Richmond World Affairs Council

Syria, Part 2: The Fighting

The Syrian Revolution began on March 18, 2011 in the city of Daraa, where schoolchildren had been arrested for writing slogans inspired by the Egyptian and Tunisian Revolutions on the walls of their school. Security forces shot on the crowd that was peacefully protesting their arrest and killed four, which triggered more widespread protests (Al Jazeera). These included the “Day of Dignity” in Damascuswhere protestors demanded the release of political prisoners, where no blood was spilled, but there were 35 arrests (Washington Post). In response to these protests, Assad blamed conspirators such as al-Qaeda, but lifted the 48-year-old state of emergency that foregoes the necessity of a legislative branch and released a number of political prisoners in hopes of appeasing the protestors (BBC News).

In response to a mass-protest that resulted in more than 100 deaths on April 22 staged primarily in Daraa and Damascus, Assad ordered Syrian tanks to lay siege to Daraa and restore order. The increased involvement of security forces in early May played a role in Jinsr al-Shughour as well, where 120 soldiers were killed, allegedly for refusing to fire on the protesters. The city was eventually claimed by the forces, and nearly 12,000 Syrians fled to Turkey(Al Jazeera). By the end of June, the president had declared a state of war in the nation.
The summer saw more violence, with a particularly volatile July. The citizens of the mainly pro-Assad capital city Damascus stormed Qatar’s embassy, which was subsequently vacated (Al Jazeera). On the eve of Ramadan, July 21, security forces rolled into Hamaand quelled the massive protest that was occurring. Assad fired the governor there and hundreds were killed in the crackdown, bringing the total death toll up (Washington Post).

When violence continued to increase, Assad gave a speech that vaguely promised to pursue reform and insinuated an end to the one-party system and a new constitution. However, he refused to enact these reforms amidst the “chaos” that was gripping the nation (Al Jazeera). As the situation worsened throughout the summer, President Assad issued a decree that authorized political parties outside of the Baathist Party that had been in power for 31 years. This failed to satisfy the protestors, and violence continued (Al Jazeera).

Into the fall and winter, international sanctions and condemnation of Assad increased and he continually denied the allegations of killing his own people or ordering their deaths. Though Assad denied the accusations, the violence continued, most notably in Jabal al-Zawiyah, a two-day military campaign during December that killed 200 people or more. The Syrian government did not allow independent reporters into the country, so ascertaining non-biased information is difficult, but it appears that the army that came to quell the protest began indiscriminately killing civilians, including young children and men who had surrendered (BBC News).

Attacks continued into February, concentrating on forcing the city of Homsinto submission. The military attacked a variety of checkpoints and opposition strongholds in the city (Al Jazeera). In March, photo documentation of killed women and children from Homsemerged, proving the brutality of the army. March marked the one-year anniversary of the revolution, though there was still no sign of any resolution, diplomatic or otherwise.

Early April saw a lull in violence on the military’s side that protesters used to take to the streets and revitalize the revolution. However, with the new wave of protests came a new wave of violence. A rocket attack on Hamaon April 25 killed 70 people, including women and children (Al Jazeera). Suicide bombs and roadside attacks on vehicles took place in late April and early May. At Aleppo University on May 3, 2012, four students were killed when security forces took knives to a student protest, along with arrests and injuries (New York Times). Though the country remains in chaos, Assad’s supporters claim “victory” against their opponents and successful parliamentary elections that were widely dismissed as a sham (New York Times). The government of Syria seems to have no intent to negotiate more successfully with the protestors or to bring about the ending of violence. 

Perhaps the most repulsive of the attacks in the course of the revolution is the recent Houla Massacre. Likely carried out by government activists rather than security forces, this massacre has been confirmed by UN observers (Al Jazeera). There was heavy fire into residential neighborhoods, which violated not only UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan, but was a violation of international law. More than 110 people were killed, including 32 children (BBC News). 

~ Rachel Smith