomed foreign militias into the country to help him remain in power, but even they were not strong enough to help him claim victory.

A large percentage of the population has either been killed or forced into leaving the country and are now living as expats with many still living in refugee camps

In 2015, at a point when the regime seemed to be on the verge of collapsing, Putin stepped in to rescue Assad. As much as this turn of events dismayed the free Syrian people, it was not surprising as Russia and Syria have been allies for decades and had maintained a military presence in Tartus since 1971.  

It is now 13 years since the Syrian revolution began and even though Assad is still sitting in the chair he inherited from his father Hafez, Syria itself is a failed state. The bottom has fallen out of the economy and the regime is supporting itself through the production and distribution of illicit drugs.

A large portion of the country is in ruins and no one (except possibly Iran) is interested in financing the rebuilding as long as Assad remains in power. A large percentage of the population has either been killed or forced into leaving the country and are now living as expats with many still living in refugee camps. Several million living in the liberated areas of northern Syria are dependent upon foreign aid for their survival.

But the dream of freedom has not died, and in the past year we have seen the resurrection of large protests within the country that continue to call for an end to Assad’s rule. In spite of, or maybe even because of, the world’s apathy towards the plight of the Syrian people, many Syrians living abroad have risen up as advocates for their people and have inspired officials in the countries where they now reside to take measures to hold the Assad regime accountable for its many crimes against humanity. 

the Syrian Revolution is more than just an uprising against a brutal, self-serving totalitarian regime, it is, and will continue to be, a collaborative effort to restore the greatness of a nation with a proud and glorious history

Just last month Syrian advocates in the US were able to fast track the Assad Regime Anti Normalization Act through the House of Representatives, which was an amazing feat in and of itself, and a testimony to their persistence. The Act will impose sanctions on any countries that attempt to normalize relations with the Assad regime. In addition, many Syrian NGOs have been formed that finance programs for empowering displaced Syrians to build sustainable schools and livelihoods in the liberated areas of Syria.  

Even though we have no doubt that Assad would still rather see Syria destroyed than step down, we can’t imagine the millions of Syrians currently outside of his control ever agreeing to living under his boot heel again. We believe that the fall of the Assad regime is inevitable as long as the Syrian dream of freedom and justice remains alive. As we have repeatedly said, the Syrian Revolution is more than just an uprising against a brutal, self-serving totalitarian regime, it is, and will continue to be, a collaborative effort to restore the greatness of a nation with a proud and glorious history. 

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