• Sahej Kapoor

The Syrian Uprising. "You're next, doctor."

Updated: Aug 13, 2020

The Arab Spring initiated a wave of pro-democratic movements in the Middle-East and North Africa beginning is 2010, challenged some of the authoritarian regimes of that region. In Egypt and Tunisia, the uprising was quick and conclusive, in Libya, it led to an all-out civil war with the death of their president, Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi. However, in Syria, the story is much more complicated and brutal.

Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria (2000- present)

Hafez al-Assad served as the president of Syria from 1970- 2000 and established Syria as a powerful nation in the middle-east, brought stability, and modernized the Syrian outlook, but at a cost of a repression. After his death in 2000, his son 'Bashar al-Assad' took over as the dictator of Syria. At first, Bashar signaled to be a different kind of leader, but that did not last for very long. At the first sign of dissent, Bashar imposed many restrictions on the public, tightened the Syrian economy, and gave a clear indication that democratic rule was not his plan. After 11 years of repression and exploitation, the Syrian population revolted against Assad. Syrians followed the example set by Egyptians and Tunisians and were expecting that Assad would give up on his thrown.

Uprising against Assad regime
We have to fight terrorism for the country to heal. We will not be lenient. We will be forgiving only for those who renounce terrorism.

- Bashar al- Assad, 3rd June 2012

Roots of this uprising go back to the first half of the 20th century. After World War-I, the French and the British divided borders of the middle-east countries, on the basis of ethnic groups. The Syrian population at that time comprised of Christians (8%), Shiites (3%), Alawites (12%), Sunnis (74%) and Druzes (3%). Despite being small in number, the politics and major power lied in the hands of the Alawites, excluding all the other ethnic groups.

In 2011, the Syrian population started peaceful protests, but Assad took them in a very different manner. The Syrian armed forces were ordered to beat down the protesters and no mercy was shown towards the innocent citizens. In February 2011, a few 14-year-old boys wrote anti-Assad slogans on their school wall, in Derra. The slogan was "You are next Doctor", the doctor here means Assad. Those boys were arrested from their homes at 4 in the morning and were kept under the custody of the armed forces for 45 days and were accused of going against the government. Those boys were electrocuted and beaten by the army, which was done to symbolize superiority and dominance. After this, the uprising and protests escalated quickly. The protests had spread from Derra to places like Damascus, Homs, Hama, Baniyas, Latakia, Aleppo, and Al Raqqa.

The Syrian public demanded to free these boys from prison. Eventually, they were released by the army, but from there the protestors never turned back. On the contrary, to tackle these protestors, Assad ordered the use of tear gas and water gas and labeled them as terrorists.

School graffiti saying "You're next Doctor"

In July 2011, the Syrian public finally fights back. Some of the soldiers even left the Syrian armed forces to form the new Free Syrian Army. Bashar al-Assad, on the other hand, releases jihadists and prisoners to join the newly formed rebel group against Assad so that it becomes an extremist group and has no foreign backers. Syria's neighbor Iraq was under the influence of ISI (Islamic State of Iraq) formerly known as AQI (Al-Qaeda in Iraq), ruled by a religious scholar Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In January 2012, ISI sends a top tier general named Jabhat Al-Nusra to fight Assad and join the rebel group. During that time, the Syrian Kurdish groups settled in the north, had long sought autonomy, take up arms and secede from Assad's rule.

However, during the summer of 2012, Syria becomes a proxy war. Assad was backed up by Iran, who was sending them cargo flights and militias every day to fight the rebels. At the same time, the oil-rich states such as Saudi Arabia started sending money and weapons to the rebel groups to fight Assad. Iran steps up in mid-2012, by sending Hezbollah, a Lebanese based militia to fight alongside Assad. Seeing the war being unfolded, Jordan also steps in and sends money and weapons to the rebel groups.

By the end of 2012, the middle-east is divided, with the Sunni countries (comprising of the majority) supporting the rebels, and Shia countries fighting alongside Assad.

In April 2013, horrified by Assad's inhumane treatment towards innocent civilians, forces the USA government (headed by Barak Obama) to step in.

The USA launches a special training program under the supervision of the CIA to train and equip Syrian rebel groups, but it got stalled. At the same time, the USA urges all the middle-east Sunni nations to stop funding the rebel groups but got ignored.

In August 2013, Assad takes a step ahead and launches chemical weapons against the rebel groups, killing thousands of innocent civilians.

Men, women, and children lying in rows, killed by poison gas, it is in the national security of the United States of America to respond to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons, through targeted military strikes.

-Barack Obama, former president of the United States of America.

Although the USA ends up backing down, this makes Syria nothing but a war for dominance and power, with Russia backing up Assad. A few weeks later, the CIA training group and arms reach the rebel groups, making the USA and Russia official participants in the war.

Syria's use of chemical weapons against rebels and civilians

In February 2014, an incident completely changed the outlook of the Syrian proxy war. Abu Bakr orders to take over ISI in Syria, however, it got rejected by the Islamic State group operating in Syria. ISI grew powerful and entered Syria. It wasn't just fighting Assad but was also against the rebel groups and Kurds. During that time, both Al-Qaeda and ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) formerly known as ISI, were a participant in the war.

By June 2014, ISIS formed an entire army and invaded Iraq, capturing almost 1/3rd of its territory. In August 21014, ISIS attacked the Kurdish groups in the north, however, is not able to overpower the more advanced and equipped Kurds. They also murder the American journalist James Foley on camera. ISIS has a goal that is much more audacious and powerful than Al-Qaeda, which to re-establish the caliphate.


In September, the USA starts bombing ISIS. The Pentagon launched a new program to train rebel groups who fight ISIS, not Assad. This signified that ISIS had become a bigger threat than Assad.

In August 2015, Turkey starts bombing the Kurds in the north, however, they do not bomb ISIS. The USA was directly fighting ISIS, and was also against Assad, whereas Turkey which is the USA's ally fight the Kurds who are fighting ISIS and Assad. This creates a confusing group of alliances amongst nations. In November 2015, ISIS terrorizes the globe the expanding its operations outside Syria by attacking Kuwait, Tunisia, Sinai, and Paris.

In September 2015, Russia sends military aircraft to Syria and claims that it would fight ISIS, although it ended up attacking rebel groups backed up by the USA. Russia directly fought alongside Assad and the rebel groups were badly outmatched and had no answers to Russia's advance military strength.

In 2016, Donald Trump wins the US elections and vows to stay out of the Syrian proxy war. Capitalizing this opportunity, Assad backed up by Russia's air power and Iran's militias, capture the city of Aleppo, which was under the control of the rebels. In mid-2017, Assad uses chemical weapons, killing 85 people, including 20 children. This forces Trump to intervene into the matter, and a couple of weeks later, the USA launched tomahawk missiles, attacking the airbase in Syria. This is the first time the USA directly attacked the Assad regime.

The war continued, Turkey attacked the Kurds again in the northern part in January 2018. In April 2018, Assad again uses chemical weapons in the eastern part of the country, and subsequently, in July, Assad captures most of the territories in the south which shared borders with Israel and Jordan.

In October 2019, the US troops withdraw from northern Syria and kill the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

TRIGGER WARNING: The video contains visuals that might seem disturbing to some individuals. It contains real footage of Syria being bombed and people dying.

Source: Last Men in Aleppo (2017)

I can give that assurance. Let me say the House has not voted for either motion tonight. I strongly believe in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons but I also believe in respecting the will of this House of Commons.

- David Cameroon, former Prime Minister of The United Kingdom

The Syrian war is the perfect example of the cure being more devastating than the disease itself. Around 500,000 people are killed until now in Syria, with over 11 million displaced. Bodies of half of these people are buried under the remains of the buildings.

A lot of people still question these and countries and ask them the reason why they entered the war. Iran entered just to help their old friend, which forced Saudi Arabia to intervene to enhance its influence in the middle-east. Russia intervened because Syria is an important ally in the middle east for oil and they wanted Syria's port of Tartus. The USA entered because to oppose Russia and Iran, however, they were not concerned about Assad, their major concern was with ISIS.

Even after the war in Syria is over, who will rule the country? In case Assad is overthrown, the country will majorly fall under the hands of Kurds in the north or the rebel groups, but will that make the country safer? ISIS would continue to fight these groups, even though they have lost 60% of their total territory since 2014, they still are a major threat. This would also give an opening to countries like Russia and the USA to have control over the oil fields in Syria. In case the rebel groups are overthrown and Assad remains in power, this would then lead to the use of chemical weapons against the civilians since Assad not only attacked the rebel groups, a lot of innocent citizens, including children were killed.

The irony is, first the USA provided these rebel groups with training and arms, which got backfired in the future. Incase the Syrians never got inspired by the Arab spring, and Russia hadn't interfered, the lives of millions could have been saved.

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